The new Tory leader didn't exactly get the crowd going
Westminster, the QEII Centre
We are here for a coronation without bishops, prayers, or giltwood gold carriages. Instead, as the cream of the Conservative Party is poured through a mouth of metal detectors, there is a smell. It’s pungent. Nitroglycerin, sawdust, and a whiff of graphite. Bomb, burned toast, or Rishi Sunak’s hopes and dreams? As tieless Tory men fan themselves, I wonder if it’s hot enough in here for Mark Francois to burst a couple of valves when he claims his seat.
There are no cardiac catastrophes. The only real disaster is the margin of victory for Liz Truss today. She takes 57% of the vote, beating Rishi Sunak by 20,000 or so votes. That’s less than Iain Duncan Smith in 2001, David Cameron in 2005, and Boris Johnson in 2019. All that after winning over fewer MPs than Sunak.
Yesterday, YouGov’s final poll had given Truss a 32-point lead over Sunak. In reality her actual margin was 15. These numbers brooded over the Sunak campaign for seven weeks. They were not accurate, and they probably pushed some wavering Tory members over to Truss. It might explain why Sunak is so utterly diminished when he enters the Churchill room, his face hammered into a smile so tight it appears to be held in place with nails.
Prime Minister number 56, and the third in eight years, makes her way to the lectern. She moves like a flightless bird. The top line of her speech comes at the close: “We will defeat Labour at the 2024 general election.” She won’t go to the polls early, but given half the country will be warming itself with candles, blankets, and goose fat this Christmas, why would she?
Elsewhere there was the simple, strange spectacle of Truss the speaker. Awkward pauses, broken up by reluctant and half-hearted applause, only enlivened by a phone going off as she talked up Prime Minister number 55. A man beloved “from Kyiv to Carlisle” said Truss — though not here. Truss’s gratitude-seeking applause lines for Johnson were about as welcome in the Churchill room as a boat full of fighting-age Albanian men on the Kent coast.
“We have shown a depth and breadth of talent”, she said to the audience, which included Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Behind me there was a head-turning burst of staccato laughter. It’s the only joke, and it’s an accident.
The real speech, when Truss is expected to do something — anything! — about energy bills, comes tomorrow. Her final promise to the room was saying the word “deliver” four times. This leadership coronation had only delivered the troubling reality, for Truss, that her support among members was thinner than it had seemed all summer.
At least she could count on the loyalty of her MPs. As we filed out, Julian Knight tweeted his congratulations to Truss. “The party must now get behead Liz so we can defeat Starmer!” The first micro-gaffe of the new era. I suspect there will be many more to come.