Voices: Liz Truss has proved why she should never have been allowed near No 10 in the first place
When someone does something strange or just plain inexplicable, it’s usually a good idea to try to put yourself in their place.
So it is with Liz Truss and her rather audacious but unconvincing attempt to explain away her short, nasty and brutish premiership.
She was a disaster. She knows it. We know it. Most of her party know it. There won’t be a comeback. It’s an absurd proposition. Even the rumour that she thinks she’s got “half a hope” leading the Tories in opposition may be discounted; the Tories are stupid, but they’re not that stupid.
If they want a disaster back then they can get Boris Johnson, who does it much better. Anyone remember how painfully bad she was at interviews? At speech-making? Thinking on her feet? It was painful to watch.
Her position is hopeless, but she cannot possibly admit that, to herself or anyone else. It is simply too gruesome, too terrifying, too depressing a fact. In a way, you can’t blame her for trying to rewrite history. She isn’t the first.
You see there is only one central fact about Truss that you have to try to imagine yourself into. She is 47 years of age. And she’s already been prime minister. What do you do for an encore? What do you do with the rest of your life? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
Most of our prime ministers were years away from No 10 at the age of 47. Margaret Thatcher was 53, as was Lloyd George. Churchill was 65. Even the younger ones – Cameron, Blair, Major, Wilson – did a decent stint and were duly seasoned by the time they left office. Their futures wrote themselves. They didn’t need to make a comeback. Truss was 47 when she became PM – and also 47 when she left office.
If you’re 47 and you’ve already done the top job, what do you do for an encore? She’s a backbench MP, and she is getting restless. However, the very fact that she’s an ex-PM – and a not very accomplished one at that – actually narrows her future options. Considerably.
If you’ve been a cabinet minister and you’re sacked prematurely, maybe you can toddle off and run a select committee. If you’ve been around along enough you can retire, go to the Lords and make what the politicians call “serious money” in the private sector. Truss could follow the example of Theresa May, Jim Callaghan and Ted Heath before her and hang around in the Commons, maybe earning some fees on the side.
She could quit the Commons and organise a foundation and dedicate herself to charitable or quasi-diplomatic good works, like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did. She could go lobbying, like David Cameron. Alec Douglas-Home – another short-lived premier – came back to be foreign secretary.
But she’s only 47. She can’t be an elder stateswoman, and not just because she’s still young. Her 49 days in power hardly counts, was a byword for incompetence, and her reputation is in the gutter. No big company wants her on the board. Imagine a pension provider taking her on as an adviser. She publicly insulted Emmanuel Macron and Nicola Sturgeon, smirking away like she’s Oscar Wilde. She’s useless. Politics is all she’s got, and she’s not very good at it. The job at Defra, scene of the famous “pork markets” speech, was about her level.
Yet nor can she accept failure. She can’t face the rest of her life on the backbenches, a curious footnote in history and figure of ridicule. To be fair, it must be humiliating for her, if not unbearable.
So, never much daunted by reality, never accepting that her voracious mindless ambition tragically outran her modest talents, propelled her too far, she really does want to have another go at the premiership (presumably the pipe dream about being leader of the opposition during a Starmer government would be a means to this end).
Hence the campaign and the bamboozling, gaslighting, non-mea culpa in the Sunday Telegraph. Ominously she promises “I will expand on the lessons I have learnt in the coming weeks and months”.
So, yes, there is going to more of this, more of the “stabbed in the back” myth. She’s going to try and wreck Jeremy Hunt’s Budget next month, and use the coming Tory wipeout in the May local elections as reason enough to reinstate her. Even without Johnson playing the same game, it’s a kamikaze mission.
The article itself is clever, though, in the sense of being crafty. It’s so long and is so richly packed with fantasies, half-truths, elipses, non-sequiturs and bent logic that it’s difficult to know where to start. She wasn’t stopped by a left-wing economic establishment because, well, there’s no such thing. Besides, she and Kwasi Kwarteng ignored it anyway, sacked the permanent secretary to the Treasury and privately hinted at sacking the governor of the Bank of England; in fact, if she’d instead worked with the economic establishment, she’d probably still be prime minister now.
Her policies weren’t brought down by a crisis in the pension funds; the pension funds were nearly brought down because of her policies. She wasn’t warned about the dangers by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England, because she and Kwarteng didn’t tell the Bank or the OBR what they were planning. They didn’t want to hear any warnings.
Economic orthodoxy doesn’t influence the markets; the markets drive economic orthodoxy. Bond dealers take no notice of what Joe Biden thinks, or Patrick Minford for that matter, nor are they under any obligation to “respect” Truss’s “mandate” (which didn’t even really exist beyond a few thousand Tory members, whom she’d cynically told exactly what they wanted to hear).
So like nations that lose a war, or lazy kids that flunk their exams and cannot accept the fact, she needs to create the impression – in at least her own mind, and in as many others as she can convince – that she was betrayed and, in her words, “not given a realistic chance” to show what she could do.
She was, though, given every chance. The problem isn’t that she was betrayed, the problem is that she screwed up. Arrogant, treacherous to her party and her successor, embarrassing, and graceless, Truss merely proves once again why she should never have been allowed near No 10 in the first place.