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6 February 2023

Is any Tory capable of feeling shame?

Liz Truss is merely the latest senior Conservative to blame everyone but herself for the damage inflicted on the country.

By Martin Fletcher

For sheer gall, for unmitigated arrogance, and for her utter lack of humility, contrition and self-awareness, Liz Truss really is in a class of her own.

This is the ideological zealot whose £45bn package of unfunded tax cuts last September caused the pound to plunge to a record low, sent mortgage rates soaring and very nearly destroyed our pensions industry as the world gawped in astonishment at Britain’s needless economic meltdown. She caused immense damage to her country and her party, and was deservedly drummed out of office after just 49 days – the shortest tenure of any prime minister in British history.

By rights Truss should quit the public stage for ever, but not a bit of it. She insists that practically none of the above was her fault: it was the fault of the Treasury, her civil servants, a hostile media, the Office for Budget Responsibility, pusillanimous Tory MPs, a leftward shift in public opinion, the International Monetary Fund and even President Joe Biden.  

She was a “useful scapegoat” for a deepening economic malaise, she complained in a breathtaking, 4,000-word exercise in self-justification and buck-passing published in the sycophantic Sunday Telegraph

“I was not given a realistic chance to enact my policies by a very powerful economic establishment,” Truss protested. Her officials never warned her of the risk to pension funds, claimed the woman who had peremptorily sacked Tom Scholar, the Treasury’s permanent secretary, and contemptuously dismissed all “expert” advice. “I assumed upon entering Downing Street that my mandate would be respected and accepted. How wrong I was,” complained the politician who was propelled into No 10 by precisely 81,326 wildly unrepresentative Conservative Party members. She even had the cheek to claim that her agenda was “popular”.

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Truss did acknowledge that she was not “blameless”, but at no point did she apologise, or express even the mildest regret, for the excruciating financial pain that her grotesquely irresponsible experiment inflicted on millions of her fellow citizens.

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But while Truss is an extreme example of shamelessness, she is not alone in flaunting it so brazenly. Indeed it is a trait that seems to permeate her party.

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, clings defiantly to office despite the slew of bullying allegations levelled against him by at least two dozen civil servants in the three government departments he has led; and despite the serious damage that his refusal to step aside is doing to the reputation of his party and the Prime Minister.

Nadhim Zahawi was finally prised out of the Conservative Party chairmanship last week, not by weeks of damning newspaper revelations about his tax avoidance, but by a damning report from Rishi Sunak’s ethics adviser. He departed with a graceless resignation letter that contained a swipe at the media, but no hint of contrition for failing, as the ethics adviser’s investigation shockingly claimed, to admit that he had been heavily fined by the tax authorities when he was appointed to take charge of the nation’s finances as chancellor of the Exchequer.

Boris Johnson, forced to resign as prime minister in disgrace, left with similar ill grace. In his resignation speech he portrayed himself as a victim of “rule changes” and Westminster’s “herd instinct”, and offered not a word of apology for “partygate” and the many other scandals that so besmirched the great office he held. Unembarrassed and unrepentant, he continues to deport himself as if he is prime minister, promoting himself and undermining Sunak instead of doing penance on the backbenches.

Suella Braverman evidently saw no problem in returning to the Home Office a mere six days after being forced to resign for leaking government documents. Matt Hancock, dismissed as health secretary for breaking his own Covid social distancing rules by having an affair with an adviser, sees no problem in cashing in on his infamy with books and reality television shows. 

Priti Patel declined to do the honourable thing and step down as home secretary when indicted for bullying. Dominic Cummings (Johnson’s chief Downing Street strategist though not a party member) refused to resign when he was caught blatantly breaking his own lockdown rules. Neil Parish, forced to quit as an MP for watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber, now talks of standing again at the next election. Owen Paterson sought to blame the investigators, not himself, when caught improperly lobbying ministers for his private sector paymasters. And so the list goes on.

Why are these Conservatives so arrogant? Why do they believe that the normal rules of conduct do not apply to them? Have they developed an overblown sense of entitlement after 13 years in power? Or do these Brexiteers instinctively circle the wagons when assailed by an establishment they perceive to be hostile – even though they are now that establishment?

The Conservatives’ most egregious offence, of course, is that they have wrecked the country. The flag-waving, jingoistic, self-styled patriots of our ruling party have reduced Britain to a divided, demoralised, rudderless, impoverished, strike-bound and borderline corrupt state that is distrusted by Europe and America, and pitied or laughed at by much of the rest of the world.

It would be nice if the Tories showed at least a hint of remorse for that, too, but they never will.

[See also: Liz Truss’s essay shows she is as deluded as ever]

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