Lettuce be, Liz

Liz Truss’s account of her woeful reign is packed with disingenuity and conceit

This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

She could have done it. Doing it would have required a 96-year-old not dying, and going on not dying for at least a bit longer. But there was definitely a road to Liz Truss still being prime minister. It’s hard to see how she could be doing worse, or polling less, than Rishi Sunak.

The Queen had to live. Had that happened, the momentum would have been with Team Truss. They could have sacked more people (as they meant to, in their summer of planning at Chevening).

The focus would have been on what she did, rather than the fantasies cooked up by Simon Case and Andrew Bailey — well documented in this magazine by Jon Moynihan — and the odds are she’d have made it to 2023. Then all the inertia that has kept an even worse, now even more unpopular, prime minister in place would have kept her there, too.

Would that have been a good thing? On the basis of her record as a minister, no. Her book, Ten Years to Save the West, could have been written by her worst enemy. For all I know it was. But the Truss before Number 10 always fails.

She fails, she says, to notice things. Such as the growth of Brexit feelings in the party after 2010 (which “blindsided” her). She realises the Blair settlement judiciary has become a self-regarding, “self-perpetuating oligarchy”. As Justice Secretary she fails to do anything about them — nor who they are, what they can do or how they’re formed.

Come Brexit, the sometime remainer joins Andrea Leadsom’s “Pizza Club” of ministers who are really, really, pro-Brexit. But who all, every one of them, fail inside government to do anything to make it happen. Truss backs No Deal in private — “to my mind, the issue was black or white” — but fails to resign and backs every iteration of May’s “deals”.

As Trade Secretary, she knows the EU and US trade deals should be conducted in parallel in order to gain leverage over both. But she fails to convince Boris Johnson to do so. “I advocated a list of ‘pain’ that we could inflict on them if we didn’t get what we wanted. Sadly, it was not used.”

For those of us who wished her well as leader, all this is terribly sad as she was right on so much. She got that an independent judiciary didn’t mean their immunity from public criticism.

The true stuff of life — not banning plastic straws or woodburning stoves — saw her reliably on the right side. Even being PM taught her the right lessons: of course there should be things like proper household support in Number 10, and planes for them to go abroad in. It is such infantile nonsense that we don’t do this.

Truss knew Sunak was spending far too much for such a poor unproductive country in the pandemic. When she fell, it’s no bitterness for her to note that the LDI scandal deserves vastly more attention, and consequences, than it has got.

But the disingenuous Liz of her own book speaks to so many problems. One straight away is that this “modernised Thatcherite”, as she calls herself, has no scheme of criticism for the Cameron modernisers who made her. They put her in the cabinet after four years in the Commons, and they are responsible for the legacy she bewails when she claims to have been “the only Conservative in the room”.

The Instagram queen’s disavowal of image-led politics is risible (“our political discourse is fundamentally unserious, obsessing over trivialities,” she writes, a year after her car circled Westminster in the rain so she could achieve a dry entry).

Truss’s conceit that she was all about the ideas, but was hopeless at managing is ludicrous

She feigns outrage to Boris that stories (of, you’ve guessed it, failed desire) which made her look good to the Tory right have been leaked. But her record is abysmally gaslit.

Truss as PM refused to lower immigration numbers. As Equalities Minister, she tried to stop the then Attorney General, Suella Braverman, from making a speech calling for the Equality Act to go (and saying trans women were of course men). All of which Truss now tries to kid herself she consistently backed.

Truss’s conceit that she was all about the ideas, but was just hopeless or uninterested in the managing of affairs, is ludicrous.

She genuinely appears not to understand market-sceptical Toryism, sneering at it throughout this book. Yet for her ambition to fight China, she requires that Britain joins “an economic NATO”, to reduce trade with the enemies of freedom.

She disapproves of private advertisers’ boycotts of GB News whilst bemoaning any restrictions on freedom of choice (admiring even Putin’s foreign minister for at least smoking). And she can’t explain how private ESG is bad, but banning it is good and compatible with liberty.

Her publicity campaign was shredded by GBN’s Steven Edginton who, as many noted, justified the station’s existence by asking her questions from the right which stale, established broadcasters never would. As ever, she froze. If you want to see what Cameron, Osborne and Gove did to the Tory Right, look at who they left them with as their champion.

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