Boris’s lies were pretty outrageous; but Liz seems determined to trump him. (Ah yes – ‘trump’. What an apt word for it!) In order to appeal to her prospective voters in a general election, and to her immediate electors in the present unedifying contest for Leader of the Conservative Party, and hence for Prime Minister (for the time being), she’s been coming out with some quite enormous fibs recently: not only about the economy, her ludicrously simplistic plans for it (‘lower taxes’), and the supposed achievements of her disgraced predecessor (still beloved by the Tory faithful), but also about her own early life.
In Yorkshire she claims to be a ‘plain-speaking Yorkshire lass’ despite having been born in Oxford and now living in Norfolk; to have been brought up in a Leeds slum and sent to a terrible Comprehensive school there, which is obviously intended to endear her both to the fabled ‘red wall’ in the North and to the public school-educated ‘blue wall’ in the south (a Northerner lifting the lid on State education!), but which obscures the facts that the part of Leeds she lived in was the poshest (average house prices half a million); that her father was a university professor (he’s subsequently disowned her politically); and that her school was ranked ‘excellent’ by Ofsted. (It got her into Oxford, after all – if that means anything.) Now an enthusiastic Brexiter, she also glosses over the fact that she was a leading Remainer until Remain became the losing side, career-wise. All this, and her overwhelming air, at least, of stupidity – or is this simply intended to appeal to the ‘red wall’ too? – and we begin to understand what a first-class charlatan she is. (Does Oxford offer degrees in charlatanry?)
More to the point: does any of this matter, electorally? Boris seemed to show that it doesn’t, for a while at least – just three years in his case. Old Tory members – the present electorate that Liz is appealing to – tend to go not for veracity or honesty, but for (1) what the candidates promise, in the way of tax cuts especially: that’s what most of the discussion and even the headlines in the Tory press have been about; and (2) where they stand on what are called ‘culture war’ issues, like gender and statues, but also including trade unions (boo!), lazy workers (boo!), Lefty lawyers (boo!), academics (boo!), civil servants (boo!), ‘experts’ (boo!), Churchill (hurrah!), Her Maj (hurrah!), Britain’s glorious past (hurrah!), and ‘woke’ – whatever that is; but (boo!) in any case.
It’s these waters that Truss is dipping into for support among the 160,000 Conservative Party members, 51% of whom are all she needs to win over now. Once upon a time her gender might have gone against her, among that misogynistic lot; but since then they’ve had Thatcher – ‘the only one in her cabinet with balls’ (who was it that said that? ) – to re-educate them. More important than that may be the fact that Liz supported the hyper-masculinist Boris (‘just pat their bottoms’) loyally to the end. That may be her strongest card. That, and possibly the fact that the only alternative to her just now is a darkie (old Tory-speak), although I wouldn’t rely on that so much these days. The present government is pretty multi-ethnic, after all. Class clearly trumps race in British Tory politics; as it always has, I would say.
Whether the carefully-constructed persona that seems likely to take Truss to Number 10 next month will also win her Party the support of the House of Commons, and then of the national electorate in the General Election which will follow a few months afterwards, must be in doubt. Present polling suggests not. Conservative members are hardly a representative bunch of Brits. Their prejudices – even when broadcast widely by the tabloid press – may not mirror the country’s as a whole. And with the new cautious and ‘moderate’ Labour Party poised to snap up the ‘centre’ ground that Truss looks like abandoning, her present strategy may turn out to have been the worst possible for the Tory Party in the longer term. Even those of us on the Left who would prefer Starmer to be more radical (more ‘Corbynite’, if you like) must hope so. It will be a start. And an end to what I’m pretty well convinced will be seen by future historians as the worst ever government in British history, on many grounds; its choice of leaders – Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss – just one (or four) of them.