Liz Truss interview: ‘The people who claim I crashed the economy are either very stupid or very malevolent’

Liz Truss
'I probably do lack guile but I think if I had more guile, then I wouldn't have gone for the things I've gone for' - Andrew Crowley

Who did for Liz Truss? The shortest-lived prime minister in our history has claimed it was the “deep state” that thwarted her economic plans. But let’s not forget the part played by a vegetable. On 14 October 2022, the Daily Star began a livestream of a lettuce next to a framed photograph of Truss to see which would last longer. The lettuce went viral.

Six days later, after the PM announced her resignation, a triumphant Star declared victory on its front page: “Plucky veg outlasts Lettuce Liz as she wilts in the political heat!”  Truss subsequently described the stunt as “puerile”, which it certainly was, but it made people laugh. Once politicians are the butt of a national joke it can be a struggle to regain dignity and respect, particularly when those Tory MPs who backed Rishi Sunak to be their leader are enjoying, and quite possibly colluding in, your demise.

For various reasons, I have come to believe that our 56th prime minister was hard done by and that some of the “conspiracy theories” which she is accused of peddling may be far nearer the truth than most people realise. Unfairly or not, “Liz Truss crashed the economy” has taken root in the public imagination. It is a cruel fate for a fiercely bright, driven woman who was in a tearing hurry to stimulate growth in order to spare us higher taxes and ever more debt. As she left Number 10, Truss said to a friend, “The economy is going to get much worse and Rishi has no answers – if they think getting rid of me is the answer they’re much mistaken.”

“She wasn’t vengeful, it was just being logical,” the friend recalls.

The daughter of a maths lecturer who has been known to ask job applicants to prove themselves by multiplying fractions (yikes), Truss can be logical to a fault. There is a touch of Mr Spock’s naughty niece about her. Logic makes her formidable in debate, but nuance can elude her. After such an epic public humiliation, most people would don the Greta Garbo headscarf and sunglasses and scurry off to lick their wounds in private for a few years. Not Liz.

Truss channels her inner Margaret Thatcher, recreating a photo-op which her predecessor has once staged
Truss channels her inner Margaret Thatcher, recreating a photo-op which her predecessor has once staged - SIMON DAWSON/NO 10 DOWNING STREET

Truss has come out fighting with a combative, brutally honest book about establishment groupthink and the way the woke Left has colonised our institutions. Of Cabinet meetings, she observes archly: “Even suggesting that a Conservative government should keep its election promises not to raise taxes was somehow regarded as an extremist position.”

At the very least, Truss’s book will help infuriated Tory voters understand why the Conservative government they thought they voted for behaves as if it’s being held hostage by Extinction Rebellion.

She insists that Ten Years To Save the West: Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room is not a complaint about how unfairly she was treated. Nonetheless, amid the higher musings on the decline of a complacent West under sappy, liberal leaders like Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau, there is a fair amount of score-settling. (The book is not recommended holiday reading for Michael Gove; the Governor of the Bank of England, whom Truss mischievously calls “Rock-a-bye Bailey” for his comatose performance; senior civil servants or other members of the Whitehall “blob” who all get the blowtorch treatment.)

Liz Truss
'The alternative to fighting is giving into these awful people and their Left-wing ideology who are damaging our country' - Andrew Crowley

We meet at one of those grand, think tank places in a Mayfair Georgian terrace. Truss is impeccably groomed in navy trouser suit with a cream blouse and that gold-circle necklace she wore throughout her leadership campaign like a talisman (a present from her husband Hugh). I’d say she was looking quite Hillary Clinton, but she’d probably self-combust on the spot. When I tell her I really liked the book because it’s much more readable than most pull-your-punches political tomes she says she thinks the book is “quite emotional”. (Er, no, Liz, it really isn’t.) I laugh and Truss, seeing the funny side, starts laughing too. “OK, it’s quite emotional,” she says drily, pausing a beat, “For me.”

Some colleagues suggest she is still in denial about what happened during those 49 whirlwind days of her disastrous premiership. Doesn’t Truss feel embarrassed looking back? Regretful? Do you feel shame, Liz?

“The people who claim I crashed the economy are not telling the truth,” she says. “They’re either very stupid or very malevolent. Because it’s clearly not true so they should be ashamed of themselves.”

But you must realise people say their mortgage has gone up because of Liz Truss?

“It’s not true,” she says again. (The girl from Leeds sounds more bluntly Yorkshire when she’s irritated or defiant.) “What I care about is the truth,” she continues, “I don’t care about what ignoramuses in the BBC say. If I cared about that, I wouldn’t be a Conservative, I’d be a shape-shifting Conservative-In-Name-Only who was concerned about what people at London dinner parties thought.”

Surely, though, on a human level it must be devastating, I persist. There you were, prime minister at the age of 47, you’d reached the summit of your ambitions, you’d made it to Number 10, you finally had the power to achieve everything you’d dreamed of doing when, Pooff!, you blew it!

Liz Truss told a friend when she left office that 'the economy is going to get much worse and Rishi has no answers'
Liz Truss told a friend when she left office that 'the economy is going to get much worse and Rishi has no answers' - ANDREW CROWLEY

“So, I get a lot of people coming up to me and saying, ‘You were stitched up, I thought what you were trying to do was right’. The media does not reflect what a lot of people actually think, they just repeat stuff which people basically know is lies. And that’s what I feel about it.”

Truss is avoiding my question about shame and regret. I must have raised an incredulous eyebrow because she adds: “I’m not saying I didn’t do anything wrong, Allison, or got everything right. And I’m not saying I’m not human. I am human, but just some of the ludicrous claims that I’m responsible for economic stagnation. It’s not true, I tried to FIX IT!” Clearly, she is exasperated that a narrative of her as a boo-hiss pantomime villain has taken hold and is now determined to provide the counter-argument.

There is a touching account in the book of the Queen installing Truss as prime minister at Balmoral. “She was amazing, totally alert mentally, still across every issue. She was witty too. She had clearly been waiting for this, her final duty, although we didn’t know that obviously. Apparently, she had a great evening afterwards and then the next day…”

The Queen told you to “pace yourself”, Liz.

“I didn’t listen to her,” Truss grimaces.

The Queen's last official act was to receive Liz Truss at Balmoral
The Queen's last official act was to receive Liz Truss at Balmoral - JANE BARLOW/PA

She tells me she only cried once during that monumental meltdown after her mini-Budget on September 23 2023, when she sacked her Chancellor and longtime friend Kwasi Kwarteng to try and save herself. (Kwarteng told her that they’d come for her anyway). Liz and her two daughters were sitting on the sofa watching TV coverage of Her Majesty’s death when the tears flowed. “We were just overwhelmed with sadness.”

Her bravado is admirable in its way, but also deeply odd. Truss would be the last person to complain of PTSD (probably thinks it’s a Chinese plot to undermine the West), but what she went through was traumatic by any standards. She was far more upset than she cares to admit, I think. A leading Truss backer confirms my suspicion saying Liz told him she spent her final afternoon in Number 10 in tears before she stepped out to the lectern to give her resignation speech.

“She is remarkably rhinoceros-hided although there is a very human side to her,” the backer says. “There is eccentricity and excessive confidence, which Thatcher had as well. It can be a good thing. For whatever reason, Liz toughs it out; she has learnt not to cave or collapse.”

Daniel Hannan, a friend and huge admirer of Truss’s record in trade negotiations, where she can be charming and flirtatious when she wants to be, explains: “Liz is just naturally very Tiggerish – in that regard she’s a female Boris. Never really Eeyore.”

Lord Hannan is spot on. Truss is extremely Tiggerish with a bouncy self-belief that borders on the impervious. (Does it explain why she thought she could introduce quite so many radical, tax-cutting policies in her first 100 days, even when seasoned economists who generally backed her were warning the financial markets wouldn’t wear it?)

Tigger did sink into Eeyore. In the months after she was toppled, friends were worried. “Her mood was very up and down. She was brittle. You never really knew which Liz you were going to get when you met her,” says one female confidante.

Allies rallied round the ousted PM. They helped Truss land a deal for the book and she set up the Growth Commission, a group of economists dedicated to reversing the stagnation in the economy. If they piled pressure on Truss’s beleaguered successor to cut taxes, so much the better. In February, Truss and Mark Littlewood, former director general of the libertarian, free-market Institute of Economic Affairs, launched Popular Conservatives (jauntily shortened to Pop Cons). I don’t know why they didn’t just call it, Liz Was Right, Rishi’s Wrong.

It seems to me there is barely a fag paper between PopCons and the Reform UK party. Truss was recently spotted at Nigel Farage’s 60th birthday party. Could she foresee a future in which she might be working alongside or even for Farage?

“Well, I would like to see Nigel join the Conservative Party,” she says, “We agree on American politics, we need people who are good communicators, who share conservative values, but the future has to be the Conservative Party,” she insists.

What would she say to disillusioned Telegraph readers who intend to vote Reform. What reason could you honestly give them now to vote Conservative, Liz?

“Well, first of all, I want the Conservatives to be honest about the current situation and be proposing a bolder policy agenda that actually changes the system, which is what voters keep telling us they want. And until we do things like leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), cancel the Net Zero Bill, take back control of economic policy from the Bank of England and the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility), which is who’s running the country’s economic policy at the moment, until we admit this is a problem it is harder to persuade people to vote Conservative.”

She thinks Rishi Sunak is sincere about his Rwanda plan, but it won’t work. “To deal with illegal immigration, it’s actually not enough just to leave the ECHR you’ve actually got to make the judicial system more accountable in Britain. So I think we have to abolish the Supreme Court (cunningly introduced by Tony Blair) which would mean reversing the Constitutional Reform Act, in order to make sure that politicians are making those decisions not the courts. You’ve got to essentially repeal the Human Rights Act as well as leaving the ECHR. Now, that is a massive undertaking that is not going to be accomplished in one year. It’s not going to be accomplished in two years. That would take an entire parliament.”

And a patriotic prime minister with the guts to do it, she doesn’t need to add. Although I notice Truss carefully avoids direct criticism of Rishi Sunak, her sighs become audible and she pulls faces whenever I bring him up. When she says Conservatives need to be “braver”, it’s clear what she thinks of the timid alternative.

Truss resigned after just 49 days in office
Truss resigned after just 49 days in office - Leon Neal/Getty Images

Truss says she was horrified by the removal of Boris Johnson. “It was a totally self-defeating thing. It was actually morally wrong because he was the one that won the party’s mandate. I think you shouldn’t depose an election-winning leader in the same way I don’t think Mrs Thatcher should have been deposed. Conservative MPs seem to lose touch with reality, it’s that Westminster bubble mentality and being egged on by the media and by people in the party with their own ambitions.” Boris, she says, was defenestrated over a period of months by a campaign to get rid of him. “And I think it’s becoming more and more clear what that campaign looked like.” She could almost be talking about herself.

“I don’t say in the book that Boris is perfect. He isn’t, but he was a winner and what he needed was more support in Cabinet. There were too many people trying to undermine him. Why my Conservative colleagues thought fit to get rid of him…” She shakes her blonde bob in disbelief. “Well, I’m sure some of them are regretting it now!”

She reserves her most scathing words for the jaw-dropping disloyalty of Michael Gove. He rang Truss up in 2016 and asked if she would back him for leader. “Michael and I had put our faith in Boris to be the leader and, sorry, you expect people to follow through. I just think it’s completely wrong.”

Do you lack guile, Liz?

“Probably yes,” she smiles, “I probably do lack guile, Allison, but I think if I had more guile, then I wouldn’t have gone for the things I’ve gone for. So, if my eyes had been open to exactly how toxic the Conservative Party was, or how Machiavellian the administrative state was going to be, maybe I wouldn’t have gone for the top job in the first place.” Full credit to Truss’s manager in her Norfolk constituency who told Liz she should run for leader and “come second”.

Which brings us to the events surrounding her downfall: cock-up or conspiracy? Truss’s leadership victory party was on September 5. But Sunak did not look defeated. There were rumours that a plot was afoot to have Liz out by Valentine’s Day. She was more vulnerable than she knew.

It is fortunate for Truss’s adversaries that the financial markets meltdown which forced her out is highly technical and therefore hard for a general audience to grasp. (Much easier to make Truss the fall gal and avoid awkward questions.) Plenty of respected economists will privately tell you that “unprecedented” action by the Bank of England triggered a series of calamitous events which made the new PM’s position untenable. Interest rates were going up around the world anyway and Russia’s war in Ukraine was causing havoc with energy prices so the UK’s predicament was far from unique.

Before Kwasi Kwarteng stood up in the Commons to announce his mini-Budget, there was a leak from the OBR which warned there was a £70 billion hole in Kwarteng and Truss’s calculations, which involved cutting corporation tax and dropping the 45p higher tax rate. “The OBR was lying through their teeth then leaking to undermine Liz,” says one member of Team Truss who is still furious about the ambush. “It was all part of their game – the OBR, the Treasury and the Bank of England working against her.”

Truss was forced to sack her longtime ally Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor due to backlash against their mini-budget
Truss was forced to sack her longtime ally Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor due to backlash against their mini-budget - HANNAH MCKAY/REUTERS

The day before, the Bank sold tens of billions of pounds worth of gilts. According to one economist sympathetic to Truss’s ambition for growth: “The policies in the mini-Budget involved a lot more borrowing and the Bank of England just happened to choose that exact time for more government bond sales to the market. Basically, it could not have been more unhelpful.”

Does Truss believe they were deliberately gunning for her?

“Look, I don’t have any proof. I mean, one version of events is that the governor just believed in what he was doing. The economic consensus had been, amongst the Bank of England, Treasury and the OBR, relatively loose monetary policy, cheap money, which had been going on for years. I think that was actually very damaging to the economy, with high taxes and high levels of regulation, and I don’t think Andrew Bailey wanted to move away from that, even though we’d got a mandate to do things differently. So the markets reacted badly to the fact that it was clear the governor of the Bank of England and the Government were not necessarily on the same side. And what the Bank of England governor should have been doing – and this is what happened when the Bank of England wasn’t a law unto itself as it is now – is the Bank of England governor should have been co-ordinating monetary with fiscal policy, and he just didn’t.”

After Truss was ousted, the Bank swiftly reversed its actions – which made it looked like the markets were overjoyed at the installation (I was about to write “coup”) of Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt, the so-called “adults in the room”. So how is that not a stitch-up?

Truss is silent for a while, holding tightly onto the gold circle of her necklace. Finally, she says: “The outsourcing of decision making to technocrats is completely wrong. What we should be basing our decisions on are the principles about what is the right thing to do, not some flimsy prediction in the future by the OBR that is very unlikely to happen. So the whole system is deeply flawed, but it’s in the interest of people who are insiders, who are part of the status quo. Andrew Bailey, he’s paid more than twice what the prime minister is paid. Andrew Bailey has done a bad job. Yet he doesn’t get 1 per cent of the scrutiny the prime minister gets, so it’s a completely perverse system.”

Truss tells me she wants an inquiry into what happened. “I mean, I think it’s a scandal, Allison, it really is. And I think the level of power that is exercised now in Britain by people who aren’t elected is a huge problem. I put forward policies that I’d advocated in the leadership election, which I believe would have resulted in the economy being in a better position today. Raising corporation tax has not been a success. Things like the windfall tax on energy has not helped. So I believe the policies were right and I had a mandate to deliver them. And I was forced to reverse them.”

She says a lot of people who support her policies have asked why she U-turned.

“I literally had a gun to my head, that there would be a debt crisis if I hadn’t done it, or that we would not be able to fund UK debt. And that’s why I had to reverse those policies. But why did the £70 billion figure from the OBR leak? Why?”

All good questions which deserve answers. Backroom boys should not be able to bring down a sitting prime minister because she threatens their jammy lives. “They think I’m vulgar, she says.” Belly laugh. “Well, I am vulgar.”

The other view of this surreal story is that Liz Truss was her own worst enemy; which might be true if there weren’t so much competition for that title. In Shakespearean tragedy, the hero is brought low by a fatal flaw. Truss’s was hubris, I think, an inability to heed voices telling her to slow down. You looked like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep who was throwing everything into your trolley at once, I tell her. You could have delayed certain things. I mean, why cut the top rate of tax from 45 to 40p when you know Labour are going to beat you with it?

“This is a tax that raises literally no money,” she says indignantly, “because people who are wealthy leave the country or don’t work as hard because the tax rate is too high. If Conservatives aren’t prepared to get rid of a tax that raises no money, and is a barrier to aspiration and a barrier to our country being more successful, what are they prepared to argue for? I just think we’ve accepted the Labour distributionist analysis of the world. Which is there’s only a fixed size of pie, we’ve got to share it out. It’s unfair, unless everybody is being taxed at the highest possible level. It’s a Leftist argument and we have to fight it.”

There she goes again. Logic, logic, logic. Impeccably logical, Liz, but also lacking in empathy and misjudging the public mood in a cost-of-living crisis.

She gets upset for the first time when I ask how her teenage girls handled seeing their mother cast out like a pariah. “It was awful, pretty awful. Frances and Liberty are very protective of me. But they laugh and say, ‘Mum, what on earth is wrong with you, you’re never normal?’ and I suppose I’m not.” Indeed, Liberty rang from school to tell her mum not to resign, but it was already too late.

What we know for sure is what happened to Liz Truss would have crushed a more normal person, a lesser person. “I’m not regretful, I don’t know why. I suppose I see myself as a warrior, a combatant. So I’ve lost this battle, but I’m still alive. I knew when I went for the job that it was going to be really tough and I would face the onslaught and opposition. I didn’t realise quite how big the onslaught would be, but it makes me more determined because what’s the alternative to fighting? The alternative to fighting is giving into these awful people and their Left-wing ideology who are damaging our country.”

She calls on Conservatives to be braver and, heaven knows, whatever her faults she is brave. No lettuce, she. I do think there is redemption for her among generous-minded people who will see the markets take umbrage at Labour’s tax and spending and, in the years to come, there may even be headlines that say the unimaginable. “Liz Truss was right.”