In Liz we Truss?

PopCon's resident scribbler Swift review the most recent PopConversation with former Prime Minister Rt Hon Liz Truss



It was the practice in the eighteenth century, Swift believes, that when asked to toast ‘The King’ (of the Hanoverian, Protestant line) for the dissident Jacobites (Stuart, Catholic) to wave their drink over a glass of water – thereby signifying that their true loyalty was to ‘The King over the Water’ –the old or young pretender being meant.

Now we have the The Queen over the Water. Out of office but not gone away, no Sir.

Erstwhile prime minister Liz Truss was interviewed by Mark Littlewood, on behalf of Popular Conservatism, in the third of our PopConservations – succeeding Suella Braverman and David Starkey. There will be more to come.

If you keep your eye on, you will be able to see the discussion in full. Swift was fascinated by it.

Now Swift has no public opinion on the future leadership of the Conservative Party. Such matters are a subject for private contemplation and prayer, he feels.

However, Ms Truss offered pretty strong medicine for the less robust members of that party. In her view, Conservatives in government had failed to deal with the institutional changes that had entrenched the enemies of free speech and free choice within our system. The price that had been paid was to make serious reform nigh-on impossible, unless it were to be radical, sweeping, and fearless.

There are enemies to this – enemies which she encountered both as a minister and a prime minister. As a junior minister – which in an amusing slip of the tongue she described as the ‘bottom of the cheese chain’ (clearly the relentless mockery of THAT party conference speech has left a scar) – one is relatively powerless against the institutional weight of the civil service and its outriders in the quangos, campaign groups and militant charities.

When one becomes PM, the blocking forces grow more serious. Any fool can deal with Greenpeace and its rubbish. But the OBR? The Bank of England? Above all, HM Treasury? Very few politicians have taken on that mightiest department of state and survived. She didn’t.

The Treasury is a fascinating case-study of institutional power, cemented by longevity, esprit-de-corps, and – to be fair – intellectual strength. We perhaps compare it to Satan in Paradise Lost who ‘exalted sat/ By merit raised, to that bad eminence’.

To be clever is not to be right.

To be in charge should require accountability, not unquestioned authority.

The Treasury has got plenty of things wrong since the 1930s, especially in the post-war period, yet still the stately ship sails on, untroubled by the occasional efforts of ministers to seize the economic helm.  

As Truss pointed out, the Treasury is the custodian of a particular view of economic policy in which more spending must always be matched by an equivalent increase in taxation, whether direct or indirect. As for the Laffer Curve? Don’t make me laff (sorry).

When Truss turned to the structure of the civil service, most listeners probably went to make a cup of tea. Swift, however, himself a former official, sat up straight.

Her view was that the top three layers in the civil service –  so permanent secretaries (the CEOs of departments, in practice), and the two layers of management under them, would be directly appointed by ministers. That would be quite a thing. As she pointed out, in the US system, the President directly appoints some 3,000 officials. In the UK, roughly 100. The civil service machine provides the rest. 

Such a change would be genuinely revolutionary. Swift will explore this further in another piece.

But Truss did not stop there. In. her view the Supreme Court should go, the Human Rights Act scrapped, so too the Equality Act. Out we go from the European Court of Human Rights into the bargain. Truly a bonfire of the (Blairite) vanities.

Because Swift is not a journalist, he has committed the cardinal sin of ‘burying the lede’ (look it up). Truss also endorsed Donald Trump as the best choice in the forthcoming Colonial Election. Swift believes the term ‘bullet proof' was used…

We can exempt Ms. Truss from one cardinal sin. She is never boring. She says what she believes, like it or not.

What the future holds for her is not for Swift to say. But she represents a distinctive voice on the political scene that we need. Let’s keep an eye on her.