Liz Truss: The triumph of style over substance

The pound sterling has collapsed in the international market since it emerged that Liz Truss was winning the UK's Conservative party leadership campaign.

By Peter Oborne

The City of London does not rate the new Conservative leader. Skilled analysts have examined her economic policies - lower taxes and much higher public spending - and regard them as reckless and irresponsible.

They do not believe that she is up to the task of governing Britain, and nor do many others who have worked with her. She is said to be intolerant of criticism. She does not listen to serious arguments.

To give one example, her Foreign Office advisors told her not to go to Russia in February. She ignored this advice and was duly eaten alive by the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. But Liz Truss got what she wanted most - photographs of herself in Moscow’s Red Square, just like the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Mikhail Gorbachev, who died last week, during the heady days of perestroika in the late 1980s. 

In another homage to Maggie Thatcher, Truss was photographed in a tank in Estonia in November 2021. She has used the Foreign Office not to engage with serious issues of substance but to promote her personal image as Thatcher’s political successor. 

Thatcher's successor?

Like her or not, Thatcher was a genuinely substantial political figure with a mind of her own, deep integrity and raw courage. None of these things can be said about Truss. She’s shrewd enough to make it to Downing Street, but has only done this by abandoning every political belief she’s ever held.

Once a Liberal Democrat who supported the European Union and wanted the monarchy to be abolished, today Truss is a hard-right Tory. She is a very modern phenomenon: the triumph of style over substance. Ideas don’t truly matter to her - what matters is gaining power. 

Look at her recent declaration that she would examine shifting the British embassy to Jerusalem. Such a move would be a gross betrayal of British obligations to the Palestinian people, as entrenched in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

It is also against the British government’s position, reaffirmed as recently as December 2021, that the UK “opposes unilateral action in Jerusalem absent a final status settlement and remains supportive of the historic status quo”. 

Significantly, she made the statement in a letter to an influential lobby group, the Conservative Friends of Israel.

One can see the short-term political advantages which accrue from opportunistic ploys like Truss’s photo opportunity in Moscow or her remarks about Jerusalem. But they threaten long-term damage to Britain itself. The deadly charge against Truss is that she, like her disgraced predecessor Boris Johnson, is ready to sacrifice national interests in order to further her own political career. 

Boris 'in a dress'

Johnson leaves office today as the most incompetent prime minister in British history. There is no reason to suppose that Truss will be any better. When Johnson was deposed as Tory leader and prime minister after being caught misleading MPs, I naively imagined that his successor would seek to restore the decency and integrity which Johnson had abandoned during his three-year premiership. 

But Truss has not sought to do that. She told the Tory membership that Johnson did not deserve to be removed from office.

When I wrote to Truss and her leadership rival Rishi Sunak asking her to pledge to correct the many lies and falsehoods uttered by Johnson on the floor of the House of Commons, she did not answer.

Her own leadership bid, too, has been littered with similar deceptions. Britain used to be famed for the integrity of our national institutions. Truss has made quite clear that she has no intention of undoing the damage inflicted on our national reputation by her shamed predecessor. 

There’s a reason for this. She herself relies on the forces which took Johnson to power three years ago: Tory party donors, the right-wing press (above all the Daily Mail), and the approximately 150,000 Tory members - including a large number of elderly who hold bigoted views and formerly belonged to Nigel Farage’s UKIP, a right-wing, populist party.

It reflects extremely poorly on Truss that in order to win the Tory party leadership she pandered to this unrepresentative selection of the British population, with pledges to trigger Article 16 to tear up the Northern Irish protocol and challenge British membership of the European Court of Human Rights. 

Now she faces the task of governing for the British nation as a whole. Having boxed herself in during the Tory leadership campaign, she will find it impossible. If she reaches out to the British people, as she promised in her leadership address today, she will instantly be accused of betrayal by her backers on the Tory right. 

Tory split

That is why I believe that the Tory party may well split under Truss's leadership. It’s not just that she stands little chance of repeating Johnson's great electoral triumph in 2019, when he forged an historic coalition between working-class voters in the North of England and the southern middle classes.

Equally important, she is not liked by many Tory MPs. If she does not revive the Tory party’s standing in the polls, some will despair of the party itself. 

The Conservative Party has now been in power for 12 years of austerity and economic failure. It has lost its way, as the election of Truss shows. Expect a series of defections to Labour in the short two years which run up to the general election.

Truss’s defeated rival Rishi Sunak has already made plain his despair at the shallowness and irresponsibility of her economic policy. He may emerge as the leader of a group of disenchanted MPs upset by her methods of government.

An even more deadly threat may be Johnson himself, considering his undignified reaction to his defenestration nearly two months ago. Johnson and his allies will not be able to restrain themselves from scheming against Truss once she runs into trouble.

And she will run into trouble. 

Her premiership is destined to fail. She will bring down the Conservative Party with her. None of this matters very much, except that I worry very much about the damage inflicted on Britain as a nation.

Over the coming months Britain will enter, along with much of the rest of the world, an economic and social crisis on a scale not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is hard to think of a national leader less equipped to deal with the traumatic months ahead than shallow, vapid, empty, self-admiring Liz Truss.

Source: Information Clearing House


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