by Tobias Phibbs
Friday, 24
December 2021
Debate
07:00

The case against Liz Truss

No one better reflects the vacuity of contemporary politics
by Tobias Phibbs
The wannabe Thatcher

In 1947, in a Swiss ski resort in the village of Mont Pelerin, 39 economists and philosophers met. Among them were Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek, Karl Popper and Ludwig von Mises. Over the next two decades the Mont Pelerin Society descended from the Swiss Plateau to the capital cities of major Western nations, bringing with them a belief in free markets and free trade. Founding members established an international network of think tanks — in the UK, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, and in the US the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, owe their existence in part to the activism of the Society.

The first 25 years of their existence were largely lonely, but when Margaret Thatcher emerged as their British flag-bearer, it was love at first sight. The stern Thatcher was reduced to meekness in Hayek’s presence, while he thought her “beautiful”.

Today, we learn that Liz Truss is positioning herself as the 21st Century Thatcher ahead of an expected Conservative leadership election. She’s right about the 21st Century part, not only because she is powered by “positive self-talk” and “upbeat pop” but also because she encapsulates the meaninglessness of contemporary politics. The conditions that gave rise to Thatcher have gone and what Truss has left are motivational speeches about freedom (though, interestingly, it wasn’t until this month that she dared hint at even the slightest dissent towards Covid restrictions.)

There is no Mont Pelerin Society equivalent or serious diagnosis of the present nor programme for the future. The much-quoted Britannia Unchained book she contributed to is trivial. Our politics, like our culture, is stuck in a succession of tribute acts, each unmoored from the conditions that gave birth to the original versions.

Her supply-side offering is an inadequate solution to the problems we face; more significantly, there is no sense that she has any awareness of — or interest in — the real conditions of the country. We are an older country than we have ever been, with high levels of immigration functioning as a ponzi scheme to compensate for our extremely low birth rate. Asset ownership is unevenly spread, with young people locked out of the housing market. Higher education is a scam, in which millions of people are tricked into tens of thousands of pounds of debt in order to study pointless degrees so that they can work bullshit jobs. Key industries have long-since been sold overseas.

11 years of Conservative-led government has not meaningfully addressed these problems. They have not even taken the culture war seriously as a vote winner — content to permit the spread of an insipid, joyless ideology through academia, the media and the blob. Liz Truss, who has shown no indication of any change in political outlook since her student days as a Lib Dem, is surely not the person to change that.

Politics is no longer about executive action or refashioning society. It is about public relations and managing decline, and Liz Truss may yet prove to be an exemplar of both.

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AC Harper
AC Harper
6 months ago

Not a fan then?
You could make an argument that BB (Before Brexit) the UK was still snared by the EU’s technocratic governance and managing ‘ever closer Union’. AB (After Brexit) we are so far still trying to disentangle ourselves from the EU tar baby, something complicated by political resources being devoted to COVID.
Is the UK in a terrible place? Not worse than previously – the current times dominate our thinking but how quickly we forget two world wars, a flu pandemic, economic crises, Suez, the 3 day week, Tony Blair’s War etc.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
6 months ago

Mont Pelerin was a reaction to wars and totalitarianism that the economists and philosophers mentioned above had either lived through or narrowly escaped. They recognised that outsourcing compassion, responsibility and enterprise to the state was the start of The Road To Serfdom, as Hayek put it.
We should all be eternally grateful that at least two important figures, Thatcher & Reagan, took their messages onboard before it was too late.

Last edited 6 months ago by Brendan O'Leary
David Owsley
David Owsley
6 months ago

well said

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
6 months ago

I enjoyed this, even though I quite like Liz Truss. Nothing like a righteous excoriation, great writing.

Anyway, what Truss has going for her is the impression of competence. I have no idea whether she actually is or not, but in all her trade dealing, she gives off the impression of it.

I think now that Brexit is done and Covid is hopefully in its death throes, what we need is some competence.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Let’s be honest Corporal Jones from Dads Army gives the impression of competence compared to Johnson’s current administration, and this is coming from a man who would have voted for him if I’d been back in England. Now Brexit is largely done he’s served his purpose

David Owsley
David Owsley
6 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

LOL…sad but true.

Bill W
Bill W
6 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

From memory despite comically making a mess of a lot of things, Jonesey also came to the rescue every now and again (intentionally or otherwise). I was at primary possibly even infants school when the series started and it still makes me laugh.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  Bill W

It’s a classic

Bill W
Bill W
6 months ago

I agree with a lot of the author’s criticisms of things in our country. That said, we should be far better off pursuing free trade with the rest of the world instead of being stuck in an undemocratic protectionist EU run for the benefit of France and Germany.
It is a shame that successive governments since Margaret Thatcher’s overthrow one way or another have acquiesced in or promoted measures which have reversed so many of the supply side reforms her administration achieved. And although she was a free marketeer, she was also a patriot and I am sure wouldn’t have approved of or allowed so many of the things which have cumulatively debilitated our country over the last thirty years whether it be allowing strategic industries to be sold to or controlled by foreign sometimes state owned undertakings, inept regulators, a bloated tax code, over a decade of QE, and utterly impoverishing net zero targets making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Etc etc.

David Owsley
David Owsley
6 months ago

BUT///but…is there anyone else? She voted Remain but has fought to make Brexit a success. She sounds sensible up against the poor competition.

Alan Hawley
Alan Hawley
6 months ago

How many readers find the PR photos of this government North Korean ridiculous? Its as though they spend all their time in high-viz jackets and safety helmets, and white medical coats on some occasions. Liz Turss is a prime offender, after BJ.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
6 months ago
Reply to  Alan Hawley

If politicians didn’t dress appropriately for their surrounding they would be vilified by most and sundry. Think Foot at the cenotaph up to Bojo without mask. The one thing I think any potential PM can offer is truth (I know, I know – they are politicians) but truth seems to be in short supply in parliament and the (un)civil service. I think most people in the UK would appreciate the truth even if we didn’t like what was said.

William Shaw
William Shaw
6 months ago

She could easily displace Boris. All she has to do is promise the following:
Make the most out of Brexit, robustly defend British history and heritage, deal effectively with illegal immigration, take on the radical progressive Left, deliver a serious strategy for levelling-up, and make the Conservative Party synonymous with low-tax government.

Last edited 6 months ago by William Shaw
Alison Wren
Alison Wren
6 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

And continue to support women in the grotesqueness of “gender recognition “ politics. So many women are politically homeless due to the ridiculousness of transideology if she was leader I’d cast my first ever Tory vote!!! As would many many others.

Last edited 6 months ago by Alison Wren
John Riordan
John Riordan
6 months ago

Sorry, but if you’re going to dismiss the need for supply side reform on the basis that it’s not enough to solve the UK’s problems, you’ll have to do better than this. It is arguable of course that supply side reform on its own is not enough – that I will agree with. But it is also the case that nothing will work without it.

Is Liz Truss the right person to deliver what the uk needs? Possibly not but here’s the thing: she’s the only major politician that is even being honest about the need for supply-side reform, so this puts her ahead of everyone else.

And while the UK is of course an ageing nation with a demographic problem, it is also the case that many factors are now as they were in 1979 when Thatcher won an election on the back of exhaustion and exasperation amongst the voters who were sick of tired Statist rubbish. We are back here again: a bloated, expensive, incompetent public sector that thinks the point of everyone else is to pay taxes to support itself, the producer interest running rife, inflation, poor productivity, and a political culture that is incapable of even understanding many problems let alone confront and solve them.

Liz Truss may not be Thatcher’s heir, but that doesn’t change the fact that the country needs one.

D M
D M
6 months ago

I agree that governments in general are neoliberal and not addressing the issues that most people care about as listed by the author but it’s not quite clear why the author picks out Liz Truss in particular. We don’t seem to have a saviour in any party apart perhaps from the SDP

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  D M

The SDP are looking better by the week to me, unfortunately the FPTP system means it will be incredibly hard for them to get anywhere.

D M
D M
6 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I completely agree about FPTP problem for SDP per se. However they have an intellectual lead – the speeches from the speakers at the SDP conference were head and shoulders above anything I have heard from any other party conference. There are lots of like minded public intellectuals – given airtime by such websites / youtube channels such as New Culture Forum an Triggernometry as well as so many on unherd. I just hope they can coalesce around sane ideas and influence society and other politicians.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  D M

The best they can really hope for under the current system is to do a UKIP, peeling off votes from the major parties so they end up stealing some of their policies to prevent losing the election

Tim Duckworth
Tim Duckworth
6 months ago

Almost all the commentators below are wandering straight off into theory once more without understanding that are main challenges at present are technical. Stop looking for ‘difficult’ problems and solve the energy balance – that will deal with climate change on the way and also have a major effect on poverty; start sorting out education for practicality and not trendiness; insist on competence in politicians and stop the merry go round of ministerial appointments just for management of the party purposes. Example , how could Jeremy Hunt be considered useful for anything when the Cygnus exercise slipped by him and thus when an epidemic struck we were even more unprepared, How can Ed Davey be considered for anything after his demolition of the power generation industry….the list goes on and on. As for Kwarteng…..
Where is the pragmatic leader to take on these challenges while the Blob/men in suits fulminate uselessly in the background as always?

Gayle Rosenthal
Gayle Rosenthal
6 months ago

Supply-side values? Is money the only common denominator in a technological and multicultural society ? Even the Abraham Accords, as much as I applaud them, are based on mutual commercialism. Brexit was both an anti-immigration breakaway and disentanglement with EU. Liberty needs to be the default position.But duty comes with liberty. Rather than talking incessantly about buying and selling, how about saving to buy on cash, not credit. Credit is inflationary as we are experiencing in the US, and yet the Biden administration is also behaving as if wealth is endless. Immigration is not the only ponzi scheme being played on national scales across the globe.

David McDowell
David McDowell
6 months ago

I agree with all of that but the circumstances described are partly a result of conservativeism in thinking.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Where we are now is the end result of Thatcherism

David Owsley
David Owsley
6 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

No…look to the end of the 90s. Blair and Clinton.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  David Owsley

Blair was a continuation of Thatcherism, so much so that she once stated Blair was her greatest achievement

John Riordan
John Riordan
6 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Complete bollox.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
5 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Why is it? I find it discussions work best if you actually give reasons for your answer, rather than just shouting childish insults

Jonathan Sidaway
Jonathan Sidaway
6 months ago

Thank you for this. The stuff that matters to people on the ground, e.g., the current ridiculous ( to put it affably) arrangements around ‘ care in the community’ will continue on their current trajectory while the LTs of this world do their stuff. The Emma Thompson character in Russell T Davies’s ‘Years and Years’ exemplifies the type. Creepy.

Dylan Regan
Dylan Regan
6 months ago

Absolutely agree, articulated my thoughts well

John Tattersall
John Tattersall
6 months ago

Ouch. Concise and pointed summary of the mess we’re in.

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
6 months ago

Liz Truss (and I’ll drag in Priti Patel) appear to me the top conservatives in possession of a decent backbone. They speak their mind, are action-oriented if – and it is a big if – the ministries and departments will not provide insufferable inertia and will engage to quickly solve the most pressing problems facing this country, then either could be far more effective than dog-eared Boris, as likeable a hound as any prime minister has been.

If either of these feisty women is to ascend to Number 10, then compare them not to Thatcher in her finest or most impactful years as a serving PM, but as that tyro who stepped, like them, into that most brilliant of spotlights.

T Doyle
T Doyle
5 months ago

Absolutely spin on article. Depressing.

Peter Allen
Peter Allen
5 months ago

Yes 100%. But unfortunately Truss is a nailed on certainty to replace Johnson in 2022. And to win another Tory majority in 2022 or 2023. Because the Tory membership was infiltrated by thousands of Kippers in 2017 and will always vote for the most right wing white candidate. The idea that they would vote for a right wing British Asian like Sunak or Patel is for the birds.

Steve Walker
Steve Walker
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Allen

Bollox. Priti Patel was once the Thatcherite’s pin up girl. If she fails to win a leadership election it won’t be due to her race; it will be because she has been a spectacularly poor home secretary.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
6 months ago

Another petit bourgeois masturbaTory