Even after Truss’ resignation, it’s not clear Tories have learned a lesson

London: Liz Truss will forever go down as a pub trivia question as to who is Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister. Not even those who predicted that her time in Downing Street would be bad could have imagined that it would possibly go so monumentally wrong, so early.

Perhaps the only other thing she’ll be remembered for is her connection to salad, inspired by a column in The Economist that referred to her as an “iceberg lady” and said she had “the shelf-life of a lettuce”.

Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers her resignation speech.Credit:Getty

A viral live-stream, created by British tabloid The Daily Star, has for the past week shown a lettuce and a picture of Truss and posed the question “which wet lettuce will last longer?.” The lettuce has now been declared the winner.

The past six weeks have been not so much a cautionary tale as much as a textbook example of what happens when political ideologues are let off the leash, allowed to shut out anyone with opposing views and given the keys to the kingdom.

It is a tragedy only for those who are personally close to her. For everyone else, it is relief for the country which has been pushed to the brink with inflation, cost-of-living pressures, potential energy shortages this winter, and a steep rise in mortgage repayments.

The mind boggles at how a G7 nation allowed itself to be governed by someone who has proven so incompetent.

There are also valuable lessons to be learned for political parties about ditching their own responsibilities and handing them to party members. Choosing a leader should, especially while in government, be a responsibility for the party room.

Six weeks ago it had looked like Truss might have a winning touch after she arrived in No. 10 as the third female prime minister, inheriting a majority of the more than 70 Tory MP votes left behind by Boris Johnson after he left amid months of sleaze and scandal.

But there was always more promise than actual achievement, more style than substance and a strong tendency to avoid admitting defeat.

Among all of the damning anecdotes to have been told in the past week or so it was the admission from former adviser Kirsty Buchanan, who worked for Truss when she was justice secretary, that was the most telling.

She told the Whitehall Sources podcast that Truss used to pretend one of her relatives had died so she could avoid an appearance on flagship BBC politics show Question Time.

Buchanan said eventually the advisers “ran out of excuses” and Truss had to appear on the show.

“She didn’t like the media so we used to spend quite a lot of time making up excuses and killing off minor members of her family so she didn’t have to go on Question Time,” she said. “Only minor people like aunts and cousins and things – I’m not talking about major members of the family.”

It’s not the kind of stuff you’d expect from someone who should be prepared to have the fight to stand up for what she believed in. And it should be remembered that it was the lack of salesmanship, persuasion and groundwork that contributed to the financial rack and ruin her actions caused.

She has also set back the arguments of the economically conservative side of politics in Britain for decades. There was a perfectly respectable argument for Truss’ growth and tax cuts agenda, but not at this moment. That will be lost forever.

Worst of all there was something incredibly indulgent about these past six weeks. And to be honest, something indulgent also about the seven weeks of the leadership campaign that preceded it. That happens after a decade of government when the best talent, one by one, either retired, were pushed out or were shunned in the bitter and twisted battle of egos.

Sir Charles Walker, a Tory MP of 17 years, hinted at it amid the chaos of a parliamentary vote on Wednesday night.

“I hope all the people that put Liz Truss into Number 10, I hope it was worth it, I hope it was worth it for the ministerial red box, I hope it was worth it to sit round the cabinet table because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary,” he said.

Baggage included: Former PM Boris Johnson.Credit:AP

“I’ve had enough of talentless people putting their tick in the right box, not because it’s in the national interest but because it’s in their own personal interest to achieve ministerial position.”

Over the next week the Tories now have to choose a leader who can regain the trust of the markets, the business sector and, importantly, the voters. Whoever they choose clearly needs to be able to carry the authority of the party room and unite it.

That Boris Johnson is thinking of returning shows he hasn’t learned the lesson. He may have once been a huge electoral asset. But now, after a scandal-plagued past year, he is no longer.

He does at least have the merit of having been elected by the country and possibly being the only person who could hold his electoral coalition together.

But the flipside is many MPs remember why he was ousted and he still faces a House of Commons inquiry over the partygate affair.

Johnson, with Truss, were the ones who routinely denounced their opponents over “project fear”, accusing them of talking down Britain. But what should never be forgotten is that Truss and Johnson drove down the economy and tarnished the nation on the international stage in the first place.

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