Liz Truss is the new British PM, but who is she? Is she a leader or one to be led? Here, we look at a few Trumpian traits in the new PM.
Liz Truss has just become the new UK Prime Minister after Boris Johnson was forced to resign following strings of allegations of lying and the Partygate scandal. It now seems a long time since the highest government politicians and accomplices were attending boozy parties while the rest of the country was forced into lockdown under the government’s own regulation.
A new leader, but arguably the same old thing.
The Conservative Party have for a good decade been creeping away from the political center-ground and courting the right. Truss is a very definite continuation along this theme.
First, it is worth introducing American and international readers to who Liz Truss is, and how this might hint at elements of Donald Trump and his quest for power.
Truss used to be a Liberal Democrat politician. The Lib Dems are a center/center-left party that arguably appeals more to the middle class than Labour, who have traditionally represented a more unionized working class (though things have shifted).
While at the University of Oxford, Truss campaigned for the Lib Dems and in 1994 made her debut speaking at a conference. There, she gave a republican speech supporting a motion to abolish the monarchy.
Of course, people can change. Now, she is a Tory PM who has repeated the mantra “deliver, deliver, deliver.” What the delivery might be, I shudder to think.
In true understated comedic manner, the Oxford University Liberal Democrats reacted to her winning the race to be PM.
But why did the young wannabe politician with a left-wing-academic father and CND-protestor mother end up leaving the Lib Dems to eventually become the UK PM? It turns out she is something of a political chameleon (where the term “chameleon” can be substituted for “empty vessel”).
After university, Truss worked as a Commercial Manager at the fossil fuel giant Shell and then becoming Economics Director at the telecom company, Cable & Wireless.
Truss has said of her move away from the Lib Dems, Truss speaking to Conservative voters on the campaign trail, that, “We all had teenage misadventures. Some people had sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. I had the Liberal Democrats.”
The reality may be somewhat different in that she was rejected as a parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems and this rejected the Lib Dems. It is hard not to think she has followed a desire for power over a desire to achieve ideological ends. From someone who, as a left-leaning youth interested in homelessness and a Lib Dem who supported the legalization of cannabis, the abolition of the monarchy, and who campaigned against the divisive Criminal Justice Bill, she has become the antithesis of that.
She soon became involved in scandal that almost ended her career, having an affair with a more senior Tory politician (in age and responsibility) in the early 2000s. After Truss unsuccessfully contested some London Borough council elections and two general elections in seats when was very unlikely to win, she was moved the the “A” list and given the easy seat of South West Norfolk, which she won.
It was in this David Cameron era that she found her feet and found power. Indeed, in 2014 she became the UK’s youngest female cabinet minister as environmental secretary in David Cameron’s government. Up to now, Truss has now held six ministerial jobs under three different prime ministers
In possibly the last hallmark of her more liberal tendencies, Truss joined the Remain campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum. She called leaving the EU a “triple tragedy” argued by those “living in cloud cuckoo land.” She is now a vehement Leaver.
Six years is a long time in politics.
I had an argument on the streets a few years ago with my own local Tory Member of Parliament (MP) who had just voted against same-sex marriage. Caroline Dinenage told me she voted against her own moral judgment in a reflection of the 50 or so angry letters she had received from (no doubt conservative) constituents. She admitted she erroneously thought that this angry set of voters were somehow representative of her constituency at large.
I challenged her on what her notion of being an MP—a politician—was. Was it her duty to stand by her convictions and convince her electorate of what the right choice of action on any given subject might be, or is her job merely to reflect her constituents as if she was a mirror, lacking in any moral and political sentiments of her own?
Has Liz Truss, who appears to have flip-flopped a number of times in her political career, genuinely changed her mind on any number of these topics such as Brexit, or is she giving up on her convictions in the desire to merely reflect what she sees as public sentiment? Is she, even, reflecting the positions of politicians around her, lawmakers of greater power and stature than her at any given time?
Now, however, she has the top job. It is Liz Truss to whom other politicians and the electorate will look for leadership and judgment.
In a recent Guardian piece titled “‘Ambition greater than ability’: Liz Truss’s rise from teen Lib Dem to would-be PM”, the authors observe:
Her critics – and she has many within her own party – say she lacks many of Thatcher’s skills. She fails to display intellectual gravitas, they say, relying instead upon cheap slogans, and struggles to make convincing speeches, another facet of her character that could be quickly exposed under the intense scrutiny of Downing Street.
Others doubt if Truss really believes anything she says, and relies upon a gut instinct to fulfil her own ambitions. Anna Soubry, the former MP who served as a minister alongside Truss, said many had questioned whether she had the skills necessary to lead the UK.
“She was the most ambitious person many people had encountered. I honestly believe she was given jobs – ministerial promotions – just to shut her up. Her ambition is, undoubtedly, considerably greater than her ability,” said Soubry.
Her slide to the right over the last decade has coincided with a definite trend: her trajectory of power. When she voted Remain, it was, coincidentally, the position of her boss (the PM, Cameron) and was a position that was widely expected to win.
This has echoes reminiscent of Trump, who is ideologically vacuous. He may often say political things that are heinous, but it is coming more from what he thinks people want to hear rather than from what he politically stands for. Because, in reality, I’m not sure he really politically stands for anything other than himself. He is a narcissist who lusts after power and will do and say anything he sees most conducive for him getting into and remaining in power.
Before and during his electoral campaign, for example, he held about five different views on abortion. In fact, he took five different positions on abortion in three days. This is because he is essentially an empty ideological vessel awaiting to be filled by the nearest opportunist. At one time, that was Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, among others.
In the same way, it is hard to see Liz Truss as anything different. No one really knows what she stands for because she has stood for many different things.
Of course, analogies stretch only so far. Trump is far more comfortable at public speaking where Truss’s speeches have been a catalog of cringeworthiness. She has a habit, as she did at her PM acceptance speech (where, as the former Foreign Secretary, she made a Kyiv/Kiev gaffe), of using for applause where there is none to be had.
There are some further Trump techniques that Truss is utilizing, such as employing foxes to run hen houses. As Trump employed Scott Pruitt, arch-enemy of the environment, to run the EPA, Truss is looking to employ fossil fuel advocate, Victorian toff caricature, and climate skeptic Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of energy and reducing carbon emissions.
This is par for the course for Truss, whose campaign slid further to the right in the lead-up to her election as she tried to appeal to grassroots culture war-obsessed, anti-woke Conservative Party members.
It will be interesting to see how she serves out the two years remaining until the next general election. There were many on the left who were hoping that Truss would be elected since they saw her as the weakest in terms of being able to publicly campaign against.
The question is whether Truss is a leader to take the nation along with her, following a clear and rational path through the weirds and thorns of the domestic and international political undergrowth, or whether she is a follower, ear bent to populist public opinions and nearby political ne’er-do-wells.
As Neil Fawcett, who is now a Lib Dem councilor and who campaigned alongside her in the 90s, has said: “She was incredibly difficult to work with. On a personal level, I could never really work out what she actually believed because she always seemed to be playing to the gallery, rather than putting forward a genuine belief.”
UK politics is in something of a state of disarray right now, very much in need of an effective and compassionate leader with a strength in their own convictions.
I’m just not at all sure that Liz Truss is that person.
Roll on 2024.