Unless I am very much mistaken Liz Truss will become Prime Minister next week. You won’t be surprised to know that I fear she will be a disaster, and may not even last all the way to the next General Election. The runner up, Rishi Sunak gets a bye into the Semi-Finals of Masterchef, or possibly the Europa Conference League.
Under Britains Parliamentary traditions you vote for a local candidate, normally from a national party, and the party with the most seats gets to pick their Party Leader to be PM. A party leader either has a mandate from a General Election, or because they are the pick of their parliamentary party.
Truss has neither – she didn’t win a mandate in a General Election, nor does she command the support of the majority of her Parliamentary Party – only a 3rd backed her.
The last time a Party Leader was picked without the support of their Parliamentary Party was Jeremy Corbyn. As you know as I was anti-Corbyn right from the start but there was no doubt that he was very popular with a lot of party members, and with left wing activists in general. Their support for him was almost messianic.
This was because Corbyn spoke the language of party activists, he used the same slogans, had the same ideological obsessions, and rode the same hobby horses. They saw him as honest and authentic because he sounded just like them. This caused huge problems when it came to communicating with wider voters – the slogans and causes that made him popular with activists were off putting to normal voters.
Corbyn was used to addressing meetings of like minded people who listened to him in rapt agreement – when he was faced with even moderately difficult questioning he flapped – rolling his eyes and snapping at the interviewer. If the interviewer was non-white or female somehow it was even worse.
The end was as awful as it was inevitable – dozens of seats which had been Labour for generations flipped to the Tories as the party struggled to communicate with ordinary working class voters who found it snobby, pompous and indifferent to their lived experiences. Corbyn encouraged activists to speak out and the more they spoke out the more voters liked the Tory Party
Truss shares all of these qualities. She is the overwhelming choice of party activists and members because she sounds like them. She shares their obsessions and pet grievances, their neuroses and insecurities. She empowers them to speak out and feel that their views are validated.
The problem is that the typical Tory activist is just as repellent to voters as the wacky Corbyn fans were. Voters will not warm to Truss just as they didn’t warm to Corbyn the more they see of her the less they will find to like. Both sets of activists Labour and Tory share the suspicion that despite all their hard work the party leadership wants to keep them hidden away like mad aunties in the attic. They are right in that suspicion. Placing them and their obsessions centre stage is a disaster. Red Wall voters who backed Boris and Brexit will be horrified to discover that the new Tory leader believes that Brexit means finishing what Thatcher started – some may cling on to the Tories rather than lose face, but many will feel badly betrayed.
She may have slightly more self awareness than Corbyn in that she has done all she can to avoid hard hitting interviews knowing that she will come over just as swivel eyed and weird as he did.
Tory MPs may not have chose Liz, but they can get rid of her, and her party is just as schismatic as Labour was, maybe more so – Johnson presided over a coalition of Traditional Conservatives, ERG/UKIP white nationalists, and pompous culture warriors. They will be just as keen to move Liz on as Labour MPs were with Corbyn. Labour MPs failed because there wasn’t a serious candidate with support among MPs and the members who could turn things round. The Tories have a prince in exile waiting to return to lead the faithful. Johnson will undermine Truss, allow her to flounder during the worst crisis in living memory, and plot his return. Todays Times paints Boris as an unlikely Disraeli, a lovable rogue poised to return to lead the party againl
Personally I don’t think it matters much who leads the Conservatives into the next election. Sometimes in politics there are turning points, discontinuities which change how voters see politics.
Suez, Winter of Discontent, Black Wednesday, Credit Crunch. Moments which even people who don’t care much about politics take notice of.
I think we passed such a paint during Partygate, and there is little that the Conservatives can do to change their destiny. They have already mismanaged the coming winter crisis, the NHS is on it’s knees, and they are already 17 points behind before the autumn leaves start to fall. Last year I argued that Labour had a new ceiling of about 36% of the vote, and it would struggle to get above that. Turns out I was wrong. Labour’s new ceiling is probably around 40% and the Tories around 34%
I don’t for one minute think that the next General Election will be as one sided as the poll above suggests.
But equally I can’t see any way back for them from here.