People have many different views about politics but, by and large, most of us would agree that the characteristics needed by a good prime minister are honesty, sound judgement, reliability, trustworthiness, the ability to communicate clearly, as well as the ability to pick a good team and to lead it well. It is also essential for the candidate to have a thorough and complete understanding of the United Kingdom’s needs, experience and competence in working with other national leaders, and to have crafted a clear, joined-up policy agenda that builds a better future for the country.
So Let’s take each of these characteristics one by one and consider how Liz Truss measures up.
Anyone who knows Leeds will be aware that the school that Truss attended is not a sink school on the edge of a deprived area where the pupils stand little chance of success. It is an aspirational school that has been rated outstanding by Ofsted. Yet our soon-to-be new prime minister thought it was a good idea to rubbish its reputation in an attempt to make it appear that she triumphed against adversity when she got to Oxford. We can surmise that was either a calculated distortion of the facts or a case of false memory. So, are we about to replace one prime minister who casually and routinely manipulated the truth with a facsimile?
The overwhelming challenge facing most British citizens right now is how they are going to afford to pay their rent or mortgage, deal with the rising price of food and handle sky-high fuel costs. There have been a series of sensible ideas put forward by various economists and politicians that are designed to provide support for those who will be most exposed to these pressures. Truss is one of the few who has put forward tax cuts for the wealthiest as the highest priority. At a time of huge pressures on public spending budgets she chose to announce a giveaway for those who least need it. She appears to have prioritised winning the votes of a select few Conservatives in the leadership election over the needs of the poorest in society – a strange demonstration of sound judgement.
During the referendum campaign Truss gave a number of speeches in which she outlined the damage that would be done to Britain over time if we left the EU. She now champions a form of Brexit that is so extreme that almost no one dared to suggest it might be a possibility during the referendum campaign. She has flipped totally and is now in the camp that is enthusiastically advocating ripping up the Northern Ireland protocol, and selling farmers down the river with free trade deals that make no mention of higher farming standards. On one of the biggest issues of the day she totally reversed her stance, not because the facts changed, but because the short-term personal political advantage did.
Truss served in Boris Johnson’s cabinet and echoed every lie that he pumped out as he desperately tried to maintain his career. There are two ways of looking at this. Supporters will think that she can be trusted to be loyal to Johnson and everything he stands for to the bitter end. Opponents will agree. She has learned from him how easily the truth can be manipulated, how to casually discard yesterday’s inconvenient commitments, and how easily key parts of British democracy can be undermined in the pursuit of short-term political advantage. Are our politics that devoid of integrity and morality that we just replace one untrustworthy leader with another?
Watch the YouTube clip of her performance at the Conservative Party Conference and carefully consider the future of the country. Or listen to her humiliating performance when speaking through a translator with her formidable and dangerous Russian opposite number, Sergey Lavrov. Don’t expect to see her being interviewed by someone who can press home robust questions – this very week, to avoid further gaffes, she pulled out of being interviewed by the BBC’s Nick Robinson.
Anyone seeking to unite the country during a period of turmoil might seek to appoint the most competent people with the clearest understanding and vision required for the role. Truss has made promises to her rivals and supporters that will result in a further lurch to the extreme right in her Cabinet. It is expected to contain Jacob Rees Mogg, Lord David Frost, Iain Duncan Smith, and her leadership rivals Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch. She is unlikely to be leading a team that constitutes a fair, balanced representation of Conservative MPs. She certainly won’t be picking a leadership team that reflects the majority opinion in the country. Almost 53% of voters in the last election opted for a party to the left of the Conservatives, furthermore, opinion polls now indicate an estimated 66% of the country wants a more left leaning government.
The direction of the country
In so far as Truss has a clear agenda for the country, it is a deeply worrying one. She has promised to re-introduce fracking and leave us tied into a fossilised economic future. She has ignorantly opined on ordinary working people and how much harder they need to work and wants them to meekly accept pay rises lower than inflation. Her attitude to the wealthy is more forgiving. She doesn’t seem remotely concerned that city bonuses are back to record levels as London continues act as a laundromat for illicit finance.
Working with other leaders
As foreign secretary, Truss has developed a track record of working with foreign leaders – badly. She has insulted President Emmanuel Macron; given Vladimir Putin an opportunity to laugh at her when she suggested Ukraine was on the Baltic Sea, and signed a trade deal with Australia that gives away much for very little in return. She has also committed herself to wilfully souring relations with President Joe Biden and with our nearest neighbour Ireland by threatening to remove the Northern Ireland protocol. She enters office without an obvious political ally in any foreign country apart from Viktor Orbán, the far-right leader of Hungary, or Jair Bolsonaro, the climate change denying President of Brazil.
Yet all of this is only the tip of the iceberg. We are witnessing a politician who is desperate for power but isn’t capable of wielding it. Someone with all the ego and naked ambition of Donald Trump and all the personal integrity and consistency of Johnson. Rarely has a country escaped from the frying pan to end up so quickly in the fire. I fear for the future of our country as someone with so very little talent and understanding tries to steer us through the worst economic crisis for almost 50 years on the basis of outdated Thatcherite policies that simply aren’t capable of solving the very real problems we face. We can only hope that she calls a snap general election so we can make an early escape from her rule – in two years she could do an awful lot of damage.