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6 February 2023

Truss’s self-rehabilitation is a last throw of the dice by the Tory right

The former prime minister is trying to revive a Conservative right wing that collapsed with her own catastrophic term in office.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Liz Truss has never been shy and retiring. When she crashed out of Downing Street leaving the Conservatives with collapsing poll ratings, few believed she would fade away.

Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister has been regularly spotted in Westminster since leaving office, strutting through Portcullis House or chatting with MPs in corridors. News of her trip to Washington to meet Republicans was also an indication she had no intention of following in the footsteps of Theresa May, making polite and often helpful interventions from the back benches.

Despite the economic carnage of Trussonomics, Truss’s 4,000-word essay in the Sunday Telegraph was unrepentant, blaming her colleagues’ lack of loyalty and a left-wing “economic establishment” for her downfall. 

While most will be alarmed she has popped up to remind voters of her catastrophic exit, many within the Conservative Party, especially Brexiteers, are sympathetic to the low-tax, deregulation agenda she tried to advance in office. Even those who remain true to Rishi Sunak complain of the high tax burden and sluggish economic growth.

Truss clearly wants to rehabilitate her image and become a siren for her party’s right wing. Can she continue to dominate the news agenda?

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A small number of allies, most notably the former Tory chairman Jake Berry and ex-ministers Simon Clarke and Ranil Jayawardena, are willing to defend Truss, but she is no longer surrounded by the tribe she relied on to clinch the leadership. Thérèse Coffey and James Cleverly, two key figures, have been absorbed into Sunak’s top team. Kwasi Kwarteng, her ideological soulmate, is keeping a low profile. Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg are also keeping their distance and Boris Johnson, troublemaker-in-chief, is pursuing his own agenda.

With Nadhim Zahawi gone and Dominic Raab expected to follow him soon, Sunak will need to embark on a reshuffle. Truss cannot expect her arch-rival to look to her to fill a gap.

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But getting back into front-line politics does not appear to be Truss’s game plan. The Tories are on course for general election defeat and her thoughts are said to be on rallying support for the post-2024 policy battles.

Her former adviser Henry Oliver has written for the New Statesman comparing his ex-boss to Barry Goldwater, the former US presidential candidate who lost to Lyndon Johnson but established the roots of Reaganism in the Republican consciousness.

Truss wants to revive the libertarian right by establishing the narrative that she had the right ideas at the wrong time.

But given Sunak is already grappling with a 20-point poll gap between his party and Labour and with regular back-bench rebellions, few will welcome her explosive return.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.