Liz Truss spent the best day of her life going round in circles – first to avoid the mist, then the rain, and then the truth.
Britain’s new prime minister can’t change the weather, but she could certainly do with changing the record. It had gone 5pm by the time she’d made it to Balmoral and back. She’d spent the morning doing laps over Aberdeen airport, waiting for clearance to land. When she got back to London, it is hard to avoid the evidence that she drove deliberately into suburban rush-hour traffic so as not to pull into Downing Street in the middle of the kind of September monsoon that informally informs the nation that summer is over.
This, if nothing else, should have given her plenty of time to consider whether some fresh sentiments might be required; if a line in the sand should be drawn. But she didn’t do that. Instead, she did what she’s been doing for the last two months, and heaped praise upon the man whose job she’s now taken.
It is, as ever, fully dystopian stuff: that a man can be kicked out by his own party for no reason at all beyond his own disgraceful personal conduct, and yet the contest to replace him was never about anything beyond who was the most loyal to him.
Boris Johnson, said Truss, “will be remembered as a consequential prime minister” – a statement that could not possibly be further from the truth. He’ll be remembered for lying. That’s it.
He’d given his own speech 10 hours before, and, as ever, nothing he had to say is worth the keystrokes. You’ve heard it all before, and absolutely none of it is true. He reeled off his usual list of achievements, about schools and hospitals and nurses and police officers, to be listened to by a country that is facing the biggest crisis in education in its history, in which pensioners die in the streets waiting for an ambulance, and in which there is a growing sense that the police have stopped investigating crimes altogether. At least, one hopes, it is the last time we shall ever have to hear such filth.
There was, however, something vaguely interesting in what he did. The gaggle of sycophant MPs, summoned to form a kind of giant, grey-suited jelly, and to clap the disgraced ex-prime minister into the waiting car, accidentally told us all we need to know about precisely what’s happened on this nominally historic day – which is not very much at all.
As Johnson made his way to the car, he stopped to gladhand his little phalanx of invertebrate loyalists. No other prime minister has felt the need to do such a thing before. All the usual suspects were there – Peter Bone, Nadine Dorries, you know the names by now. Jacob Rees-Mogg even brought his son. The pair of them clapped the now former prime minister’s car out of the gates.
Which is quite odd, really, isn’t it? Johnson is no longer prime minister because his party concluded that he had acted appallingly, that no one in the country could possibly trust him any more, and that he had to be removed. And it has now replaced him with a new leader who has spent the last six weeks not only refusing to criticise him, but whenever the opportunity arose, boasting of her loyalty to him.
The key Johnson loyalists are not damaged in any way by their continued backing of a man who never stopped disgracing himself or his office. Far from it. Rees-Mogg is promoted to business secretary. Dorries was offered her old job back, but turned it down, preferring a job for life in the House of Lords instead, which is the kind of entirely normal thing we still do in this country.
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When Truss won the leadership contest, she dedicated most of her short speech to praising her predecessor and the various great things he apparently achieved. Outside 10 Downing Street, she did the same again.
Johnson, for his part, drew on his great stores of shamelessness to claim that he’d been kicked out because the “rules were changed halfway through”. No rules were changed; he’s just lying again, as he has always done. But standing outside No 10 and telling bald-faced lies, yet again, is fine. Rees-Mogg will still be there to clap you out, and when he’s done, he’ll go off and form the next government.
The Tory party has a new leader. The rolling news channels have their helicopters up, they’ve stationed their reporters on the Tarmac for take-off and touchdown. They’re going through their familiar rituals, doing their level best to weigh down a sense of history upon the occasion, because it’s all they know how to do. But as someone once said, nothing has changed.
Nothing has changed. What is the point of this new government? They are Johnson loyalists, absolutely all of them. And they are all at their happiest when they’re publicly displaying their unswerving loyalty, pretending none of this nasty business ever happened. Until the Conservative Party finds the moral courage to explain, openly, that its last leader was an out-and-out liar, it’s not immediately clear what right they have to expect the rest of us to move on.