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Yesterday’s post discussed Liz Truss’s dogged determination.

Today’s entry looks at how determined she was to bring a refreshing libertarianism to Government.

On September 28, 2022, Jeremy Cliffe wrote a fascinating profile of Truss’s love of free markets in the New Statesman: ‘Liz Truss and the rise of the libertarian right’.

Of Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget of September 23, Cliffe points out (emphases mine):

nothing in Truss’s past was fundamentally incompatible with her proclaimed ideological commitment to a small-state, free-market model. And now, just three weeks into her tenure in No 10, it has been comprehensively buried. The unofficial Budget from her like-minded Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, on 23 September, removed any remaining doubt by ushering in the biggest package of tax cuts since the Conservative chancellor Anthony Barber’s expansionary “dash for growth” in 1972, and by targeting the benefit of those cuts overwhelmingly on the richest.

Far from popularity-chasing opportunism, this amounts to a huge experiment that, as the Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie has put it, effectively treats Britain as a giant “laboratory” for economically libertarian ideas. The success or failure of that experiment will make or break Truss’s government. Say what you like about the wisdom of this approach – and the markets have had their say – but it is absolutely not the method of a flip-flopper. Rather, it is that of a convinced member of a deep-rooted network of ideas, institutions and thinkers born on the shores of Lake Geneva over 75 years ago. It is impossible to understand the ideological zeal with which Truss and Kwarteng are pushing Britain towards the economic brink without understanding that network.

Cliffe goes on to present a summary of Friedrich Hayek’s economic vision. I learned a lot, so am sharing that below.

Hayek and the Mont Pelerin Society

Over the centuries, many wonderful things originated in Switzerland. Libertarianism was no exception.

In 1947, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Friedrich Hayek invited a group of 39 economists, historians and philosophers to promote classical liberalism, which has nothing to do with left wing politics. In fact, what became the Mont Pelerin Society was — and is — actively opposed to Marxist and Keynesian economic policies promoted globally at that time.

The group met at the Hotel du Parc, now the Pelerin Palace, in the village of Le Mont-Pèlerin, which overlooks Lake Geneva. I have been to that part of the world, and it is sublime.

The Mont Pelerin Society still meets regularly, annually for regional meetings and every two years for a general meeting. In 1997, they met at the village’s stunning Le Mirador Resort and Spa. In October 2022, they met in Oslo.

Cliffe describes the Society’s goal:

Inspired by Hayek’s warnings of a “road to serfdom” – as set forth in his 1944 book of that name – they were united in concern at the apparent march of international collectivism, in both its totalitarian (Soviet) and democratic (social democrat and New Deal) forms.

Afterwards, libertarian think tanks were founded in the United Kingdom and the United States which influenced the thinking of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan:

Over the subsequent decades members and associates of this group established successive generations of influential think tanks advancing anti-collectivist economics. In 1955, Antony Fisher founded the Institute of Economic Affairs in London (IEA). This would help inspire a second wave in the 1970s, including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC and, in London, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) and the Adam Smith Institute (ASI). As the historian Daniel Stedman Jones puts it in his book Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, these transatlantic “ideological entrepreneurs” provided both a long-term incubator for such ideas and a bridge from high economic theory to applied policy practice. Both Reaganomics and Thatcherism would have been unthinkable without them.

Not all of these think tanks think alike. Some are socially conservative, while others are not. Some are geared towards academia, others towards politics. However, they agree on economic policy:

From the 1980s to the early 2000s came the next wave of more public-facing bodies such as Americans for Tax Reform and the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA). Matthew Elliott, who worked at the former before returning to his native UK to found the latter in 2004, would also go on to help establish and lead the Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

These bodies are not homogeneous. Cato, for example, is classically libertarian on social issues like LGBT+ rights, whereas Heritage is hard-line conservative. There are also differences of approach. Mark Littlewood, the director of the IEA [Institute of Economic Affairs], who has known Truss since their student days – they both attended Oxford in the 1990s – differentiates between more “upstream” think tanks like his own, which are closer to academia and concentrate on disseminating ideas among opinion-forming elites, and more “downstream” organisations, which are focused on government policymaking (like the CPS) and shaping debate in the mass media (like the TPA).

One of Truss’s tutors at Oxford, Marc Stears, says:

“Hayek’s ideas are really important because of the underlying spirit that animates them: that there is no such thing as collective intelligence; the state does not know things and only individuals can really know things. That faith in the wisdom of the crowd, as expressed in price mechanisms, is very deeply ingrained.”

He also points to a shared tendency to be patient, citing the Marxist philosopher GA Cohen’s observation that the supply-side right has succeeded at “keeping the fires burning” even through periods in the political wilderness.

Stears himself leads a libertarian think tank:

Marc Stears tutored Truss when she was a PPE student at Oxford and today leads the Policy Lab at University College London. He notes that the more theoretical “upstream” parts of the libertarian think-tank spectrum have grown in significance as academia has tilted leftwards. “There are fewer centres in the big universities where these thinkers cluster,” he told me. “So that makes the role of think tanks more important.”

Cliffe points out the geographical proximity of think tanks in London and Washington DC:

The majority of these think tanks are clustered around Tufton Street, a Georgian terrace in Westminster, and Massachusetts Avenue, a long boulevard in Washington DC (a distinction being that “Mass Ave” is also home to think tanks of various other intellectual outlooks).

These two worlds have long been linked by transatlantic personalities criss-crossing between them. Prominent examples include Fisher (who founded the Atlas Network, a Washington-based umbrella organisation of international free-market think tanks), Edwin Feulner (a former IEA intern who co-founded Heritage) and Eamonn Butler (an ally of Feulner’s who co-founded the ASI in London). Today they number Ryan Bourne – a Truss ally, formerly of the IEA and now at Cato; Daniel Hannan – a Brexiteer former MEP and founder of the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT); and Nile Gardiner – head of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at Heritage.

Today’s economic libertarianism

The current Conservative government, whether under Boris Johnson, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, has some commitment to economic libertarianism. Sunak promoted freeports in 2019, which are slowly coming to fruition. Truss advocated investment zones, which are still going ahead, although they will be more focused on research.

Cliffe says:

Ideologically, the institutions and thinkers of this world share a common commitment to a low-tax, low-regulation, Anglo-Saxon social model, distinct from the social democratic “European” one. They tend to favour mechanisms for advancing that model, such as free-trade deals, “levelling down” state intervention, and demarcated zones pioneering extremely small-state government (variously referred to as “freeports”, “investment zones” or “charter cities”). They instinctively prefer market-led solutions to collective problems, such as climate change, over state-led ones. Perhaps not unrelatedly, many of them draw on opaque funding from big private-sector interests. Cato, for instance, has received backing from corporations such as FedEx and Google, and, in the past, from the tobacco industry – which has also been a source of funding for both the IEA and ASI.

In the Britain of 2022 these instincts express themselves in a particular analysis of the state of the country. This, as Truss-ite thinkers explain, starts from the argument that British governments since Margaret Thatcher – Conservative as well as Labour – have become much too sentimental about the distribution and moral character of growth, and too little focused on raising the overall growth level. As Bourne puts it: “Liz Truss would not consider it a failure if she got the growth rate up significantly but not equally across regions.”

It is not a politics of pursuing what is popular per se, but of letting “what works” (defined as whatever lifts the growth rate) speak for itself. “They won’t be transactional about policies,” Bourne says of Truss and Kwarteng. “It’s the whole string of things. Incrementally, the patient might not like the medicine, but overall they will feel healthier and revived.”

Truss’s brand of libertarianism

I had no idea that Truss worked for a British think tank or that she had speaking engagements at the American ones.

Her interest began at Oxford, then continued in London:

Even during her student years in Oxford, recalls Marc Stears, Truss prided herself on defying intellectual convention. “Her primary characteristic was a love of controversy, quirkiness and idiosyncrasy… Her thinking was always intriguing and contrarian, if not always fully worked through.” A brief flirtation with the Lib Dems is not entirely inconsistent with right-wing libertarianism (the party’s Orange Book tendency has links with this world  too, and as a student Truss was also a member of the Hayek Society). “She definitely sat outside the prevailing social democratic orthodoxy even then,” Stears says.

Truss worked in think-tank land herself before her election to parliament, serving as deputy director of Reform from 2008 to 2010, a period when the organisation was laying some of the intellectual foundations of the spending cuts and market-led approach to public services that would be introduced under David Cameron and George Osborne. “Cameron and Osborne may have been more Thatcherite where Truss is more Reaganite,” notes Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London, a historian of the Conservative Party. “But they shared the basic belief that the market should be the main force in economic life, the state as small as possible and the individual as large as possible.”

Truss’s Thatcherite tendencies became more apparent once she entered Parliament in 2010. However, Thatcherism means different things to different people:

Shared beliefs, yes, but with different degrees of intensity. In 2010, Truss typified a romantically Thatcherite intake of new Tory MPs who thought Cameron and Osborne were being too cautious about slashing the state.

“When you think that people’s politicisation tends to take place in their teens and early twenties, it is perfectly understandable that MPs who had come of age around 1997 would equate past Conservative election victories with what they saw as Margaret Thatcher’s uncompromising free-market ideology, rather than her more compromising reality,” Bale says.

Truss rapidly became a figurehead for this generation. “Liz was the first convenor of the Free Enterprise Group,” recalls Littlewood, referring to the establishment in 2011 of a cluster of like-minded Conservative MPs – which was effectively the IEA’s parliamentary branch. “And Kwasi Kwarteng was the second.”

Cliffe says there are other Conservative MPs committed to the free market, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab among them.

In 2017, Truss became Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

The following year, she began giving speeches in the United States:

A particularly notable speech was delivered at the Cato Institute in Washington in 2018. In it, Truss called for a new, small-state “Anglo-American dream” driven by an emergent generation of “market millennials” used to the freedoms of the app economy – “Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom fighters”, as she put it elsewhere. “Free enterprise is a hymn to individuality and non-conformity,” she proclaimed to her Cato audience. “It’s what allows the young to flower and the anti-establishment to flourish.”

Bourne helped set up the speech. I put it to him that her argument ignores strong youth support for the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. “It’s a case of stated preference versus revealed preference,” he said. “Liz’s essential argument is that, in their actions, young people in both countries are very entrepreneurial, independent, and enjoy the fruits of a liberal, dynamic economy. She thinks there is a latent enthusiasm for markets if we can reform things in a direction that enables these people to fulfil their wants and needs, like starting companies and buying homes.”

Her visits to the US engaged her interest in the Reagan years:

It was around this time that she became engrossed in books by the American historian Rick Perlstein on the making of the Reagan revolution.

Fast-forwarding to her appointment as Foreign Secretary in 2021, her commitment to libertarian ideals ran deeply:

her ideology, rooted in the school of thought founded at Mont Pelerin, was long-established. “Her ideological disposition is towards the likes of Robert Mundell, Alan Reynolds and Arthur Laffer,” says Bourne, “the original supply-side thinkers in the US who influenced the underpinnings of the Reagan administration. The basic idea is that monetary policy deals with inflation and that fiscal and especially tax policy has to deliver incentives for long-run growth.”

Another inspiration is “Rogernomics” in 1980s New Zealand, when the Labour government’s finance minister Roger Douglas slashed trade tariffs and non-tariff barriers and pioneered monetary policy targeting. (The legacy of that neoliberal experiment remains deeply divisive on the New Zealand left.)

Liz’s libertarian allies

Cliffe discusses Prime Minister Truss’s Cabinet and think tank allies:

… now she is Prime Minister, the supposed free-market outriders are finding themselves being outridden by the sitting government. Littlewood of the IEA marvels at the scope of the unofficial Budget. “I have long tried to fine-tune out criticism of Conservative governments for not being radical enough; now they’re being more radical than even we are requesting.” He cites the government’s commitment to scrap all remaining EU law as an example. Even when the IEA and Truss disagreed, the closeness was evident; its criticism of her energy price cap promptly elicited an explanatory call from No 10.

Old Tuftonians hold many of the senior jobs in her government.Matt Sinclair is the standout example,” says Littlewood of Truss’s chief economic adviser, formerly of the TPA. “He is steeped in this world.” Ruth Porter, deputy chief of staff, is an IEA alumna. Sophie Jarvis, No 10’s political secretary, was formerly at the ASI. “She will have hired and appointed people who are on board with her ideologically,” agrees Bourne. With Kwarteng as Chancellor, as well as James Cleverly as Foreign Secretary and Jacob Rees-Mogg as Business Secretary, the major cabinet roles are held by true believers.

Free-market think tanks, like the IEA, that have long considered themselves to be outside the broad British consensus have used provocation and controversy to catch attention, shake things up and try to shift debates. Truss, observes Marc Stears of his former student, is now bringing that approach into government. “She loves this idea that the action is in the reaction, prodding and provoking people. The unofficial Budget was like going to a slightly mad libertarian think-tank report launch.

Stears said that Truss:

“actually wants to destabilise things. She thinks the prevailing order is wrong and there is a need to break things to rebuild.”

Ryan Bourne and Mark Littlewood say that she would have wanted to increase personal freedoms by reducing the nanny state:

Bourne cites childcare, infrastructure, energy and housing (street votes on city planning decisions, for example) as possible focuses, as well as farming (“where there might be a quid pro quo where they scale back government support but relax regulations”). “And I expect this philosophy to apply to lifestyle freedoms, too,” adds Littlewood. “Deregulating ads for sugary drinks, McDonald’s advertising on the London Underground, that sort of thing.”

Oh, if only she’d been allowed to do all those things.

Bourne had more to say:

“Her broad view is ‘We have to show, not tell’,” says Bourne. “We have to get on with free-market reforms and when they create results they create a baseline, and that wins hearts and minds.” There are echoes of the Prime Minister’s vision of “market millennials” here: that young people will come to recognise their small-state instincts when they feel the benefit of such politics put into action.

Cliffe has a message for his Labourite New Statesman readers and suggests how Labour can oppose Truss’s ideas:

So far, her environment policies seem designed to serve the interests of big polluters rather than market insurgents in the green-energy sector; her deregulation push appears tailored to the interests of existing market insiders with big lobbying budgets; and her proposed tax cuts will certainly benefit the already rich, rather than the worst off. None of this is a “hymn to individuality and non-conformity”. It is corporatism.

The challenge now for Liz Truss’s opponents, both inside the Conservative family and on the left, is to engage with these tensions and use them to expose the contradictions of the great unruly experiment being rolled out from Downing Street. Because to do so is to contest what is really driving it; to have a chance of changing the public debate and building a solid foundation for a different and better national project. Bad ideas make a much more obvious and persuasive target than bad intentions.

I would say that has already been done. Sunak’s government is very different to Truss’s, especially with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as de facto Prime Minister.

‘Weird’ Liz Truss

Shortly after Truss resigned as Prime Minister, The Guardian had an excellent profile of her: ‘From fighter to quitter: the “weird” rise and fall of Liz Truss’.

Truth telling?

It would appear that Truss was somewhat economical with the truth about her education and that of previous Prime Ministers:

At her recent party conference, she spoke of herself as “the first prime minister of our country to have gone to a comprehensive school”. The claim has been disproved by those who note that both Gordon Brown and Theresa May went to comprehensive schools. In any case, Truss has said that Roundhay School in Leeds “let down” children by teaching them “about racism and sexism” with “too little time spent making sure everybody could read and write”.

Again, the notion that Roundhay, a consistently “outstanding” school, was unacademic has been strenuously contested, as has Truss’s claim that her comfortable middle-class neighbourhood in Leeds was “at the heart of the red wall”. Truss is not the first politician to massage her biography but she’s unusual in attempting to establish her rightwing credentials by making her formative years seem more underprivileged than they were.

Political ‘dynamo’ at Oxford

The IEA’s Mark Littlewood was complimentary about her commitment to politics at Oxford:

She became president of the university Liberal Democrats, and a member of the national executive committee of the party’s youth and student wing. Also at Oxford and another Lib Dem activist was Mark Littlewood, now director general of the free market thinktank most associated with Truss’s political outlook, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). He remembers her as a “dynamo who exploded on to the political scene”

“If you spent any more than three minutes in her company, you had no doubt at all about what she thought of the particular topic you might be discussing,” Littlewood says.

Unlike her U-turning days as PM, she was sure of her convictions as a student:

For others, like Neil Fawcett, a fellow committee member of the Lib Dems’ student national executive, this trait of certitude came across as dogmatic and unbending. “She always had very strong views on everything,” he recalls. “Sometimes they were based on knowledge or experience but quite often they weren’t. My main memory is that if she came up with something that simply wasn’t going to work, and I was in a position where I had the experience to know that it wasn’t going to work, she would still argue the case anyway.

“She was absolutely not for turning, whatever the evidence. I thought of that when I read about Treasury civil servants who have been completely ignored because she knew better.”

She was more interested in debating and protesting than in canvassing:

She was more concerned to make a splash, he says, than to get things done. Littlewood suggests, in her defence, that Truss was not much interested in “delivering leaflets”. Instead she spoke out against the monarchy at a Lib Dem conference, and protested against the BNP in Tower Hamlets.

Mark Littlewood says that Truss found the Liberal Democrats of the 1990s more libertarian than the Conservatives of that era:

Littlewood insists that the Lib Dems made more sense at the time to Truss because the Conservatives were authoritarian on civil liberties and Truss was primarily interested in personal freedom. This, he says, has been the constant in her political career.

“People say she was a Liberal Democrat and now she’s a Tory. She was a remainer and became a Brexiter. She was a republican and she’s a monarchist. But actually her overarching view of the world has always been a classical liberal one, that the state is too big and interfering in our lives,” he says.

She joined the Conservatives in 1996 – when the “back to basics” morality campaign was still alive, if not very well – and 13 years later, it was her local Tory party that wanted to interfere in her life.

That would have been after her affair with a fellow sitting MP at the time. Some local Conservative association members wanted her deselected from her rural Norfolk seat, although that did not happen:

Several constituency association members, dubbed the “Turnip Taliban”, objected, arguing that Truss had not disclosed the extramarital affair she had had with the Conservative MP Mark Field. A motion to cancel her candidature was defeated after the then-leader David Cameron came to Truss’s aid.

‘Weird’

Some of Truss’s detractors told The Guardian that her interpersonal skills are ‘weird’:

The knowledge of the affair with Field has hung around Truss in a way that it probably would not have done with a male politician. There is a welter of parliamentary gossip and tall stories concerning Truss that MPs routinely refer to, off-the-record, although no one can ever name a source or witness. “She flirted with every man she comes across,” says one (female) former Tory minister. “She almost even flirted with women.” At the same time, so many of her colleagues and former colleagues – including the one who speaks of her flirting – report that she was unapproachable and, as another put it, “she doesn’t have great interpersonal skills”.

What most MPs agree that she has always had is ambition. Four years after entering parliament in 2010, she joined the cabinet as environment secretary. The most attention she received in the post came with a bizarrely emphatic speech she gave to the Tory party conference.

“We import two-thirds of our cheese,” she told a bemused hall, “that is a disgrace.” She spoke the last half of the sentence as if there were full-stops between each word, an oratorical choice that cemented the “weird” reputation.

When Theresa May became leader, she replaced Michael Gove with Truss as justice secretary and Lord Chancellor, making her the first woman to hold either post. One insider says that it was obvious that “she was an entirely unsuitable appointment for the job”

Also:

When asked to describe Truss, two former Conservative government ministers both used the same word: weird. “She doesn’t have any friends. She’s just weird,” one said. “She sits far too close to you,” said another. “And when she talks to you, she keeps repeating your name. It’s weird.”

As Prime Minister:

While Truss may appear to possess an unshakeable self-confidence, many of her appointments spoke of insecurity, as well as debts that required paying. “Never forget that only 50 MPs voted for her in the first round of the leadership election,” says one former minister, who puts Truss’s ultimate triumph down to the fact that “she wasn’t Rishi Sunak”

“Oh, she’s very clever,” the former minister acknowledges, admonishing those who think otherwise. “She may not be great at understanding nuance, and her political antenna is not very good, but her political skill is in being a survivor.”

A libertarian perspective: ‘shambolic’

The IEA’s Mark Littlewood did not seem to approve of the Truss-Kwarteng mini-budget:

Whatever is said of Truss, there can be no doubt that she inherited a difficult political and economic situation, with a cost of living crisis, the war in Ukraine, a huge national debt following the pandemic, and the forecast of a major recession.

But, says Littlewood, she played a bad hand badly. He remains bewildered about why she staked so much political capital on reducing the top rate of income tax. “Why select that as the hill you want to die on?”

Similarly, he doesn’t understand why, if she was looking for tax reductions, she didn’t cut VAT, which he argues would have been counter-inflationary and broadly progressive. He puts her undoing down to her tendency to rely on just a handful of trusted advisers, which may have worked when she was trade secretary, but not as PM. “That’s when you need squadrons of very senior and experienced people advising you,” he says.

Of course, squadrons of experienced people did advise her not to cut taxes – perhaps that’s why she didn’t consult them.

“I was utterly amazed by the complete inability to politically execute anything,” Littlewood adds. “It was totally shambolic.”

It makes you wonder what went on in all those IEA meetings, if Littlewood was taken so thoroughly by surprise.

The article notes the irony in a free-marketeer being brought down by market forces:

Whatever unfolds from here, hers has been a tale of almost classical hubris. In thrall for so many years to free enterprise, she seemed to expect as prime minister that the compliment would be repaid. Instead, she received from the hedge fund managers and bond traders she lionised an ignominious lesson in the most basic rule of capitalism: you can’t buck the market.

‘Weird’ and friendless

According to Harry Cole and James Heale’s Truss biography Out of the Blue, even she admitted that she was lacking.

On November 1, The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley got a look at the book as it was a month ago, before publication:

… Harry Cole, political editor of the Sun, and James Heale, diary editor of the Spectator, have proven that hacks do our best work under pressure, adding two chapters on her 44-day premiership and cleverly turning a story of surprise victory into a well-researched tragedy of warnings ignored.

Even Ms Truss had her doubts about her suitability for No 10. I think I’d make a great PM, she once told a visitor to her office, the only problems are: “I am weird and I don’t have any friends.”

Others agreed with that assessment:

One special advisor recalled her “weird manner, where she has a glint in her eye and she thinks she’s being edgy or naughty”.

At the end of her premiership, she was pragmatic. And she does have some friends, after all:

“Politics is a blood sport,” she told friends, “and I am the fox.”

The ‘pork markets’ speech

In The Times, on Saturday, November 5, Cole and Heale gave us a preview of the book by discussing Truss’s pork markets speech, which went viral this year, even though it didn’t raise any eyebrows at the time. David Cameron was Prime Minister back then:

While Liz Truss was becoming more astute in Whitehall management, there is no escaping that her early days at Defra — the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — will be remembered for one thing only: the speech about apples, pork markets and cheese. The 2014 Conservative Party conference in Birmingham was the last chance for the faithful to gather before the widely expected election the following year.

With the polls pointing to a hung parliament, and fears of years more of coalition, it was red meat galore. George Osborne put the £100 billion annual benefits bill on notice, while David Cameron basked in some rare warmth from the membership after seeing off Alex Salmond and co in September’s Scottish referendum. That week Truss picked a fight on two fronts. First, she declared war on the Hunting Act, and then she turned fire on her least favourite pudding: Angel Delight.

… it was the 1970s dessert that drew the minister’s ire in a bizarre pre-conference intervention, most notably in The Times where she blamed the “new-fangled” instant pudding for the decline of Britain’s orchards. “Apples are a symbol of a wider failure to take pride in and cultivate our own food,” she wrote. Citing the fact that two thirds of UK orchards had been “ripped up in the past 60 years” and that Britain was importing “65 per cent of the apples we eat”, Truss was on the warpath: “Consumers reach for easily made, new-fangled products such as Angel Delight or Instant Whip rather than make an apple crumble.”

She continued the crusade from the podium in Birmingham, in her first speech to a conference as a cabinet minister: “At the moment, we import two-thirds of all of our apples. We import nine tenths of all of our pears. We import two thirds of our cheese.” She continued, with now infamous emphasis: “That . . . is . . . a . . . dis . . . grace! From the apples that dropped on Isaac Newton’s head to the orchards of nursery rhymes, this fruit has always been part of Britain, it’s been part of our country. I want our children to grow up knowing the taste of a British apple, of Cornish sardines, of Herefordshire pears, of Norfolk turkey, of Melton Mowbray pork pies and, of course, of black pudding . . . I will not rest until the British apple is back at the top of the tree.”

With only a few newspaper mentions, her speech went largely unnoticed.

However, she also mentioned ‘pork markets’, at which point her face strangely lit up, suggesting something more that wasn’t there. By the end of the week, the BBC’s satirical quiz show, Have I Got News For You (HIGNIFY), picked up the video:

Jennifer Saunders, the programme’s host, mocked the environment secretary’s facial gestures; responding to Truss’s promise that, “In December, I’ll be in Beijing opening up new pork markets”, Paul Merton quipped: “She likes to enjoy herself on holiday, doesn’t she?” Truss’s least radical conference speech would become her most famous — as a meme and as a gif — and “that is a disgrace” a punchline of political jokes for years to come.

Recently, Truss said:

To be honest I didn’t think it would get that much attention. So basically I hammed it up a bit too much.

Those who knew her at the time said that Truss’s awkward delivery was a product of media training gone wrong:

Truss’s friends would later confess she had been on a crash course for “corporate management presentational training” shortly before the speech. Reflecting on it eight years later, Kirsty Buchanan, a former adviser to Truss, told the BBC such training “plays into the worst elements of Liz’s communication because it makes her more stilted — over-pronunciation and pausing is not her problem, it’s the exact opposite. You need to loosen her up in speeches and get her to relax. In private when she’s relaxed, she’s articulate, sharp, witty, funny, engaging. Put her in front of a camera, until recently when she’s grown in terms of confidence, she kind of clams up.

According to Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute think tank: “At the time in CCHQ [Conservative campaign headquarters] and No 10, they were doing training for ministers, trying to train them in a certain way. You saw that with the weird stance that they all took, standing with their legs apart.”

A leading Tory sympathetic to Truss notes the difficulty in delivering a modern conference speech: “Addressing a conference hall while being told to address a headshot camera and speak to viewers at home: it’s a difficult balancing act to get right, with speakers attempting to build a rapport with delegates while trying to deliver carefully crafted lines more suited to a party political broadcast or social media clip.”

Nevertheless:

The reference to “pork markets” nevertheless raised eyebrows. One special adviser then working in another department says: “I think she was trying to be suggestive, it’s all part of the whole naughty and weird act. I think because I’ve seen her be suggestive so many times, I assumed it was deliberate but it might just have been accidental.”

Following the speech, allies admit Truss undertook more training to avoid a repeat of the mockery. Buchanan says: “There has clearly been a lot more work done on bringing the voice down and slowing down the pace of delivery.”

Kwasi Kwarteng said:

I think it was a bit unfair . . . it was weird, the delivery people thought was a bit strange. The point she made was a fair point. But again she bounced back. She’s totally resilient, totally focused and she learnt from Defra, she learnt from that experience.

She didn’t let poor delivery deter her:

Undaunted, Truss threw herself back into her departmental work. An aide recalls: “There’s a sort of delightfully Terminator quality to her: she just keeps going. And you know if you combine that with a very thick skin this will lead to this almost relentless optimism. It’s quite a powerful force in politics.”

Truss can laugh at ‘pork markets’ now:

One cabinet colleague notes that Truss can at least laugh about the speech: “The number of times that I’ve been in meetings with her and she’s gone, ‘That is a disgrace’ and everyone chuckles because we all know what the reference is and she laughs along with us like, ‘What the f*** was I doing?’” Truss says: “My daughter loves it, though, she plays it all the time.”

Scottish Secretary helped Truss become PM

Perhaps one of the biggest revelations of Out of the Blue is that Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, helped Truss become PM.

On November 13, The Sunday Times featured a synopsis of how Jack dissuaded Truss from resigning as a Cabinet minister in September 2021.

Truss found out about a rise in National Insurance and told Boris Johnson about it. Then a newspaper report about the rise appeared from an unnamed Cabinet minister. The article quoted the minister as saying the rise would be:

morally, economically and politically wrong.

Boris did not want Truss to resign, so he enlisted Alister Jack’s support in keeping her in place:

As a result one of the authors argues that she was able to spend a year at a senior level of the government positioned as the alternative to Rishi Sunak if Johnson lost his job

Jack had become increasingly close to Johnson and was advising him on a cabinet reshuffle. The book says the Scottish MP contacted Truss to tip her off that she was in line for a significant promotion.

Jack told her to keep quiet about the National Insurance rise:

Jack called her and said: “Look Liz you’re gonna get a massive job in two weeks’ time, a massive job. You would be well advised to shut the f*** up.”

Despite going on to raise concerns in cabinet, she did not comment publicly and, according to a Downing Street official “then sucked it up”.

Truss then became Foreign Secretary:

With Truss duly being promoted shortly afterwards to the prestigious foreign secretary post, the authors say: “Perhaps Alister Jack’s plan had worked after all; Truss did not resign.”

Cole told The Sunday Times: “For fans of alternative history, the role Alister Jack played in the rise of Liz Truss is fascinating.

“Had he not convinced her to temper her attacks on Johnson and Sunak’s national insurance rise in September 2021, perhaps she would have resigned. Or perhaps Boris would never have promoted her to foreign secretary to clip Sunak’s wings and set up the battle to replace him a year later. Keeping her on board made her a contender as she spent a year basically being the alternative to Rishi if Boris did go down so it was clearly a key milestone in her tilt for the top job — and all that followed.”

Currently, rumours have been circulating that Alister Jack will be in line for a peerage, perhaps from Liz Truss. Every Prime Minister is allowed a list of nominees for the House of Lords and Truss is no exception.

The end

After Truss resigned, Harry Cole gave an interview to Times Radio, summarising Truss’s final week as Prime Minister. Too many things had gone wrong. She had to go. He ended by saying she was remarkably ‘zen’ about it all:

That fateful Wednesday of Suella Braverman’s resignation coupled with the bungled vote on fracking and no Chief Whip brought Truss and her husband to a serious conversation that night, as the October 23 edition of the Mail on Sunday reported:

When Liz Truss finally accepted that her premiership was over, late on Wednesday evening, she went to the fridge in the No 10 flat and pulled out a bottle of sauvignon blanc to share with her husband Hugh.

She had just endured a torrid night in the Commons, where more than 40 of her MPs had failed to back her in a vote on fracking – leading to the astonishing sight of ministers pulling wavering Tories into the voting lobbies.

As she nibbled on a pork pie, the couple agreed that it was a matter of when, not if, she resigned.

One of the main considerations was the impact of the growing turmoil on their two teenage daughters.

Ms Truss then slept fitfully until 4.30am, when she started messaging aides for advice.

Later that morning, No 10 asked Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, to come in to see the Prime Minister.

When she asked if the situation was retrievable, he replied: ‘I don’t think so, Prime Minister.’ The game was up

Downing Street staff were in tears as Ms Truss prepared her resignation but she reassured them: ‘Don’t worry, I’m relieved it’s over,’ before adding, ‘At least I’ve been Prime Minister.’

While newspaper reporters were putting together Truss stories, she was spending her final weekend as Prime Minister at Chequers, in leafy Buckinghamshire.

The Sunday Times reported that she held back-to-back parties:

Truss, 47, held a farewell party for ministers last night, and will thank close aides and their partners tonight …

Prime ministers are required to cover the cost of any private entertainment or party business they host at the residence.

A Times2 article told us what she allegedly served to guests:

One of Liz Truss’s many leaving parties at Chequers this weekend featured a menu including bruschetta, pigs in blankets and smoked salmon pinwheels and that, right there, sums up this whole sorry mess.

Anyone who inflicts canapé carnage like that is quite obviously unfit for high office. Smoked salmon followed by a mini sausage followed by bruschetta is a recipe for digestive disaster.

It sounds pretty good to me.

The Mail on Sunday reported more Truss controversy to come involving:

a row over whether Ms Truss should be entitled to the annual £115,000 allowance afforded to ex-PMs after her stint in office lasted only six weeks.

She is also due to receive a £18,860 pay-out for her historically short time in office.

Her aforementioned adviser Kirsty Buchanan stuck the knife in:

Kirsty Buchanan, who was a special adviser to Ms Truss at the Ministry of Justice and who also worked in Downing Street under Theresa May, claimed the PM’s reputation was ‘in tatters’.

‘The seeds of destruction were sown early as she shut out all but her closest allies and cocooned herself with those who shared her views,’ Ms Buchanan wrote in the Sunday Times.

‘With experience and institutional knowledge gone, dangerous groupthink and staggering naivety took hold at No 10.

‘Hubris went unchecked when humility was required from an administration that did not earn its majority but inherited it.

‘Politics was baked in a Petri dish, away from the political reality of the world outside.’

Ms Truss’s former aide said it would take ‘every ounce of her famed resilience’ for the PM to ‘bounce back from this humiliation’.

‘I suspect, though, that it will be the humbling in the eyes of her daughters, of whom she is fiercely proud, which may hit Truss hardest,’ she added.

Oh, dear. I hope Ms Buchanan was not one of Truss’s guests at Chequers.

I still think that, had Truss been male, most people in power would have tolerated her mistakes and been supportive.

Tomorrow’s post looks at the role the Bank of England and the media played in her downfall.

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