Voices: The Truss and Macron row shows how petty our prospective PM really is

·4-min read

In diplomacy, as in the rest of life, it often helps to put yourself in the shoes of others, on the “do as you would be done by” principle. So, in assessing Liz Truss’s little joke about the president of the French Republic, we need only think for a moment of how it might be if the boot were on the other pied, so to speak.

Imagine the scene – there’s Emmanuel Macron at some internal party event, and he’s asked the question: “Liz Truss: friend or foe?”

Chuckling to himself, Macron replies that “the jury is still out”, adding – with an inappropriately patronising air – that the British prime minister will be judged on her “deeds, not words”.

In contrast to Truss’s contumely, Macron was gracious (but pointed) in his response: “The British people, the United Kingdom, is a friendly, strong and allied nation, regardless of its leaders – and sometimes in spite of its leaders, or the little mistakes they may make in grandstanding.”

Pretty insulting, non? One can only imagine the treatment Macron would be subjected to in the British tabloids at such a faux pas. And rightly so.

It was a very stupid thing to say, given that Britain and France – whether we like it or not – need each other more than ever. Especially now, what with Putin on the loose, a continent-wide energy crisis, and the continuing frictions caused by Brexit and other factors, which can be summarised in three words: refugees, fish and sewage.

What Truss said in her careless way – and don’t forget, she’s supposed to be the foreign secretary – is the diplomatic equivalent of the untreated human waste currently drifting on its malodorous way to the coasts of Normandy and Brittany.

None of this will help us avoid a trade war with the EU when the Northern Ireland protocol fully blows up. It is, after all, the French who control the Channel ports, and if Truss wants to know how much of a foe they can be, she should just carry on winding the Elysee Palace up.

What else seems to be becoming clear is that Truss is basically a very immature person indeed – a sort of eternal schoolgirl. She likes to foster this Thatcheresque style of saying what she means and meaning what she says, but when it’s just childish insults aimed at important allies and partners, it’s not stateswoman-like – it’s plain stupid.

She’s already poked fun at Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, and put Michelle O’Neill on edge – with her equally puerile team launching character assassinations at Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab, and any other senior Tory who isn’t putting their trust in Truss.

I remember she once dismissed Michael Gove’s attempts to restrict polluting log-burners by saying he should leave people’s “wood-burning Goves” alone. She’s never serious, Truss, and is even worse in that respect than Boris Johnson, with a smirk never far from her lips. Johnson usually coined his sobriquets and insults off the record, making them deniable. With Truss, we are in for government by pun.

Thatcher really wasn’t as recklessly rude as this, even to her enemies. When Mrs T wanted to attack, she used not sixth-form-level humour but properly vicious grown-up rhetoric – such as when she called striking coal miners “the enemy within”. Truss is possibly more sinister.

She has already earned the nickname “Dim Lizzy”, and it’s hard to disagree. She appears to be one of those people who, as the old saying goes, engages her oversized gob before her undersized brain.

Her economic policies are, as Gove called them, a holiday from reality, framed by the ideological zeal of her putative chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, who is personally close to Truss, looks as if he has something to prove, and seems to be emerging as a sort of intellectual valet to the probable next PM.

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She needs one, as otherwise she seems ready to rely on her gut instinct and belief in herself to govern the nation. Kwarteng’s problem is that he isn’t quite as brilliant as he thinks he is, and he can’t get away with not implementing a windfall tax on the energy companies. If supplies of gas and electricity were as plentiful as Kwarteng’s and Truss’s self-confidence, there would be no energy crisis.

I am, by the way, all too aware that Truss got a degree from Oxford in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, which means she can’t be that stupid, but it’s also fair to add that acquiring such a qualification doesn’t necessarily indicate intellectual distinction – and certainly doesn’t endow anyone with wisdom and sound judgement.

The Tory leadership hustings have dragged on with no obvious benefit to the nation for too long, but they have at least exposed enough about the flawed personality and the shortcomings of Truss to inspire fear for the future of the nation. We shall judge her by her deeds. So will President Macron, and other world leaders, who will soon wonder whether Britain can sink much lower.