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20 April 2024

The logic of Liz Truss’s delusion

Why admit defeat when you can convince yourself that you were right all along?

By Jonn Elledge

Here is a list of just some of the people and things that failed prime minister Liz Truss has recently blamed for her own humiliating collapse. An anti-growth coalition. The global left. The economic establishment. The blob of vested interests. Trans activists. Environmental extremists. The London elite. The London dinner-party circuit. Woke culture. The Daily Star. The Financial Times. Ocado. This is not a comprehensive list, you understand. I could quite easily keep going, for a very long time.

It would be unfair to suggest, however, that failed prime minister Liz Truss is only interested in blame. No: she’s also been going around listing institutions and things she’d like to abolish, too. The Office of Budget Responsibility. The Supreme Court. The Judicial Appointments Committee. The World Trade Organisation. The World Health Organisation. The UN. The Human Rights Act. National Insurance. The monarchy. OK, so the last couple there date from the Nineties, when Truss still had Lib Dem tendencies.

To be uncharacteristically fair for a moment, the enthusiasm with which Truss has of late been accepting basically any interview request going is something for which, in stark contrast to so much else, it’s difficult to blame her. She does, after all, have a book to sell, with the question-begging title of Ten Years to Save the West, and any author knows that promotional opportunities are like gold dust these days. (My own new book A History of the World in 47 Borders is out next week, and rest assured that if someone asked me to do lunch with the FT, or indeed lunch with their Uncle Toby, I’d be there like a shot.) But it has meant an absolute cavalcade of interviews, headlines and viral clips in which a media ecosystem that normally specialises in protecting senior Tories from an unpleasant reality has done little more than point and laugh.

Highlights have included the interview on Fox News in which she blurted out the phrase “and here’s my new book” before the interviewer could ask even a single question, in rather the manner of a child who wants to show you what they did at school today. She then proceeded to brandish it to camera, upside down. There have been regular restatements of her enthusiasm for a second Trump presidency (at least partly, one assumes, on the grounds that Joe Biden too has been unmasked as a key figure in the anti-Truss coalition). Then there was her appearance on Talk TV for yet more blame-shifting, this time on to the Tory MPs who’d been beastly enough not to support her. Speaking about their disloyalty, she explained that “there are too many Conservative MPs”, and then chose that exact moment to pause, mid-sentence – and thus, for the first time, inadvertently spoke for the nation.

Most fun of all, there was the aforementioned lunch with the FT, which Truss gleefully suggested should be renamed “Lunch with the Deep State” (while also eating out on the Deep State’s dime). She then proceeded to explain that she wanted to turn Britain into “Singapore on steroids [not] Norway on valium”, adding: “I don’t believe in guardrails.” Those whose household finances have spent the past two years tumbling down the side of a cliff may not entirely agree.

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All this is, of course, hilarious. It’s also been a boon for a Labour Party whose interests have momentarily aligned with the most enthusiastically anti-state prime minister the country has ever had: both want to see as much public discussion of Liz Truss and her legacy as the universe can possibly accommodate. Another of the week’s highlights was a viral Labour campaign video which began with a repeated clip of Truss saying she had “unfinished business”, then cut to Rishi Sunak laughing, awkwardly. There is no better ambassador for a new Labour government than CPAC’s own Liz Truss.

But this whole parade has also been weirdly uncomfortable. I described Truss’s failure as “humiliating” but she doesn’t seem humiliated at all; she seems proud, and it’s the rest of us who’ve felt the urge for the ground to open up and swallow us on her behalf. Truss herself is not merely self-confident but self-deluded. When the BBC’s Chris Mason suggested that her “time as prime minister left the UK as an international laughing stock”, she made a face that suggested she’d never encountered such a ludicrous suggestion in her life, and earnestly replied, “Well I don’t think that’s true.”

Liz Truss’s retreat into self-delusion – assuming, of course, she was ever anywhere else – is understandable. If you had failed, and accidentally trashed every economic argument you’d advocated over a decades-long career in the process, and if you had done so in the most high-profile and humiliating manner imaginable, then you too might construct an elaborate alternative universe in which none of that happened at all. Much nicer to convince yourself that you were right all along, and nothing was ever your fault. But it wouldn’t make it true.

[See also: Labour’s waste-finder general]

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