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Liz Truss Did Not Outlast a Lettuce
The Humorous Rise and Fall of Britain's Shortest Lived PM
“The defect weak republics can have is to be indecisive, so that all their decisions are taken out of necessity, and if any good comes to them, it is through force of circumstances rather than their own prudence.”
- Machiavelli [Discourses, I.38]
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It seems like just a few months ago I was writing about the collapse of Boris Johnson’s government. That is because, indeed, it was just a few months ago. After winning a contentious leadership race, Liz Truss, a previously obscure, dreadfully uninteresting, woman became Britain’s Prime Minister in early September. This made her the last Prime Minister to meet with Queen Elizabeth, perhaps her only legacy besides brevity. Truss’s administration was a disaster from the start. It rapidly became apparent that she had no mandate to rule and lacked the competence to build one. Everyone knew she would not last long under constant revolts from her own party, resignations, and media pressure. Ultimately, the left leaning outlet Daily Star created a Youtube livestream “Can Liz Truss Outlast a Lettuce” which featured a picture of Liz Truss next to a head of lettuce in a blonde wig, inviting viewers to see if her Premiership could survive a lettuce’s ten day shelf life. Less than a week later, on Thursday, October 20th, Liz Truss resigned and the lettuce won. Having served for 44 days, Liz Truss is the shortest lived Prime Minister in the 300 year history of the institution. [Although technically former PM Arthur Wellesley once led a caretaker government for 27 days while waiting for Robert Peel to return from Sardinia.] So how did Liz Truss fail so badly, and what might it say about the future of British politics?
To start, Liz Truss did not enter the office of Prime Minister in a great position. For one thing, the scandals which brought down Johnson reflected poorly on her party’s leadership class as a whole. Further, she came in third in the first round of voting, and slowly consolidated votes over the course of six rounds. What’s more, at no point was she ahead in MP votes, with Rishi Sunak winning every primary round.
The party leader selection process is one whereby MPs vote by secret ballot until they get down to two candidates, at which point card-carrying party members vote for the party leader- if the party is in the majority that leader then becomes Prime Minister. This means that she entered office with Sunak having the most support from the MPs she would have to rely on to form a government and to govern. It is not clear what appeal Truss had with the party’s voting public- they say she had support with a conservative base- but she defeated Sunak in the final round with a healthy margin.
This doesn’t necessarily mean anything beyond that Sunak does even worse with the public. However, it is important to note that the party’s insiders never wanted her to be PM at all. Perhaps actually knowing her, they figured things would go as they did.
On top of coming in with low support, she entered office with huge issues to tackle, something she was demonstrably completely incapable of doing. In an article from September 5th The Guardian described her position as follows:
“Her political honeymoon is likely to be short-lived, with an over-flowing in-tray of thorny issues including the prospect of an autumn of strikes, the NHS and ambulance services on their knees, the conflict in Ukraine showing no sign of easing and an ongoing row with Brussels over how to implement Brexit in Northern Ireland.”
Just one of those is plenty to handle, and they forgot to mention Europe’s insane energy crisis, which is probably a matter of greater public concern than any of those things. Amusingly, The Guardian goes on to say this about front-runner Sunak:
“Sunak is not expected to take a ministerial job, with allies saying he is preparing to wait in the wings until history proves Truss wrong on her plans to cut taxes rather than first getting inflation under control. He has not ruled out standing in a future Tory leadership contest.”
He experienced the joy of being rapidly proven correct, while not being associated with her train-wreck of a government. Truss’s first move was to unveil an expansive plan of “unfunded” tax-cuts [a misnomer, but meaning with no corresponding spending decrease.] The markets responded with a huge amount of hostility, as this was seen as irresponsible, and the pound plunged, threatening the solvency of pension funds. Truss scrapped her tax plan and proceeded to introduce economic policies that looked like they should belong to the Labour Party, turning against what she ostensibly believes in and giving legitimacy to the opposition party. This was the defining feature of her short-lived regime, and it left everyone unhappy. Her administration rapidly devolved into chaos, and the threat of a large-scale exodus of her new cabinet members seems to be the primary factor in her decision to resign. Meanwhile, the lettuce still has not wilted:
It seems perhaps the lettuce should just be the new PM at this point, it couldn’t possibly do worse. The level of political instability in the UK is unprecedented in the modern era. As it stands, the longest serving member of the British government is Downing Street’s official mouser, Larry the Cat, who has now survived four Prime Ministers. There is no sign it is getting better or that things will stabilize soon.
The Tories probably should call an election, at least it would be in the public interest to do so. However, their polling numbers are absolutely abysmal, with one recent poll showing them a whopping 35% behind:
It is speculated that Tories are simply going to sputter along until the mandated election in 2024, hoping that somehow their prospects improve, an unlikely scenario given their current inability to govern. There is one dark horse candidate who is seen as being able to form a semi-functional government: former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. That’s right, just three months after resigning in disgrace, the party is seriously considering bringing back Johnson to save them, in what would be one of the most stunning political turnarounds of the modern era. Johnson, at least, thinks he is the man for the job:
Reaction’s to Truss’s dramatic rise and fall have been predictable. Of course, plenty of jokes about the lettuce. Tut-tutting about instability, and then counter-arguments that somehow this doesn’t represent instability. Concerns that Putin will spin this as showing instability, because of course only a nefarious Russian plot would create that perception. Concerns that Russia will hack the whole process:
Yet another blue check with over a million followers who is clearly not a serious person. But perhaps he’s right and the real dark horse candidate will take over Tory leadership:
The Western leadership class is honestly so homogeneous that the idea that Russia has any good reason to care who leads these countries is ridiculous. Even under Trump who wanted reconciliation with Russia the situation got worse because of their deranged “Russiagate” campaign which tied his hands and led to more hostility and hatred, making Russia Public Enemy #1 for the media-believing segment of the population. As with the last time there was a Tory leadership contest and people said the same thing, you know, in July, this is preposterous, most of all because Britain is a former world power which retains some prominence due to the BBC and it’s financial sector. Glenn Greenwald covered this perfectly before:
This is especially true because as it stands, as I’ve written before, the Western leadership class, in the face of massive problems, is choosing leadership based solely on Ukraine policy. No one will rule Britain who isn’t with the program. It was the only thing Biden had to say about Truss and her short tenure, despite the fact that the US and UK work together closely on a huge variety of issues:
That said, Liz Truss really was more reckless on foreign policy than most, including her predecessor and possible successor, who was well known for his foreign policy recklessness and lack of realism and restraint. For those of us who have a healthy fear of nuclear war, it is a relative improvement for her to be gone:
Unfortunately, however, as I said above we all know that UK policy will not change. Whether Johnson, or Sunak, or anyone else becomes the Tory leader they will continue the tradition of being American lapdogs and prioritizing Ukraine over the well-being of their own people. That just is what the Western leadership class does now, presumably as much as anything because of the bonanza from foreign aid corruption. But don’t feel bad for Liz Truss, even without corruption she is making out like a bandit from this bit of personal humiliation:
The real victims here are these poor souls, who hopefully got a good advance for this book which seems unlikely to be a best seller:
And thus is the story of Liz Truss, the plucky, small, boring woman who rose as fast as she would fall, leaving nothing but jokes and a still-edible head of lettuce in her wake. It’s somehow poetic that the shortest serving Prime Minister saw the end of the longest serving monarch. I decided to do the math and found that Elizabeth was Queen for an impressive 585.55 times as long as Elizabeth Truss was Prime Minister. Farewell, bad Elizabeth, we hardly knew ye, and we didn’t want to.
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