Most people would hide away after tanking the economy and their party—but not Liz Truss

Truss’s refusal to take responsibility for her disastrous premiership reflects both her personal boldness and blinkered ideology

February 06, 2023
Liz Truss’s 4,000-word article in the Sunday Telegraph doubled down on her economic vision. Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Liz Truss’s 4,000-word article in the Sunday Telegraph doubled down on her economic vision. Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

A few weeks after Liz Truss quit as prime minister, I bumped into one of her Downing Street advisers. “Liz is the only woman I know in politics who has absolutely no imposter syndrome whatsoever,” the aide told me, candidly. “She could do with a bit more of it to be honest.” 

Most people, if they had crashed the economy, smashed up their party’s reputation for competence and been forced out as prime minister after a record-breaking 49 days, would be hiding away in hurt and humiliation. Not Truss. She’s back—and what’s more, she is insisting that she was right all along. 

In a 4,000-word essay in the Sunday Telegraph, the former Tory leader claimed she was never given a “realistic chance” to implement her radical plans. She insisted that her policies would have succeeded over the medium term if they had only been given time, and blamed a left-wing economic establishment for undermining her tax-cutting agenda.

Far from accepting responsibility for the disastrous impact of her own mini-budget, she accused the Office for Budget Responsibility of putting fiscal policy in a “straitjacket”. “I assumed upon entering Downing Street that my mandate would be accepted. How wrong I was.” 

Instead of recognising the economic impact of her own decisions, it was the woke bond markets and Treasury orthodoxy that were to blame. “There is a worrying economic consensus—both at a national and, increasingly, international level—that is preventing economic dynamism and growth,” she declared. “Things need to change.” The anti-growth coalition is now, it seems, a global conspiracy. 

In an interview with the Spectator, released on Monday, the former prime minister doubled down, insisting that Joe Biden’s criticism of her tax policies “reflects a drift, right across the free world, towards what are essentially more socially democratic policies: higher taxes, higher spending, bigger government, relatively low interest rates and cheap money.” She was unapologetic about becoming a figurehead for a new approach. “I would be more than delighted to have other people go out there and make the case,” she said. “But the fact is there aren’t enough people making the case, full stop. And I believe that I’ve learnt a lot in my time in government, I understand what some of the pitfalls are, I’ve been through the mill on this.”

Next, Truss is planning an international comeback tour, with further interventions expected at a conference in Japan next week. She will also support calls for lower taxes from the Conservative Growth Group, which has 50 Tory MPs on board. There is even some dark talk that she fancies herself as a leader again, if the Tories go into opposition.

Allies of Rishi Sunak are not the only ones who think she is delusional. Her lack of self-awareness, honesty and critical thinking has astonished much of the party. Conservative MPs are burying their heads in their hands. The last thing they want is for voters to be reminded of a catastrophic period for their party from which the country is still recovering. As one senior figure puts it: “The more we hear from her the harder it becomes to win the election.” 

There is both a personal and a political dimension to the return of Truss. First, her desire to re-enter the spotlight is driven by her character—a curious mixture of vanity and naivety. Truss is the only politician I’ve ever interviewed who insisted on taking a selfie afterwards which she posted on Twitter.

Even Truss herself knows that she is a bit odd. According to Harry Cole and James Heale’s surprisingly gripping book Out of the Blue, she told one visitor when she was foreign secretary: “I think I would be a very good prime minister, there are just two problems: I am weird and I don’t have any friends. How can you help me fix that?”

As the pound went into freefall after the disastrous mini-budget, Truss’s allies were struck by her “worryingly zen-like demeanour”, the authors of the biography write. “Even after the 45p climbdown, she sarcastically remarked to aides at the party conference: ‘I don’t know what happens—drama just seems to follow me wherever I go.’” 

Truss is not stupid, but she refuses to listen to the evidence if it does not suit her purposes. She is not lazy, but nor does she think through her positions in any great depth. She took her free marketeer ideas off the shelf from the Institute for Economic Affairs—a flat pack ideology from the libertarian thinktank which soon fell apart on contact with the real world.

At Oxford, one of her tutors, Marc Stears, recalled how her essays were “self-consciously unconventional” and that when pressed in debated she “almost never backed down” insisting that “her judgement mattered just as much as anyone else’s.”

David Laws, the former Liberal Democrat MP who worked alongside her as a minister at the Department for Education, has described how, when certain data undermined her argument, she instructed officials to leave it out of a consultation paper. As he put it: “she had strong views and little time for dissent.”

So this is partly about Truss’s personality, but it is also about her ideas. There is a section of the Tory party that is so ideologically blinkered that it will not face up to economic reality. Simon Clarke, who served as Truss’s levelling-up secretary, wrote on Twitter: “Liz has thought long and hard, and poses important questions about the extent to which it is possible to deliver the benefits of tax cuts/ supply side reform and / or spending reductions if it is very hard to score the resultant gains in our economic modelling. In other words to what extent does the OBR model the results of policy and to what extend does it predetermine it by virtue of its modelling framework?”  

But it was not the OBR that caused a run on the pound and led the UK to the economic brink. In fact the watchdog was specifically excluded from commenting on the mini-budget by Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. It was the billions of pounds of unfunded tax cuts that did the damage, with millions of voters still paying the price.

Like the Corbynistas on the hard left, who believe that socialism has never failed because it has never been properly tried, Tory right-wingers remain convinced their tax-cutting deregulatory promised land has not come to pass because true free market capitalism has not been fully implemented. Both sides are always blaming someone else for the flaws in their ideas. Both prefer the ideological purity of opposition to the political pragmatism power requires.

As a child, when she was playing board games Truss “created a special system to work out how she could win,” according to her younger brother Francis. “If she was losing, she might sort of disappear rather than lose.” There are many in her party and beyond who hope she might remember the tactic rather than trying to have one more throw of the Westminster dice.