Voices: Liz ‘the human hand grenade’ Truss throws herself into fragile China diplomacy
At the age of just 48, the late John Profumo was barely a few months older than Liz Truss is now when his political career came to a sudden and profoundly embarrassing end. He calculated, quite correctly, that the best way to rehabilitate his reputation in the large number of years remaining to him was to devote himself to a quiet life of charitable giving.
Sadly, that is a calculation that Liz Truss has found herself unable to make. For her, the six explosive weeks in Downing Street during which everything she believes in was shown to be a ludicrous delusion is clearly a mere stepping stone to ever more ludicrous public displays of such delusion on ever grander stages.
Later this week, she’s off to Tokyo to stand vaguely near the G7 summit, which she would be attending as prime minister had she been able to conceal her very obvious delusion for just a little bit longer. There she’ll address some sort of conference or other, where she’ll say that what the world needs to do is stand up to China by creating some kind of “economic Nato”. Quite what “economic Nato” actually is remains unclear, but it sounds a hell of a lot like the EU which, to her credit, she did campaign to remain a member of, even though she would later claim she didn’t really mean to – just to make sure she could be equally loathed by every side going.
She also intends to have a pop at David Cameron and George Osborne over their futile mission to placate and pacify China through diplomacy.
Cameron is, to his credit, rarely seen in public, unless it’s to politely shirk questions about his lobbying activities. Who knows what he thinks about anything anymore? There are many things that must keep him awake at night, but one suspects dawn comes and goes before Truss gets a look in.
After that, she’s off to Taiwan for an immeasurably colossal exercise in public attention seeking. Since Truss left office, it has been impossible to talk to any of her former staff without them laughing about the whole sorry affair. That she was ever our prime minister, or even our foreign secretary, felt like an out-of-body experience at the time, and now seems like some distant bad trip. Well, get ready for another one.
Truss is still only months out of the job and yet she has already racked up one day of ceremonial ex-PM duties for every nine she spent as actual prime minister.
Her trip to Taiwan has been quite correctly called “the very worst kind of Instagram diplomacy”, of which she is a truly world expert. She has said she wants to show “solidarity” with the Taiwanese people, who to some extent may be grateful, though other options of expressing solidarity are available.
When Nancy Pelosi went to Taiwan, the Taiwanese people had to endure a full week of the Chinese army practising how they would invade them. But Pelosi was a very senior US politician at the time. Beijing’s reaction to arguably the world’s pre-eminent laughing stock acting out her elder statesperson cosplay fantasies we can only wait and see. It may be that they don’t even notice.
On her other big recent international expedition, she told a US think tank that “woke culture” was responsible for a high-tax economy. These are the deranged ramblings of a person who never had anything credible to offer – but at least when she started out they weren’t actively dangerous.
Truss has made no secret of the fact that she considers herself to be some kind of iconoclast, a fancy word for a crushing pub bore who makes themselves feel clever by disagreeing with you about everything. Trouble is, if you get off on telling people they’re wrong, in pushing their buttons, you’ve got to keep pushing ever harder just to stop people ignoring you. And Truss has got decades and decades of attention seeking to go, in the hope that it might fill the void.
Where, exactly, does it end? Banjaxing your country’s entire economy and then insisting a few weeks later that the problem was that you were right and everyone else was wrong is one thing, but diplomatic brinkmanship is quite another.
She is already the ultimate advert for there being almost no limit to the damage you can do so long as you just believe in yourself. The worry is that she might only just be getting started.