“Fizz with Liz”, the regular networking sessions held by Liz Truss, is transforming from cosy drinks with MPs to a spume of policy announcements. The new PM’s closest confidants believe she has weeks, not 100 days, to make a favourable impression on the British people. Meanwhile, relations with Boris Johnson’s team aren’t as chummy as a continuity cabinet might suggest. Take her Greenwich neighbour and supporter Kwasi Kwarteng. A Johnson-era No 10 insider briefed that Kwarteng was no Stakhanovite, quipping it was ironic that he was, with Truss, a co-author of the infamous Britannia Unchained, which labelled Britons “among the worst idlers in the world”. One former minister also claimed the name of another Truss favourite, James “not very” Cleverly, is a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act.
Johnson was advised by a senior Tory parliamentarian that leaving the Commons is his best hope of avoiding a Privileges Committee finding that he knowingly lied to MPs. The hearing, the toppled PM was informed, might be dropped if he stood down in Uxbridge. I’m told Johnson was silent and looked hurt. The deluded former leader really does think his party might beg him to return to save them.
Fewer than half of Tory MPs backed Truss, yet all wanted her mobile number to text congratulations. One with the magic number grumbled that he was so sick of sycophants asking for it that he started pretending he didn’t know. The split in Conservative ranks is between those able to suck up without texting a sign-off – because Truss already had their number in her phone – and those who had to stick a name and constituency on the message.
Rishi Sunak’s defeat was also a loss for Gavin Williamson, who viewed himself as a kingmaker. I hear Michelle Donelan was rated a better education secretary than Williamson in the Johnson years, even though she lasted only 36 hours. “Unlike Gavin, she never had time to screw everything up,” sneered a snout.
Parliament’s most energetic picketer is the SNP’s Chris Stephens, a one-time Unison activist who is to burning braziers what Truss is to Thatcher tribute poses on Instagram. The Glasgow campaigner was surprised to read his name in the Metro newspaper on a list of disobedient Labour MPs. “Chris is too left-wing for Starmer,” mused a comrade. “He’d be carpeted so often the rug would be worn bare.”
Fears are growing that the exodus of Johnson special advisers could swamp the vetters at the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, the body that evaluates the suitability of post-government jobs for those on No 10’s payroll. My informant said dozens are touting for work with PR and lobbying firms because they don’t ask many questions about Covid lockdown fines.
This article appears in the 07 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Liz Truss Unchained