The triumph of Truss – The Spectator

Patrick O’Flynn

This week has seen a dramatic development that has taken the Westminster Village by surprise: Britain suddenly has an identifiable successor to Boris Johnson.
Liz Truss is going to become our third female prime minister at the start of September. What was expected by many to be a tight race between her and Rishi Sunak, which could sway one way and then the other before being settled by a knife-edge vote among grassroots Tories, has turned into a one-sided competition.
On every conceivable metric, Truss has steamrollered Sunak since they were confirmed as the final two in the race just ten days or so ago – polling of the membership, performances in televised debates and hustings, the orderly laying-out of a consistent agenda, senior endorsements, bookies’ odds and lately even ratings among the public at large.
With ballot papers about to land on the doormats of around 200,000 Conservative members and experience telling us most will be returned within a week, there is simply no time for Sunak to turn the tide towards Truss around, even should he hit a campaigning purple patch immediately. And there is absolutely no sign of that anyway, with a desperate spewing out of half-baked ideas and sudden professed passion for issues about which he has shown no prior interest, whatever the best he can offer.
No wonder the bookmakers now generally rank Truss as a 1/10 certainty to win, effectively reducing the contest from a two-horse race to a one-horse canter, while the other horse stays stuck in the stalls.
With Sunak having been the ante-post choice of so many political commentators, endless column inches and broadcast minutes are still being spent on the idea that he remains a possible next PM. That conceit is unlikely to outlast the weekend. Once again the herd has moved, to deploy the metaphor Nadhim Zahawi used to explain to Johnson why he was doomed.
The triumph of Truss certainly has dire consequences for Sunak. For a start, he faces a completely fruitless, almost pointless, five-week summer slog of further hustings and TV interviews. Interest in his policy ideas is going to ebb away very fast, even as the likes of Dominic Raab keep loyally churning out clunky social media postings in his favour. Perhaps the Raab family should intervene to tell pater that the sea is no longer closed and the beaches are calling.
But oddly, the swinging of the pendulum of power into the lap of Truss has even bigger implications for Johnson. His giant ego may not wish to hear it, but he has suddenly become a has been. He would be well advised to ensure the ridiculous campaign for him to stay by acclaim of the grassroots is knocked on the head pronto.
Those grassroots are now overwhelmingly going to switch allegiance to Truss. The King is dead, long live the Queen and all that. Despite his charisma, there is about as much life left in Johnson’s premiership as there was in Theresa May’s once she had been chased out by her MPs. He still has his diehard supporters, but the divisions waiting in barracks for his command to attack are all imaginary.
At least he will have the compensation of seeing Sunak tumble to a truly epic defeat. For another consequence of Truss achieving hegemony at the perfect moment in the contest is that there will now be a stampede of ordinary Tory members to her corner. Some will want to tell themselves that they voted for the winner, while others will see that handing her a thumping mandate will give her a better chance of establishing early superiority over Keir Starmer and Labour.
So only hardcore Truss detractors, of which there are now few, or true believers in Team Rishi, of which there seem to be even fewer, will stick with him to the bitter end.
Some of the grassroots Conservatives I speak to now predict that he will struggle to achieve even a 30 per cent vote share, thereby losing to Truss more severely than Jeremy Hunt did to Johnson in 2019.
It is high time then that we turn our attention to the likely shape of the first hundred days of a Truss administration. There will be an emergency tax-cutting Budget probably delivered by Kwasi Kwarteng but possibly by Simon Clarke, in which the NI rate rise and future planned corporation tax hikes will be abandoned and the domestic energy green levy suspended.
The Rwanda removal plan will see new impetus thrown behind it from the top, much to the chagrin of senior Home Office officials and pro-immigration ‘charities’. Kemi Badenoch will presumably land a big Cabinet job. And the hardline Truss strategy for securing reforms to the Northern Ireland Protocol will roll on that bit faster.
When this contest began it was reported that within the Brussels establishment and the Irish government there was an ‘anyone but Truss’ sentiment afoot. As Sarah Palin once put it: ‘How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?’
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Patrick O’Flynn

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