Truss alone

Young Liz was accidentally left in charge of the country, only to be menaced by the worst sort of criminals: Tory MPs

Artillery Row

“The fundamental problem,” Liz Truss told Talk TV, “is that there were too many Conservative MPs.” Her habit of pausing in the middle of sentences made it sound briefly as though she had finished her point and it did, from many perspectives, feel unarguable. Indeed, her weeks in office make much more sense if they were understood as a bid to reduce or perhaps eliminate altogether the problem of Conservative MP over-production.

We need a Royal Commission to examine the blight of socially excluded Tories

But it turned out that, despite the many indications to the contrary, Truss is not opposed to the existence of all Conservatives, just sociable ones. There are, it turns out, two kinds of Tory MP: good ones, who support Truss, and bad ones, who don’t. And the reason they don’t? Allow her to explain: “They want to go to dinner parties.” Did Truss get invited to dinner parties, her concerned interviewer asked? “No I don’t, I don’t.” Forget “baby shoes, never worn”, the saddest story ever told is a “former prime minister, no invites.”

We need a Royal Commission to examine the blight of socially excluded Tories. Last month Lee Anderson was complaining that his colleagues didn’t invite him out. Now it turns out that Truss, too, is driven by a seething resentment of people who feel she’d upset the balance of the table. I do understand that these slights can burn. Aged six, I discovered that I was the only person in my class not invited to a birthday party. Four decades later, I make a living sneering at people who’ve won popularity contests. Draw your own conclusions.

Some men want to watch the world burn. Truss wants to see it light up a delicious Marlboro. So she broke off her book promotion tour to drop in to the House of Commons for the debate on smoking. Rishi Sunak, desperately seeking a legacy, has settled on the idea of raising the age at which people can buy tobacco by a year every year, so that the smooth taste of Camel Lights will forever remain just out of reach of today’s under-15s. As always with this prime minister, he’s identified an issue that divides his party while uniting his opponents.

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, found herself fending off hostile question after hostile question from her own side. John Hayes warned that creating a situation where a 35-year-old could buy cigarettes but a 34-year-old couldn’t would be “at best a curiosity, and at worst an absurdity.” Nearby Truss was reading something intently on her phone. We must hope for her sake that it wasn’t a book review from a person who has attended a dinner party. Such folk are known to be in the pocket of Big Critic.

Eventually Atkins ran out of internal enemies, and it was time for Labour’s Wes Streeting to speak. He was having the time of his life. This policy was his before it was Sunak’s, and he was delighted to point out that its introduction under a Conservative government shows Labour’s “dominance in the battle of ideas”. On this he and Truss are in complete agreement, a point she seemed to be making to the MPs around her.

The smoking ban was, she said, the work of “the health police”, a fearful lobby group that stalks the land trying to keep people breathing

Streeting praised the Health Secretary for having “cast aside any leadership ambitions she may have once held” in order to fight for the ban. “Let me assure my comrade opposite that we will stand with her,” Streeting went on, and even Atkins laughed at that.

In front of him next to his speech text he had a table that turned out to list the number of people on NHS waiting lists in each parliamentary constituency. When a Conservative MP would challenge him, as they’d challenged Atkins, on the wisdom of stopping people from enjoying the calming sensation of Silk Cut filling their lungs, he would quote their number at them.

When he had finished, Truss rose. The smoking ban was, she said, the work of “the health police”, a fearful lobby group that stalks the land trying to keep people breathing.

“The whole idea that we can protect adults from themselves is hugely problematic,” she continued. Certainly no one has succeeded with her. She turned to Streeting: “I suggest he starts listening to the public.” His comment at this point was sadly inaudible, but I think we can guess at its general tone.

“There is a belief,” Truss concluded, “that government knows best.” And, once again, it’s hard to fault her on consistency. If anyone has devoted their life to challenging the concept of government competence, it’s our 49-day prime minister.

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