Voices: Liz Truss dodging a BBC interview isn’t clever – it’s an embarrassment

·5-min read

It is still only a few days since Emily Maitlis delivered that lecture on politics and the media, and while it is still impossible to settle on just one defining line of what was a 40 minute-long discharge of solid gold into the effluent-filled ocean of British public life, perhaps the following was the most important bit.

“Political actors have changed,” she said. “Politics has changed. But we as journalists have not yet caught up.”

And there, still within the very same bank holiday weekend, we find news that Liz Truss has decided not to bother with her planned 30-minute interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson. Why? She “can no longer spare the time”, her campaign team have clarified. She has, you may have noticed, certainly had time to travel to every corner of the United Kingdom, saying the same thing over and over again to about 40 tiny audiences of Tory members, but actual proper scrutiny, for a mainstream TV audience, is the one thing for which the diary suddenly finds itself too full.

It is not clear whether the Truss campaign expects anyone to believe her when she says that time is suddenly too pressured. It’s also not clear whether the Truss campaign has worked out whether what bears all the hallmarks of half-arsed and transparently obvious lying might not be what the public are crying out for from the de facto prime minister at this point, given what happened to the last guy.

What’s clear is that Truss doesn’t think this particular format will do her any favours, and therefore what’s the point. She’s not the first. David Cameron took the advice of Lynton Crosby and didn’t bother with the leadership debates before the 2015 election. Theresa May did the same, sending a recently bereaved Amber Rudd to stand in for her. In 2019, Johnson didn’t bother with the Andrew Neil interview, while Corbyn did and it was an unmitigated disaster.

So yes, political actors have changed. Scrutiny is something to be avoided. Is it reasonable to suggest that previous politicians, better ones frankly, might have taken the opportunity to present themselves to the public in this way? But perhaps more pertinently, no, we as journalists have not yet caught up.

Already there is a sizeable wave of analysis on how, actually, Liz Truss is really clever. She has already won the contest and so, to be interviewed by the BBC for half an hour is “lose, lose”. Vaguely normal people are praising, consciously or otherwise, the next prime minister for being astute enough to realise how terrible she is. That a 30-minute interview couldn’t possibly go well for her.

Truss has spent six agonising weeks endlessly trying to be Margaret Thatcher, including dressing up as her. Mrs Thatcher was not a great one for declining the opportunity to make her feelings known.

We are also treated to an analysis that declares how such a tactic “worked” for Cameron and for Johnson. Even for May. That all of them swerved every chance they could to be interrogated, and it did none of them any harm. Which arguably it didn’t, but it did harm us, the little people, and a very great deal indeed. Because what unites those three former prime ministers, and will certainly unite Truss too, is an entirely hopeless inadequacy. All of them were found to be many thousands of leagues out of their depth.

Johnson and May were an embarrassment, both the country and to themselves. Cameron took his country out of the European Union by accident – quite possibly the single greatest unforced error ever made by anyone to ever hold his office.

This is the elite club Ms Truss now joins. It is, arguably, not the smartest company to be keeping. There are, after all, other past leaders who were never praised for seeking to conceal their inadequacies, principally because they were not entirely inadequate.

Still, while Truss hides away, one chap who’s decided with a week left in the job that he’s had enough of a break is nominal prime minister Boris Johnson. He is off on a “legacy tour”, which we can only assume will be a kind of seven-day rolling tribute to that bit in Being John Malkovich where the only word anyone can say is “Malkovich”, except not with “Malkovich”, but with “vaccine rollout”.

The full schedule has not yet been seen but the prime minister is expected to drive up and down various motorways, calling in at various towns and, quite possibly, not even instructing the car to slow down while he shouts the words “vaccine rollout” out the window then heads off to the next place.

He will, we are told, be celebrating his “legacy”. There is a very real chance it is only me that’s living out this version of the simulation because the idea of Johnson going around the UK, in the state it is currently in, to celebrate all he has achieved, is so far beyond absurd that it cannot possibly be true.

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Does he really want to be reminded of his promises to build 40 new hospitals when elderly people with broken limbs are sleeping in the street under makeshift tents made from goalposts while they wait 40 hours for an ambulance?

Do people want to hear, again, about the 20,000 new police officers who may or may not exist, when they’re too busy tracking in real time the journey of their stolen bikes and laptops directly to the headquarters of criminal gangs, but which the police do not have the time or interest to investigate, even though they are crimes that could be solved by a single-celled amoeba.

The big achievement, apparently, has been gigabit broadband, which is in 70 per cent of homes now, as opposed to 7 per cent three years ago, though it is not immediately clear whether anybody has noticed.

If this is Johnson’s final, barely-arsed effort to secure some kind of legacy he needn’t have bothered. It’s entirely secure. His would-be protege is already following by example, and it will certainly not be long until she has joined him.