Voices: Liz Truss is the Tory party’s pet ostrich – and she’s attempting to fly

·5-min read

There are many species of bird that teach their young to fly by ushering them off a cliff and hoping they’ll have got the hang of it before an intervention from the rocks below. All those species do have one thing in common, though: they can fly.

The Tory party, meanwhile, has now officially shoved its pet ostrich over the edge and is hoping for the best. Naturally, the ostrich doesn’t mind one bit. She’s so high on the LSD of her own ambition that not even the ground can stop her. And, at least for the time being, she and the rest of them are still refusing to be dragged out of their own private land of make-believe.

Politics has been fully surreal for a very, very long time, but real life is now so deadly serious that it almost seems unfair that it’s certain to be on Liz Truss’s watch that the bubble finally bursts. Every great journey begins with a single step, goes the old saying, and now this one has, and it’s about to take a sharp 90-degree turn, from the horizontal to the vertical.

But not quite yet. For now, the Tory party really can still call in the TV cameras for its latest bit of internal dispute and come out with some of the following.

Before Truss’s inevitable victory was announced, the party chair, a man called Andrew Stephenson, was wheeled on to talk about how great the leadership campaign had been. No one normal knows who Stephenson is, though some people might be vaguely aware, if they think hard enough, that he’s only in the job because the last guy, Oliver Dowden, felt he had to quit after the party lost two by-elections in a single day, which were only happening because one of its MPs had been convicted of sexually assaulting a child and the other had been watching porn in the House of Commons.

Stephenson had the following to say: “Our new prime minister will build on the previous prime minister’s legacy and deliver prosperity for everyone.”

These were real words, said in earnest, that actually had the temerity to come out of the hole in Stephenson’s face, presumably with some vague expectation that they might be taken seriously. What legacy is that, exactly? The previous prime minister has been slung from office for absolutely no reason other than that nobody could possibly be expected to believe a word he said, and yet the only legacy of his own he managed to come up with was the fact that the rolling out of improved broadband services is progressing only moderately more slowly than he promised in his manifesto.

And is there anybody in the country, a single solitary person, who expects Truss to deliver them prosperity?

Still, no matter. Such trivialities can wait for another day. For now, the record states that fully 82,000 people voted for Truss – a number slightly higher than the eligible voting population of a single parliamentary constituency – and so the rest is, as of now, history.

Onto the stage she bounded. The room cheered, though not altogether loudly. The speech was no better or worse than anyone who’s been paying any attention over the last six weeks might have expected. The moment when she paused for applause after announcing that Boris Johnson “is admired from Kiev to Carlisle” felt like it could have lasted several lifetimes. It has already been suggested that the party, at this point, was refusing to cheer for Johnson, but that seems unfair. Surely no human being can possibly be expected to know that they’re meant to applaud after a line containing the words “from Kiev to Carlisle”.

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All summer long, normal people have been getting increasingly frightened by the energy-based tsunami of financial misery that is coming for them. While the Tories have argued with each other about gender-neutral toilets, investment banks have issued UK inflation forecasts for 2023 of more than 20 per cent. They’ve done this because no one in the government has given them any indication of what they’re going to do. This void of leadership has also caused the currency to haemorrhage.

Truss, meanwhile, really did say that her six-week, fully irrelevant slanging match with Rishi Sunak had “shown the breadth and depth of talent in the Conservative Party”. Let the record state that she has, at least, said something true, though not quite in the way she meant it.

Of her many weary soundbites of the past six weeks, arguably the most preposterous (in a crowded field) was her claim that “with me, what you see is what you get”. What you see when you look at Truss is not just a Remain-campaigning Brexiteer, but also someone who spent three weeks saying that “handouts” were not the answer to the energy crisis, and that “tax cuts” were the way to make sure that people could afford to pay energy bills that will cost them more than every penny of tax they pay in every form.

Now, we are told that there is going to be an intervention, that people will “get help” with their bills. We don’t quite know what sort of help yet, and in that sense, maybe Truss has said another true thing. What you see is never what you get, but that’s the point. What you see is something you’ll never have seen before – a truly bizarre beast, trying to teach itself to fly without taking its head out of the sand.