Voices: I may not rate her performance, but I’d never say what everyone is saying about Liz Truss

·4-min read

Throughout the Conservative leadership campaign, Liz Truss has been a like a plastic bag in the wind – but with less hypnotic poignance.

She has been incredibly cautious with the details of how on earth she is going to help the millions of people who are terrified for the coming winter – while at the same time, being incredibly cavalier with her words about our allies and international partners.

All summer, she has fallen for the fatal trap of playing to the small audience in front of her while forgetting that people across the country can see and hear her too. We notice when she changes her tune from one day to the next.

I don’t get any sense of what kind of prime minister she will be – other than an erratic one with no particular sense of purpose. She is prone to diplomatic gaffes, and seems to pay little attention to facts and details. I guess we can take cold comfort from the fact that at least we have become accustomed to such a character. If only party members thought we deserved better.

I am, however, fairly cautious of the emphasis on her being “dim”. I will level with you: I don’t think Truss is some super-brain. I have myself been left baffled by some of the stuff she has said and done, and by her ineptitude in failing to see the obvious bear trap being set for her in interview after interview.

I felt exactly the same way about Boris Johnson. As far as I am concerned, they are as inept as each other – but somehow Johnson escaped the accusations that he was stupid. In fact, the exact opposite was the case.

People talked about him as if he was so smart, he was always one step ahead; as though he was somehow playing 3D chess with the press and the public. It is my experience that no one in politics is playing 3D chess – they are barely playing 2D chess – and that when something comes off with an unexpectedly positive outcome, it is nine times out of 10 a complete and utter accident. Why was the same deficit in Johnson never considered dimness, but instead spun as genius?

I worry that the emphasis on her lack of intellect is not exclusively based on some of the stupid things she says and does, but is instead just an easy shorthand to use to criticise a woman – and a blonde one to boot. I have not heard Rishi Sunak described as “dim” at any point in the contest – even though I have always found him utterly underwhelming and completely incapable of thinking on his feet. When you engage him in conversation, he largely looks blank.

I don’t think it is always the case with powerful women that their intelligence, or lack of it, takes centre stage, but there is a tinge of palpable displeasure in the air when any woman is seen to have risen above her station. No one accused Theresa May of being dim, that’s true – instead, the shorthand for her deficit was that she was “cold”.

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She was seen as too studious; and in fact, her abilities were seen as a negative. It was her intellect and seriousness that made her “cold”, according to the perceived wisdom. Serious men don’t get the same criticism. No one is out there saying Michael Gove is “cold” because he was seen to be studiously obsessive in his briefs – au contraire! He has somehow managed to paint himself as a premier minister and a great thinker. Remind me again, please, what greatness he achieved?

I think Truss will be a dreadful prime minister, if her performance so far has been anything to go by. Not just this summer, but over the course of her entire ministerial career. There is literally nothing that I can point to that has improved even slightly the life of a single person in my constituency – though there are plenty of examples of the opposite.

Yet the fact remains that Truss is no more dim than Johnson or Sunak – and it’s unfair (even sexist) to claim that she is.

I just hope – as we enter what I’d like to think will be the brief reign of PM Truss in No 10 – that we can criticise her performance solely on its merits (or lack thereof) and leave out the sexist overtones. I’m sure there will be plenty to work with.