by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 30
December 2021
Idea
08:00

Is Liz Truss set to be the new Alec Douglas-Home?

Ideas about the Foreign Secretary taking over are eerily reminiscent
by Peter Franklin
The forgotten PM

The Tories can’t be serious, can they? According to a ConservativeHome survey, Truss is now favourite to succeed Johnson as next Conservative leader (though by the merest sliver over Rishi Sunak). If this takes place before the next election, this would mean making her Prime Minister too. 

Her career is certainly on an upward trajectory. After a successful stint as Secretary of State for International Trade, she was promoted to the Foreign Office earlier this year. Following Lord Frost’s resignation before Christmas, she’s also taken the lead on post-Brexit negotiations with the EU. 

So, next step Number 10? Not if the Conservatives want to win the next election. Just look at the latest polling from Opinium.

It shows the Conservatives seven points behind Labour. However, if voters are reminded that Boris Johnson is in charge the Tory deficit grows to 12 points — a sure sign the current PM has become a liability. The bad news for Truss is that if voters are asked to imagine her as leader, the deficit grows to a calamitous 16 points. With Sunak as leader, however, it shrinks to just three points. 

Liz Truss likes to present herself as a latter day Margaret Thatcher, but I fear that a much closer parallel might be with Sir Alec Douglas-Home — who became Prime Minister on 19 October 1963 and lasted for just 363 days. 

In 1963, the Tories had been in power for twelve years. Harold Macmillan, the once popular Old Etonian Prime Minister, had become hopelessly bogged-down in scandal (remind you of anyone?). When he resigned, the Conservative Party had to find a new leader (and Prime Minister). But instead of choosing the obvious candidate, Rab Butler, they picked the Foreign Secretary instead.

It was an astonishing decision, not least because as an Earl, Douglas-Home was a member of the House of Lords. He was, therefore, the last peer to become Prime Minister. Of course, he quickly renounced his earldom to become plain old Sir Alec and got himself elected as an MP. 

However, the rebrand could not disguise the fact that he was a throwback. Stiff and uncomfortable in front of the cameras, he didn’t stand a chance against his Labour opponent Harold Wilson. And so, after thirteen years in power, the Tories lost the 1964 general election.

Liz Truss is also a throwback: not to the aristocratic past, but to the equally dead-and-buried Thatcherite era. That’s not to say that she won’t become Prime Minister. But if she does, then — like Sir Alec — it’s unlikely to be for long.

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John Riordan
John Riordan
11 months ago

The “equally dead and buried Thatcherite era”? Oh dear.

It is quite correct, of course, to remark that Thatcher has been out of power for over thirty years and that the country is an entirely different place now. This needs stating more often than you might think, usually because some idiot leftie has just tried to claim that the modern housing crisis as Thatcher’s fault or whatever.

But there is one principle from the Thatcher years which will always be relevant no matter how unfashionable it may be, and it’s that there is no such thing as government money: there is only the taxpayer’s money. It is very unfashionable in these days of government bloatocracy to focus upon this, but there is no escaping the consequences of ignoring such a priority.

And there is a very simple way to consign this supposedly Thatcherite concern to the past, and that’s for a modern government to actually take up the principle and run the sort of tight ship that recognises that the point of the taxpayer and the private enterprise is not merely to be there to fund the State, which is pretty obviously what many public sector apparatchiks believe.

There is no way around this principle, and the reason Thatcherism isn’t dead yet is that no government has yet emerged that is honest enough to recognise the principle in question and to take it up and to rebrand it as its own. That’s how Thatcherism gets dead and buried, and it remains alive and kicking until we all get real about this.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
11 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Honestly these Red Tories toasting the death of Thatcherism seem to tend millenial and callow – or old hacks who should know better.

I guess when the UK is forced to go with a begging bowl to the IMF to stave off a bond crisis because of the profiligacy of these policies they will have their coming of age momemt.

Last edited 11 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
11 months ago

Any politician that says they want to double down on Thatcherite policies will be finished before they started. The reforms she began (and Blair and Cameron continued) have left wages stagnant for 30 years, while house prices have risen out of reach of an ever increasing number of young families. It has given rise to vast inequality, gutted our public infrastructure, caused productivity to stall and destroyed entire towns with little plan on how to replace the jobs she destroyed, simply holding on to a naive belief that “the market” will fix everything.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You left out Brown, understandably. Blair got a wide range of people to vote for him because he promised to keep a balanced budget in his first term. He opened the purse strings in his second term. Then he handed over to Brown who squandered the rest.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago

It’ll be Con +5% in the polls by February. Just like last Christmas, Labour are ahead during a Covid peak with the public fearful of another lockdown.

Pretty soon cases will plummet as per South Africa and Boris will say that Labour wanted to lock us down but his bravery and the government’s world-beating booster roll out has spared us.

To believe a story about a few civil servants having an illicit drink in No 10 is going to usher in a new government is deranged. It will have no more long term resonance than Dom Cummings’ road trip or Matt Hancock’s extra-marital activities.

Harry Child
Harry Child
11 months ago

I realise this was written in the dead period between Christmas & New Year but don’t churnalists { the Guardian name for journalists) have memories of opinion polls that put Labour and the Tories neck & neck before the last election. Don’t they remember that all Governments lose support mid term when it is easy for the public to express their disappointments without having to face the consequences of a General Election.

andrew harman
andrew harman
11 months ago

These historical parallels are really rather silly. The way Labour appeared in 1963-4 and how they appear now are entirely different entities.
Also polls are of little value at the best of times. At this stage of a parliament, they are virtually meaningless.

Charles Lewis
Charles Lewis
11 months ago

For me, Truss’ great virtue is that she is anti-woke — as simple as that. She will defend us, our children and our womenfok from the multiple horros of critical race and gender theory. Boris won’t –not with his lovely lady whispering into his earhole. Will Sunak? I don’t know. Gove? probably not. And Truss is, I think, tough, like Thatcher. Am I right or am I right?

John Lee
John Lee
11 months ago
Reply to  Charles Lewis

Who knows?
Until she makes some real statements about her beliefs she is just as flimsy as the rest.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
11 months ago

Too early to rely on such polls. Most ordinary voters haven’t heard of Truss, so of course she doesn’t appear strongly, and they’ve barely registered the inflation caused by Sunak’s spendthrift policies, so his score is over rated. As for the rest, the most obvious throw back is to Tony Blair. A principled conservative is far more likely to appeal than yet another muddled heir to Blair.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

I’m not a Truss fan, but Sunak is Osborne MkII. Can the Tories not do better? They should perhaps consider missing a generation, and pick from the Red Wall intake instead – someone along the lines of Ben Houchen – they would have to wait a bit obviously.

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
David B
David B
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Maybe Miriam Cates?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
11 months ago

Truss’ poor showing represents the fact that she is unknown to the general public. If she has two years as PM, she will be familiar to the public and they will make their judgement. As for Sunak, his popularity is based on him having thrown money around like confetti. Life for him will be more difficult in the next two years.

Nick Wright
Nick Wright
11 months ago

What we don’t need is another anti-Brexit Lib Dem turned “Conservative” masquerading as a Thatcherite. We’ve seen the effects of having leaders pretending to have principles and it’s not good for the country. I would vote for neither Comrade Sunak nor Turncoat Truss and don’t know of anyone who might, so I strongly suspect we’ll have a Lib-Lab coalition next time out.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
11 months ago

I think a good dose of Thatcherism is exactly what this country needs after two years of having to endure this lackadaisical incumbent in charge. Historical parallels can be taken a bit too literally. Truss, like Douglas-Home, would be the fourth successive Conservative to take over during a long stint of Tory rule, but a more accurate comparison could be John Major who was talked of as the new Douglas-Home before going on to unexpectedly defeat an unimpressive Labour leader (a bit like Starmer is today) during the General Election to follow, albeit with a much reduced majority.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
11 months ago

Early in her leadership MrsT was known, unaffectionately, as the Leaderene. Things can change.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
11 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

After her leadership she was known by names much worse than that, also unaffectionately

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
11 months ago

Far more like the new Theresa May I would say.

DAVID MILLER
DAVID MILLER
11 months ago

I’m sure Ms Truss has many attributes and she is to be applauded for her achievements in securing Post-Brexit Trade deals but she is not the one to lead the Tories if – a big IF – Boris Johnson goes.
Unlike Johnson, and Blair, Thatcher and Churchill before her, she lacks that indefinable quality – Charisma – that they all had and which is essential to being a great leader. That said, I can think of nobody in the Conservative Party – apart from Johnson – who has his Charisma.(Or in Labour).

Mike Buttolph
Mike Buttolph
11 months ago

Is it significant that the guardian poll does not show what happens when there is any election, but what would happen if the government calls an election when the Conservatives are 7 points behind Labour?