Publishing a 4,000-word essay in The Sunday Telegraph is a logical step to take for Liz Truss in her first public outing to set out her case for why and how her term as UK Prime Minister abruptly ended last October after just 49 days when she resigned her office.
She was the shortest-serving prime minister in the country’s history.
The demographic optics for this choice of mainstream media outlet are about right, I’d say, for reaching readers likely to be sympathetic to her narrative – many of them would be members of the Conservative Party and likely to have voted for her in the party leadership contest last year.
I read the essay online early this morning. It took about fifteen minutes to read, then some reflection on what I’d read.
I don’t know if Truss had ghost-writing help, or whether the Telegraph wielded an editorial scalpel much, but it is a well-structured narrative of events as she sees them. It is her account, of course: this is not an overt attempt to present a balanced story.
But everything she writes is verifiable and will be heavily scrutinised by friends and foes alike. Indeed, some obvious knives were clearly visible in some of the media reporting published on Sunday.
I haven’t paid much attention to what voices on social networks, especially Twitter, are saying. Nor the comments in the Telegraph. Frankly, what’s the point? I see little chance of worthiness, and none of balance, in any of those places.
Truss says that, from the outset of her premiership that began last September, she faced an insurmountable wall of resistance from the Westminster establishment, some Conservative MPs, and others, to her and her ideas. She argues that this wall stopped her from achieving her aim of economic growth through tax cuts and de-regulation.
But she notes:
Since my departure from Downing Street just over 100 days ago, I’ve spent many hours reflecting on what happened during my time there, what went wrong and what I might have done differently. This soul-searching has not been easy.
She speaks of how lack of effective communication by her in explaining her ideas was quite an impediment:
I fully admit that our communication could have been better. As I said during the leadership campaign, I am not the slickest communicator. In addition, we did not have a system that was enthusiastic about communicating messages contrary to its orthodoxy and, so early in my premiership, I had not established the infrastructure inside No 10 to best explain all that we were doing.
My immediate thought on that was to wonder who her advisers were at the time. Did she have any communicators on board with her at the start? I suspect not.
Her essay is, in effect, a huge explainer in a blow-by-blow account of the political and economic disaster that unfolded before our very eyes from the first days of her premiership. Lots of this-is-who-to-blame thrown about without naming any specific government-machinery names, with a throwaway admission that she isn’t “blameless.”
While this explainer is very readable, what I think is more signficant is what she has to say about the lead-up to the implosion:
But, frankly, we were also pushing water uphill. Large parts of the media and the wider public sphere had become unfamiliar with key arguments about tax and economic policy and over time sentiment had shifted Left-wards. This is partly because we Conservatives had failed to make these arguments enough since 2010 – instead triangulating with Labour policy.
Text in bold is my emphasis. The 12-year period she references covers the entire time of three Conservative Party prime ministers – David Cameron, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson.
Putting it more plainly – presiding over the political and economic climate underpinning this build-up during all of this time has been Conservative governments.
And that may well be the final dot to add to the other dots that joins everything up to present a picture of impending electoral disaster (if not political extinction) for the Tories if a general election were to be held within the next few months.
There’s no indication at all that a general election will be called anytime soon, though, although that is based on the normality that a sitting government will call it when the time is right for them.
It’s not only the obvious things – the worsening NHS disaster-in-motion, train strikes, high energy costs, rising interest rates, cost of living crisis, to name just five dots – that prop up the idea of looming electoral disaster for the Conservatives, whenever a general election is held.
It’s also the intangibles: the perception that Conservatives are sleazy (Covid PPE scams and scandals, questionable acts about personal taxes by some Conservative MPs) and wholly lacking any compassion (just look at the fevered intent in sending immigrants to Rwanda no matter who disagrees with this inhumanity).
If Liz Truss does plan a political comeback as some are suggesting, and as she perhaps alludes to in her essay, then I can see 2023 turning into a time of leadership infighting and huge self-inflicted wounding for the Tories, especially if Boris Johnson also tries a comeback.
Will the country (ie, all the voters) really stand for yet another Conservative leadership battle with the outcome being yet another prime minister in the post by the whim of Conservative Party members only, not the national choice of voters in a general election?
If Labour can really show they are a government in waiting as Keir Starmer would like you to believe, then an election may happen sooner rather than later.
I believe it is time up for the Tories after 12 years of meh government. It needs a tipping point for change sooner than the parliamentary deadline for an election by January 2025.
Are we ready for one this year?