by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 7
September 2022
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06:00

Forget her speech — Liz Truss is good at politics

Success in the job is about a lot more than oratory
by Yuan Yi Zhu
Contrary to popular imagination, Liz Truss is an extremely skilled politician. Credit: Getty

Politics is the ultimate spectator sport. Very few truly partake but almost everyone watches it, willingly or not. Naturally, many come to form strong opinions about the players and their performance. We speak of politicians’ appearances at the despatch box and on television programmes as though it were a football match, and abuse them accordingly. Not coincidentally, sporting metaphors abound in political journalism.

Familiarity breeds contempt, but also a loss of perspective. Politics is supremely difficult: for every stuttering third-rate frontbencher you have never heard of, there are a hundred would-be MPs who never got close to entering the House of Commons. By definition, almost anyone who is in Parliament is better at politics than almost anyone who is reading this piece.

This brings us to our new prime minister, who just delivered a rather forgettable speech on the doorstep of No10. Offering vaguely Thatcherite platitudes about the country’s future, it is not hard to imagine some of those watching were wondering why she, and not they, was the one standing there in front of the podium.

But for all her wooden manners and deficiencies in her speech — she often speaks as if she is addressing a roomful of unusually thick toddlers — Liz Truss got there because she is a supremely skilled politician. She convinced the Conservative backwoodsmen of South West Norfolk to not deselect her after she had an affair with a MP; she survived in the Cabinets of three successive prime ministers; she backed Remain, then defeated a high-profile and early Brexiteer by convincing the Tory membership that she was the truer Brexiteer.

And of course, there is luck. She was at the right place and time to be added to David Cameron’s A-List of candidates, The missteps she committed as a minister were too boring to make headlines. When her Cabinet colleagues were doing the dirty work of removing Boris Johnson in London, she was serendipitously on a plane thousands of miles away, which protected her from the taint of treason. What if it had been the UK’s turn to host the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting instead of Indonesia’s?

But all this may count for naught. In most domains, those at the peak of their profession receive commensurate success and rewards. In politics, even the very best can and do end up as failures. Men and women who have prepared all their lives for the moment often see it all crumble before their eyes the moment they enter No 10.

This is why the ultimate theorist of practical politics remains the dogmatically pragmatic Michael Oakeshott who understood, as few did and do, that there is no ultimate victory in politics, but merely survival and the chance of fighting on for another day. And there is no shortage of would-be helmsmen.

Liz Truss is assuming the charge of the Queen’s government at a time of widespread national discontent, domestic and foreign challenges on a scale that have not been seen in at least a generation, and a seemingly unsurmountable polling lead by the Opposition. Many of the factors essential to the cure are outside of her control, and even if she steers Britain through the crisis there is no guarantee the voters will be grateful to her. Welcome to the madness, Prime Minister, you asked for it.

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Matt M
Matt M
2 months ago

Liz Truss is assuming the charge of the Queen’s government at a time of widespread national discontent, domestic and foreign challenges on a scale that have not been seen in at least a generation

It only feels like last year we were in the middle of an “unprecedented crisis”. Before that we were in a “constitutional crisis” and it isn’t that long since we were in a “black swan moment”.
I think journalists should try to get a sense of perspective. There is a bout of inflation caused by shutting down the world economy while increasing the money supply and a reduction in the amount of gas on the market caused by the Russian invasion (and Net Zero delusions on the part of the world’s governing classes).
The market will right these things in time (assuming governments don’t stand in the way of fossil fuel extraction). In the meantime, we will need to borrow some money to ease the nation’s gas bills.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

OMG you wrote the “i” word!

Didn’t you get the memo that’s it now called “cost of living crisis”?

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Yes, indeed. The news cycle rushes from one disaster to another crisis, to a new tragedy, and on to further horrors. Its the one way the commentariat know hoy to get paid. The louder the shout, the wider the acclaim. Forget whether it is accurate, or out of pitch. As long as it attracts attention.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

Finally, a good article again on UnHerd (which seems to have badly lost its way over recent months).
Really gets to the important point – much as we might deride Liz Truss’ less than memorable speeches, this is not the main requirement of the job. Nor even in the top three. Ignore what that know-nothing media try to tell you here as they start pushing their pre-printed narratives.
The ignorance of the media never fails. Truss has been written off before she’s even started (including by the execrable Thomas Fazi here yesterday). We cannot know whether Truss has what it takes until she’s into the job. The only certainty seems that she is less stupid than many of her critics. Not saying much there though.
My suspicion is that the public at large have had more than enough of impressive speeches, “commentators” and their political “analysis” and media hacks bigging themselves up and pushing their own “brands”. Likewise that a period of boring competence where stuff justs gets done – and the media largely ignored – would be welcome now. But will we get it ?

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

What Liz Truss has to do, and most likely won’t, is legalize fracking in Britain. Domestic production of natural gas and oil would go a long way toward fixing the energy mess, restoring Britain’s economy. Drilling activity itself would boost jobs and investment. The expectation of increased production would lower prices.

Unfortunately, climate change is an all party orthodoxy in Britain. There’s little possibility common sense will break out in the Conservative Party, or any other party. While it’s obvious that wind and solar are incapable of running a modern economy, it’s impolite in the extreme to notice. Rather than say the economy has no clothes, all political parties probably will continue their energy suicide pact. It’s a big missed opportunity.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

The opposition have a “seemingly insurmountable” lead? What on earth is the author talking about? Most Oppositions have a lead at the mid-stage of the parliamentary cycle, as the incumbent Government gets buffeted by the inevitable headwinds of office; but that’s why the claims of the Opposition to be able to do any better are (mainly) treated with something approaching disdain by all but their most fervent supporters. As an election approaches and the electorate contemplate the options in front of them, midterm poll leads have a habit of melting into the thin but hot air of Westminster. That the author seems to think otherwise surely disqualifies him from being taken seriously as a political commentator? And not least, rushing out an article within an hour or so of a perfectly competent speech isn’t the wisest thing to do.
The author is, however correct in identifying the importance the electorate attach to delivering on the agenda set out by the PM. On that alone hinges the result of the next election.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Murray
Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I thought the speech was OK too.

Dominic S
Dominic S
2 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Her performance in PMQs wasn’t brilliant in style, but was excellent nonetheless.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

I understand that Truss convinced her North Norfolk constituency that amongst new measures she was going to bring in included the banning of new cartridge bags and over and unders on all but let days.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

oh… and that she would bring in the port and stilton after the meeting

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

Strictly entre nous, I have heard of demon wheeze that the new government has to both reduce the number of cyclists and immigration, in one fell swoop. Thousands of bicycles are to be sequestered , have their rear wheel removed, and jacked up to a generator, all side by side in Kent.

Channel boat crossers will, in order to be accepted as migrants, will have to spend a month at least, pedalling full blast 20 hours a day, to provide energy.

M. M.
M. M.
2 months ago

Last edited 2 months ago by Matthew M.
Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
2 months ago
Reply to  M. M.

Oh, no, it’s you again. You’ve been singing that song forever.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  M. M.

“As president of the UK(….)”

Last edited 2 months ago by JP Martin
M. M.
M. M.
2 months ago

Last edited 2 months ago by Matthew M.
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago
Reply to  M. M.

a much simpler solution- invoke complete banking and investment a la Liechtenstein and Caribbean tax havens, cut taxes and just watch the cash and capital flow in by the trillion- job done.

DA Johnson
DA Johnson
2 months ago
Reply to  M. M.

“Hispanic” culture is part of Western culture, so this point makes no sense. Illegal immigration needs to be stopped because the huge numbers of immigrants make it impossible to vet them in any way, whether for Covid, drugs, human trafficking, or criminality. There are just too many people for even a big country to effectively absorb, especially when criminals are easily in the mix. Domination by “Hispanic” culture is the least of our worries.

M. M.
M. M.
2 months ago

Yuan Yi Zhu wrote, “Many of the factors essential to the cure [of British problems] are outside of [Liz Truss’] control …”

No intelligent person would blame Liz Truss for problems that are outside of her control. For example, most of the inflation in the United Kingdom is due indirectly to macroeconomic factors, of which one is the war in Ukraine. Truss was not responsible for the war there and has little control over it.

She is, however, responsible for things that are within her control. There are 2 important issues, which require her immediate attention.

First, she must keep her promise to expand the Rwanda policy: deporting illegal aliens to Rwanda.

If she fails to protect the borders, then the British fate will become the American fate. By 2040, the United States will cease being a Western nation, due to open borders. By 2040, most Americans will reject Western culture, and Hispanic culture will dominate. In California, 40% of the residents are currently Hispanic. Most residents of the state already reject Western culture, and Hispanic culture dominates.

Second, she must distance the UK from the United States. That would include exiting the America security architecture. 

Either the UK or Germany are potential leaders of the West. Facilitating such leadership would be changing the prime ministership to a presidential system in which a president is elected once per 4 years.

As president of the UK, Liz Truss could more effectively lead the West.

Get more info about this issue.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
2 months ago

Bring back Boris! At least he was entertaining.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 months ago

There are too many comedians in Parliament without him and, unfortunately, the joke is on us with their allowances and perks, ETC. What we need right now is some good, solid, competant management from both sides of both Houses.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
2 months ago

He’ll be busy earning his £Millions to keep Carrie in a lifestyle she is accustomed to.