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Artillery Row

Why I have hope in Liz

Truss is an optimistic politician who has been underestimated by her detractors

Barring some form of constitutional crisis, The Queen will shortly ask Liz Truss to become Prime Minister. Given the dire economic situation facing the country it would be easy to become despondent and many critics have branded her as unintelligent or as the Boris continuity candidate. However, having worked for Truss I believe that we can be cautiously optimistic.

I first met Truss back in the summer of 2018 when she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I was working for a think tank. Her economic adviser had reached out to me after having read an article I had written on education reform. My opinion of Truss before the meeting was based almost entirely on that infamous speech where she had rambled on at length about pork markets and cheese. As such, I thought she was a lightweight, a poor performer, and a mercantilist. My opinion of her had improved during her stint at the Treasury as she appeared to be unapologetically in favour of free markets and a smaller state — although I wasn’t sure if this was a genuine conviction or simply playing to the base.

My first meeting with her was enough to convince me that I had misjudged her. We had an hour long discussion about policy issues in which she referenced quite obscure economic papers. Her grasp of policy impressed me and is something which differentiates her from Johnson who apparently never even read his ministerial papers. Perhaps even more strikingly, she disagreed with me on at least two points. This made a refreshing change from most of my meetings with politicians who tend to be very charming — often bordering on sycophantic — and they most certainly don’t tell you they think you’re wrong. As such, I could tell that she did have strong convictions.

I had no contact with her after that, although I would periodically meet with her economic adviser for discussions about policy. Then, in October 2019 I was approached by another one of her advisers and asked if I would like to join the team. This came as a surprise to me as I am not a Conservative and had been quite vocal in my criticism of Johnson and Tory Party policy. In fact, I had written an article that week being critical of Truss for not reforming the Gender Recognition Act so that trans people would be able to self-identify, as I felt that her failure to do so was not in keeping with her belief in personal freedom.

Again, I think this reveals something positive about her. Not just because I’m unsurprisingly pro-people who want to hire me. Many politicians surround themselves with yes men — so it was encouraging to see that she was prepared to work with people who didn’t always agree with her and were prepared to challenge her.

I spent 16 months working for her from May 2020 — starting right in the middle of the first lockdown. I once again witnessed her strong grasp of policy, her belief in free markets, and her frankness. 

She was very understanding and compassionate

I also felt that she was surprisingly warm. Truss does not come across as naturally warm or caring in interviews or hustings but, like most of us, she is different in person. I had suffered a bereavement and some other personal difficulties, and she was very understanding and compassionate. In the hectic world of politics compassion and understanding are often in short supply, especially by those at the top, so it was very much appreciated. 

I was also impressed by her work ethic. I’ve not met many people who work as hard as she does, and she has very high standards for her staff. Again, this marks her as being different from Johnson who by most accounts was very lazy.

As such, given her grasp of policy, strong work ethic, and determination I am confident that if she has the right policies then she has the potential to guide the country through the upcoming crisis and deliver economic growth.

This leads us onto her policies. I have been quite critical of some of her vague policy announcements during the campaign. For example, her pledge to reverse increases to national insurance contributions and corporation tax will do nothing to help the very poorest. Similarly, a 5 per cent cut to VAT would be an expensive and poorly targeted way to deal with the cost of living crisis. Again, her promise to scrap EU regulations might play well with the grassroots but for the most part is unlikely to deliver economic growth and any talk of cutting workers rights in the middle of a cost of living and energy crisis is unlikely to be a vote winner.

What is needed immediately is a massive financial package of support for people and businesses. Targeted to the very poorest and also means tested support for everyone else. This is the only way we can ensure that people survive and to avoid extreme financial hardship and a recession. It is encouraging that Truss is now promising to provide a package of financial support.

Finally, I am pleased that she falls firmly within the “booster” camp of Sam Bowman’s Booster versus Gloomster political divide. The UK is in decline, but it need not be terminal. Truss is right that we need to jettison orthodoxy and free ourselves from the stifling impact of Treasury Brain. We need to look at what is holding the country back such as a tax system which does not encourage investment and the government’s failure to build nuclear power stations, better transport infrastructure, homes, and practically anything else for decades due to the influence of rent-seeking NIMBYs, short-term thinking, and bean counters. 

Liz Truss is not perfect and she has her flaws just like the rest of us. Plenty has and will be written about them by others. I have chosen to focus on what I see as the positives. If Truss implements the right policies then she has the personality and the drive to make her premiership a success.

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