Cameron sang. May cried. Johnson blamed his party.
Today is Boris Johnson’s last day as Prime Minister. Later he will fly north, to the Scottish castle of Balmoral for an audience with the Queen. Liz Truss will make the same journey, but she will return to Downing Street as Prime Minister.
Johnson’s buoyant speech outside No 10 this morning tried to establish his legacy. He played the usual hits: supplying Ukraine with weapons, more police, the vaccine roll-out, gigabit broadband. It was an attempt to prove he’d delivered on the promises he made when he became Prime Minister in 2019. In his acceptance speech that year, Johnson compelled his party to “ping off the guy-ropes of self-doubt and negativity with better education, better infrastructure, more police, fantastic full fibre broadband”.
Much of that boosterism has since turned into resentful self-pity. “The baton will be handed over in what has unexpectedly turned out to be a relay race,” Johnson said this morning. “They changed the rules halfway through but never mind that now.” He still views his defenestration as an injustice, one he may want to rectify.
That might explain the signs that Johnson will try to influence Truss from the backbenches. The PM said he knew Truss and “this compassionate Conservative government will do everything we can to get people through this crisis”. In so doing, he prodded his successor to go big on her plan to deal with the rising cost of living. Yesterday, in her own acceptance speech, Truss extolled a different set of principles to Johnson in 2019. She spoke about her belief “in freedom, in the ability to control your own life, in low taxes, in personal responsibility”.
Truss has positioned herself as Johnson’s political heir but her values are very different from his – comparing their two acceptance speeches shows that. The question for Liz Truss is to what extent these principles shape her response to the cost-of-living crisis. And to what extent she listens to her old boss.
This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here to receive it every day.
[See also: From energy prices to inflation: how Liz Truss plans to tackle the economy]