Is Liz Truss the Saviour of the Conservative Party? | Edward Howard
Well, it seems that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bread is well and truly buttered at this point. Given the endless amounts of scandals against him, by-election losses on a local and national level and backlash from wider society at large (including by backbench MPs of his own party), it seems hard to comprehend Johnson surviving the rest of the year in his role. Some MPs have caught wind of this with 100 Conservative MPs vowing to vote against him in a vote of no confidence. And while it would save his hide for the moment, it no doubt shows much of the internal opposition that has slowly built against him within the party could be fatal within the coming months.
What the solution to this is unclear among the Westminster establishment. Some have called for the Tories to dump populism and return to the ‘One Nation Conservatism’ that David Cameron and Theresa May exemplified, while others believe that an actual right-winger should dominate the party. Needless to say, the upcoming local elections in May seem to be Johnson’s last chance saloon, of which if he flounders, will doubtless be forced out, either by a successful vote of no confidence or a resignation under immense pressure.
However, who should replace him?
There have been a whole slew of names to crop up in such a discussion, but the one that fascinates many (including myself) is that of current Foreign Secretary and long-serving minister Liz Truss. And this is no fluke either; many polls show that she is a favourite to get the role, all the while she remains pretty popular among party members.
Meanwhile, she has also received much in the way of puff pieces by the mainstream media, no doubt intending to grease the skids to make the public more susceptible to her taking the top job. Two recent pieces being in The Times and in the Financial Times’ magazine last week, the latter of which described her as a former ‘ministerial also-ran to potential future British prime minister’.
The former was particularly humourous in some of its descriptions: noting that she ‘likes to dance to Taylor Swift and Little Mix’, which unintentionally invokes Matt Hancock’s confession that he is a ‘grime fan’, and not in a good way (Truss went as far as to quote a Swift song in Parliament on International Women’s Day – if nothing else shows the intellectual decline of Parliamentary discussion and debate, nothing else does).
But how qualified is Truss to take up the mantle of Tory leader, and therefore the Prime Ministership, if Johnson does fall? Is Liz Truss the saviour of the Conservative Party? The one many in the right of the party have long been waiting for after nearly two decades of failed David Cameron liberalism that is despised by party membership and the broader electorate alike?
Before I start, I have nothing against Truss personally, who seems to be by any account, a perfectly decent person without too many skeletons in her closet. I was also impressed that she bothered to answer my question concerning grooming gangs at the recent party conference, and didn’t really dodge it too much. This article isn’t set to prop up any specific candidate that could be in the running as of now, and I have no conflicts of interest as far as that is concerned.
Let’s start with the positives, given that Truss does have some qualities that are really attractive and not just the artificial.
She is at least an ideological person, which is nice to see (now that ideology isn’t particularly a good one, but more on that later). From this, she isn’t like any of the other potential contenders in this race who are far more vacuous and less strident in their beliefs. Whether they be stock Blairite types like Rishi Sunak or Johnny Mercer, who will stand for nothing and fall for anything, or more intelligent Blairites like Michael Gove who, despite having been aware of the problems inflicting Britain for some time now (he did give a very positive review of Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, after all), has done very little as a minister in various roles for over a decade to fix them (beyond his very controversial education reforms, which fail to tackle the wider problems in that area anyway). Truss by contrast at least seems more honest and strident in her views, and more determined to achieve them, making her a breath of fresh air, albeit one that’s slight.
Secondly, she is also a very impressive minister in the roles that she takes, highlighting the aforementioned determination in her ideological viewpoint. Most notably, she managed to accumulate 61 trade deals during her time as International Trade Secretary, which sets the UK up pretty comfortably for a post-Brexit economy, all the while, in her current role as Foreign Secretary, taking a far braver stance against China – rightly accusing them of committing ‘genocide’ against the Uyghur Muslim minority there – than much of the leadership of her own party who value free trade as the ultimate good over anything else.
Finally, she also has made some good noises in her time as an MP and Minister, indicating that she is at least aware of the socio-cultural problems currently facing Britain. Most notably in a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank, she condemned identity politics and ‘post-modernist philosophy’ for undermining Britain, and to do so not only discussed her personal circumstances (noting as a schoolgirl in 1980s Leeds, her and her classmates were ‘taught about racism and sexism’ all the while ‘little time spent making sure everyone could read and write’). She also called out the ideas’ originators by name, including that of French post-structuralist (among other disgusting things) Michel Foucault. It was a great moment that even some left-wingers credited her for. This tendency seems to have seeped through to her administrative appointments – hence why she put noted headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh in the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, which no doubt will be a great asset to that commission, given the latter’s no-nonsense attitude to this sort of thing.
So, it all seems good so far. However, there are numerous red flags that are quite worrying.
Most notably, she is still a hang-on from the Cameron years, and seems to be of that ilk of politician in terms of her value system. That being neoliberal economically, all the while pandering to much of the left when it comes to social values, and increasing the role of the managerial and security state whenever possible. This to many on the right (including myself), is not something one wants from the leadership of a conservative party, and this Blair continuation is not popular among many beyond the London bubble.
It may be true that Truss is different in that she believes strongly in this ideology because she genuinely supports the programme, as opposed to the likes of Cameron and former Chancellor George Osbourne because they benefitted from it because it made them better off in themselves and their little club, but such a movement no longer cuts the mustard, whether genuinely presented or otherwise. The Blairite ideology and establishment was what the British voted against when they voted for Brexit, and every major election result since confirms that (it’s also in part why Johnson is currently so unpopular). Continuing with such a viewpoint is not only ideologically wrong, but electorally suicidal at this stage.
She is also noted for being a flip-flopper when it comes to specific policies. As a young Liberal Democrat, she used to be a strong republican, going as far as to state that people ‘aren’t born to rule’ at the party’s 1994 conference – a speech that party leader Paddy Ashdown at the time felt would kill it – to not only accepting the British monarchy as an institution but becoming the first female Lord Chancellor as well. She was once stridently pro-EU, going as far as to condemn the Leave side in the EU Referendum of risking ‘trade and jobs’ by leaving the Single Market, to fully embracing it when it became politically convenient (not to mention rightly poisonous to many of her party colleagues, who found themselves voted against in no-confidence votes in their local branches).
She was once a serious leftie, attending Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches with her parents (something she still hailed as recently as 2013), to being a certified war hawk over Russia (more on that later). Sure, changing your mind politically is no bad thing, provided it is sincere and well-founded. Truss though seemingly does it for political convivence and little else. It speaks to flip-flopping and changing course if a move is unpopular even if it is good long term – it doesn’t speak to much conviction in some cases, and that is bad news at a time when politicians are led far more by polling and spin doctors than their gut instinct, something that has made the public distrust them at large. Why would anyone trust her positions on some of these important questions at the ballot box, where it matters most?
Meanwhile, the aforementioned ideological slant that she has is there, but that ideology is part of the problem, and it isn’t simply the Blairite tendencies that she has. No, Truss is a full-blown classical liberal, with Thatcherite economic views, a view of which was expressed most infamously in this tweet:
‘This generation are #Uber-riding #Airbnb-ing #Deliveroo-eating #freedomfighters.’
Indeed, many who know Truss note this as being her most defining trait – Mark Littlewood for instance, one of the more prominent faces of the Institute of Economic Affairs thinktank and who has known Liz Truss for a quarter-century at this point noted that they shared ‘similar politics’. Truss’ photoshoots and fashion sense also reflect this as well, seeming to capture the Iron Lady’s iconic looks at any point she can get (which may do more than anything else to represent the shallowness of the comparison involved).
There is nothing wrong with that view by itself – indeed, since the Thatcherite era, the raison d’etre of the party has been free-market economics turned up to 11, unless it annoys vast swathes of the public of course (hence why the NHS is left alone). Indeed, for much of the party membership, this ideology may be appealing to those who wish that a Thatcher-like leader would take over the party ASAP, or to those who claim to be socially conservative but at the same time worship the free market as sacrosanct and thereby not noticing the contradiction between those two positions.
However, there is a problem with that mindset in this day in age.
Firstly, the classical liberal mindset is one which is frankly useless in the culture wars of nowadays, mainly because it starts in the wrong place. If your problem with the current progressive whirlpool we are in today is not that it is bad by itself, but rather that it has gone too far, all you are doing is taking us to the starting point much of the left want us in anyway.
It’s also why I’m not fully convinced the ‘classical liberalism’ of the likes of Jordan Peterson, Laurence Fox and many of the so-called ‘rightwing’ edgelord YouTubers is going to be the ideology that saves the day. If your standpoint is not that the 1968 consensus that both sides have adopted socially is inherently bad, with its hostility to the married state, focus on identity politics like race and gender and a hedonistic outlook on life that precludes a laxness of vices, but that it has gone too far, then you’ve already shot yourself in the foot. In short, if your political philosophy’s best rebuttal is that ‘the left are the real racists’, then that simply will not do. As G. K. Chesterton noted:
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”
Meanwhile, there is a far more serious existential concern at play here. In his book series A Study of History historian Arnold Toynbee pointed out that civilisations arose when ‘creative minorities’ stepped in to solve the great crisis of that moment in time, and would eventually perish if they failed to solve that crisis. Now, it is true that during the 1980s, Thatcherite solutions were the answer to the problems that inflicted Britain at that time: free-market economics were needed to loosen and build up a struggling economy, strong state power was needed to crush the excesses of the trade union movement that had ground the country to a halt, taxes needed to be reduced to bring in more government income, etc.
However, it now has no answers for today’s crises, not only simply because it created some of them – the deindustrialisation of Britain, the massive economic inequalities not least between North and South that exist now, the lack of duty and increased greed among the elites in our society especially those in business, the increased takeover of important institutions by the left that she failed to tackle, the increased selfishness of society at large, just to name a few – but because it offers terrible answers to them.
For instance, how is it right to base policies on what is good for GDP growth, and not on how it will impact the overall health of the nation. Why is it that the likes of Jeremy Hunt can celebrate driverless cars, even if it leads to the collapse of many jobs? Why is the moral arbiter of our society free-market economics, not Judeo-Christian values or basic common decency – like say allowing more people into very shady gig economy jobs, that you don’t have to be a Marxist to know that exploitation in common in such roles, just for the sake of cheap Amazon parcels and Uber rides? Why is protectionism inherently bad, on the grounds that it’ll cost people slightly more even as it benefits local communities and the country at large, and borders on us becoming a ‘socialist state’ – hence why some describe banning no-fault evictions as the UK adopting ‘communism’?
Why is more consumerism inherently a good thing? Does turning nice, beautiful towns and cities into concrete monoliths just to accommodate rising consumer habits make those places better or more soulless – does allowing McDonald’s into Rutland really improve that area or did it rather make it more in line with the consumerist nature of much of the Western world, something even the country of Albania refuses to kowtow to? And why is more globalisation for its own sake a good thing? Even if it tears the hearts out of local communities and makes us vulnerable to global supply chain crises and rival nations who can dominate our economy to our disadvantage. Did the coronavirus epidemic and the current cost of living crisis teach us nothing in this regard?
In all cases, Thatcherism offers no good answers and instead arrives us only at dead ends that will not save Britain if they continue to pile up to the point where they are irreversible. In fact, because of its wholesale adoption by the establishment (alongside progressive social politics and a globalist worldview) to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else, it has led in part to the ‘dominant minorities’ Toynbee warned about in civilisational collapse, of which couldn’t solve current crises and ruled by force, thereby making them illegitimate. Not exactly a good sign for any ideology.
It certainly isn’t attractive to many young people who are rightly repulsed by such an ideology. It means that, for large swathes of them who aren’t the kids of hedge fund managers or celebrities, the economy doesn’t work for them. This, combined with many of them hating a dead-end hedonistic culture still clinging like crazy to 1960s values has led many of them to adopt all stripes of radical leftism, from socialism to anarchism to communism, where no conservative can dare tread. Say what you will about Jeremy Corbyn, his admittedly mostly barmy economic proposals certainly provided hope to a lot of young people, who would have voted him in via a landslide if they could have had the chance.
If this is the best Liz Truss has to offer ideologically, we are not in good shape as a party, and can’t afford to take that risk at a time when much of the Red Wall who hate Thatcherism are on our side and we desperately need to win over young people. Indeed, when Truss was challenged about this at the aforementioned conference event I spoke at by an audience member, she couldn’t offer a coherent answer. If all a party can offer young people is a leader whose socio-economic plans are feasible only to the children of hedge fund managers and Greta Thunberg, then they will rightly determine it’ll be one not worth having. As Mallard writer Henry George noted, ‘The conservatism of Thatcher is dead. Maybe it’s time we let the dead rest.’
Finally, Truss’ foreign policy track record is depressing and rather blackpilling, to say the least. While as a minister, she voted for David Cameron’s failed attempt to declare war on Syria in 2013 – a move which would have seen Britain be the hypothetical air force of Sunni jihadists in that region known for excessive human rights abuses, not to mention much of ISIS itself.
Meanwhile, as current Foreign Secretary, she is currently a strong trumputer for war against Russia – a hypothetical war that has no serious gains for Britain, and many losses, least of which economic, which are not worth it for conflict against a sophisticated power with nuclear weapons. The only people who seem to really want war with Russia are a weird coalition – leftists who have never forgiven Russia for ditching the hammer and sickle and hate its more nationalist, conservative and religious moves in recent years, defence industry contractors, neocons and many oligarchs who would prefer the good old days of the 1990s, whereby a globalist puppet was in charge, and they could rob the country blind, just to name a few. Not least of which leaders like Joe Biden and Johnson who remain deeply unpopular at home and want to pull off a Winston Churchill or Thatcher and become popular through war.
Truss’ handling of the affair has been more unintentionally funny than many would care to admit. From her attempting to ape Thatcher once more in her dress sense (including riding a tank, which as conservative commentator Peter Hitchens has noted, made her look far more like failed Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 campaign than the Iron Lady) to being tough against Russian diplomats to the point whereby she allegedly fumbled over her own words, claiming that the regions of Rostov and Voronezh would not be ‘recognise[d]’ as being under Russian control – despite them being a part of the country itself. How is one expected to win a war with a lack of such basic knowledge about the area you’re meant to be fighting in?
The tension could be solved very easily – accept Putin’s offer to not let the likes of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO for no invasion in return, a perfectly reasonable request given that the eastward expansion of NATO and the inference in Ukraine by the EU and other bodies in 2014 has done more than anything else to stook up this unneeded deadlock, especially since we in the West promised not to do it as the Soviet Union collapsed. None of that seems to phase Truss though, who called for Russia to tone down its ‘Cold War rhetoric’, to which one can only reasonably respond, ‘you first’.
So, is Liz Truss the saviour of the Conservative Party No, and her becoming leader, despite its positive sides, is not a prospect the party loyal should much consider.
It also speaks to a wider problem that the party’s establishment, in general, suffers with. Namely, that being it is bereft of ideological and philosophical rigour. When all the party establishment has to sell you are candidates this underwhelming, does that not scream as to how seriously both major parties have declined in the past few decades? Say what one will about the Thatcher era, but its major politicians had a sense of weight and gravitas to them, whether you agreed with them or not. Whether they be the conservative wing of Norman Tebbit or Ian Gow and the liberal wing of Ken Clarke or Michael Heseltine, these were big names in politics in their day, whose stances were clearly defined, and were clearly all fit for leadership positions, with their only spats being ideological ones.
In stark contrast, the current crop of the party establishment only has to offer neoliberals like Truss at best and Blairites at worst like Sunak, Mercer or Gove. These are not the people who will save Britain, especially given that they are all part of the 1968 consensus that we voted to dump with Brexit – after all, when writer Rod Liddle described 2016 as the ‘reverse 1968’, it was more than a slogan or a cheeky headline, it was a paradigm shift many in the West are facing including in Britain, and the Conservative Party establishment needs to evolve with it or die as a rudderless husk of its past self.
This also means the grassroots need to be far more active, especially since they are often to the right of their leaders. Bow Group chairman Ben Harris-Quinney once joked that the base of the Conservative Party are so right-wing, that they would make him look ‘far-left’. That was a joke of course, but it highlighted a serious truth. Most of the Conservative Party base are on cue with what one would expect from such an organisation, something I can attest to from personal experience, all the while many of the liberals are at least willing to work with those on the right to reach compromises and accept that they have a place in the broad church of the party as a whole.
In short, they are far removed from the party’s establishment which is more concerned with liberal elite issues and neoliberal economics than anything else, which beyond certain areas has no popularity at all.
The party’s centralisation of power in recent years has worsened such a schism, but the grassroots need to take some responsibility for these issues that we now face. Too many of them are far too content in their leafy suburbs and wealthy areas – provided that their tax brackets don’t increase too much and they get enough Thatcherite talking points from their leadership, any anger they may have is quelled and not acted upon, even if they continue to rightly moan about ‘political correctness gone mad’ and the country declining around their ears.
This can no longer be their attitude. What needs to happen is for the party to be whipped into shape – Brexit showed how when grassroots anger coalesced enough, much of the Blairite deadwood that controls the party can be given its marching orders, and for the better. We need to start doing that far more often, especially when the establishment is this out of touch with its base, and by extension many of its voters. Demanding more internal democracy within the party and organisations that support it (like the Campaign for Conservative Democracy), are good first steps.
In terms of leaders, when such a time comes around, we need to pick from the actual right of the party, not the fake right, like say Priti Patel or Nadine Dorries. Sure, on stuff like Brexit and social issues, they can be pretty good, but on crunch time stuff like civil liberties and immigration, they are absolutely useless and show their true colours. Such people cannot lead our party into the future. To paraphrase Chronicles writer Pedro Gonzalez, if someone is against you 20% of the time politically on the most existentially important issues that the country faces, that isn’t an 80% friend, but rather an overall traitor.
We need the actual right to take over the party – Esther McVey or Andrew Rosindell are good candidates here, not only because they are politically ideologically suited for the job, but are electable too.
Until then, we need to be wary of middling candidates like Liz Truss whenever they are inevitably advertised as the true saviours of the Conservative Party and British conservatism in general. If Boris Johnson’s leadership proves anything at all, it’s that the Blairite consensus’ extended coda is long overdue its finish and that it won’t come from the likes of Liz Truss.