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Artillery Row

In defence of Liz

She failed, but who didn’t?

Before you react with shock, or outrage, or derision I’m not saying that Liz Truss was or could have been a good PM. I have never been aboard the Truss Bus. 

The outgoing PM has all the people skills of a middle manager whose first idea for cutting costs is removing the coffee machine. She has all the cultural and ideological depth of an episode of Paw Patrol. Frankly, wanting to follow Boris Johnson into 10 Downing Street was evidence enough that she had appalling judgement. The Conservatives should have found an MP who absolutely didn’t want the job and installed them. 

Her promise to cut taxes without cutting public spending smelled of cakeism. Still, as my illustrious colleague Sebastian Milbank pointed out two weeks ago, U-turning was a terrible idea when her deranged commitment was her only real asset. Firing Kwasi Kwarteng for doing everything that she asked him to do was silly and unpleasant.

Still, I find myself feeling a bit sorry for Liz — not just because she is facing perhaps the greatest embarrassment in the history of British politics but because she is taking individual blame for the decline of the Conservatives, and the country, when she is not individually responsible.

Sir Charles Walker MP went viral on Wednesday for his passionate condemnation of Truss and her supporters. “The damage they have done to our party is extraordinary,” he said. His speech was eloquent and sincere. But Sir Charles backed Penny Mordaunt in the leadership elections, even writing in support of Mordaunt for the Times. Does anyone think Ms Mordaunt — who, as Stephen Pollard wrote this week for The Critic, has a record as weak as her excuses for changing her positions when convenient — would have dealt with a land war in Europe, an energy crisis, housing shortages, inflation et cetera much better than Truss? Pull the other one.

It is hard to imagine anyone succeeding

As much as Truss was unfit for the job, it is hard to imagine anyone succeeding in her position. The Conservatives — including many of the MPs now condemning the outgoing PM — have left Britain in such a mess that Boris Johnson’s successor was set up to fail. “Tonight we are all Charles Walker,” tweeted Maria Caulfield MP, the poster woman for blocking the construction of new houses in a country where the average person in their 20s and 30s would have to sell off their internal organs to buy a home. Crispin Blunt MP said the Conservatives had to ditch Truss to maintain their “credibility”. “Credibility” is a word I would be careful about using if I had said, without evidence, that a politician found guilty of sexually assaulting of 15-year-old had been victim of a miscarriage of justice. About Jamie Wallis MP, meanwhile, it is charitable simply not to speak.

I completely sympathised with Suella Braverman when she said that she had “serious concerns about this Government’s commitment to honouring manifesto commitments, such as reducing overall migration numbers and stopping illegal migration.” But in no sense could one suggest that Truss was exceptionally guilty of this. PM after PM has promised to reduce overall migration and obstruct illegal migration and done nothing of the kind. Say what you like about Prime Minister Truss but some of them spent years ignoring manifesto commitments and she only had 45 days.

Now, the sensibles are coming in. There is Mordaunt, whose calm and stern demeanour is all it takes to make a certain kind of male Conservative feel weak at the knees. There is Jeremy Hunt, who, as pleasant and sincere a fellow as he seems, thought that Britain should be aiming to eliminate COVID, taking inspiration from the Chinese, as late as July 2020. The Chinese are currently locking the doors of shopping centres if anyone inside is found to have had contact with someone who has COVID. Okay, 2020 was an odd time. But is this their safest pair of hands?

Then again, Britain is past the point where a safe pair of hands is enough. Brits are facing blackouts this winter. Inflation is twice the levels that are bringing Parisians out onto the streets. The police haven’t solved a burglary since 1922. People have to wait longer for an ambulance than for Father Christmas. As Sam Ashworth-Hayes wrote for The Critic in August, reflecting on such problems:

Their severity may be determined by factors largely outside of Downing Street’s control — the unwinding of demand suppressed by the pandemic, and the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine —  but the conditions were created through years of poor decisions.

Again, years of poor decisions

Perhaps Sunak would have done a better job. I suspect Badenoch would have done. Boris, if he returns, might stumble through an interview with more charm and charisma than Truss could summon up — but the man achieved little more in over 1000 days than she managed in fewer than 50.

For all her failings, Ms Truss doesn’t deserve to be the scapegoat of a catastrophic party and a miserable country. It is like blaming a football defeat on a substitute keeper who, having been brought on with his team five goals down, lets in a sixth. He should have stopped it. But would it have made much difference?

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