In Britain, a tale of two leaders is emerging. Facing a choice between Liz Truss – somebody who incited Russia to the point of the country raising its nuclear threat level – or Rishi Sunak, the richest person in the House of Commons, whoever wins this race will be stepping into the same pile of shit left by Boris Johnson. On Wednesday, to celebrate her success on reaching the final stage of the leadership contest, Truss tweeted that she was ready to “hit the ground” from day one, a tweet which was later clarified as her desire to “hit the ground running”. It would be more comedic, if the former wasn’t so likely.
Tory members, who will vote on the next leader in September, seem to overwhelmingly prefer Truss. And while it seems counterintuitive to endorse a continuation of Boris Johnson – or somebody who responds to an accusation of endorsing fairytale economics with “we need more unicorns” – Tory members are doing… exactly that. In fact, for Truss, it’s less about replicating Boris Johnson, and more about replicating Margaret Thatcher.
It’s all one big, bad joke. But who is this person who has a sizeable chance of becoming Britain’s next prime minister? You might know Truss for her iconic party conference speech a few years back, which has thankfully resurfaced during her bid for power. In a speech in which she repeatedly paused for applause that never came, she praised apples as being part of British identity since they first fell on Isaac Newton’s head, and claimed the fact that the UK imports two-thirds of its cheese is “a disgrace”. Staying on the cheese theme, that same year, Truss achieved a ‘groundbreaking’ post-Brexit deal to sell cheese to Japan – a country where 73% of people are lactose intolerant.
Truss prefers to avoid scrutiny and typically leans into her self-constructed mythology about her past; a school where there was allegedly less focus on English and Maths because the teaching focused too much on racism and sexism. And of course, she does everything to ignore her past as a member of the Liberal Democrats, where she advocated for abolishing the monarchy.
As a dedicated careerist, Truss’ rise to power has been based entirely on reinvention. Posing as a staunch Brexiteer and part of the ‘Britannia Unchained’ group, a group of Tory MPs who wrote a book denouncing British workers as the “worst idlers in the world”, Truss is popular with the base of the Tory party. Yet in 2016, Truss described how she voted Remain to safeguard her daughters’ futures and argued against a country “where they are hampered from growing a business because of extortionate call costs and barriers to trade”.
Her rise to power rivals that of Sunak – but only Truss, as one of the longest-serving Cabinet members, has longevity, being trusted with several senior roles since being appointed by David Cameron in 2014. Combining the job of foreign secretary with being minister for women and equalities, Truss has previously been shown to have the highest satisfaction ratings among party members for her love of capitalism, appeal to grassroots and her reputation as a staunch loyalist – truly embodying the motto, “In Liz we Truss”.
As much as she tries to distance herself from her rival, however, Truss too likes to splash other people’s cash, spending £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on private flights in three months this year, according to the Mirror.
“I don’t think anyone would describe me as diplomatic”Liz Truss
At the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war in March, Truss’ statements as foreign secretary – including actively supporting the presence of foreign battalions, and the suggestion that failing to stop Russia in Ukraine could “lead to a broader conflict with NATO” – were said to be behind Russia’s announcement to put their nuclear forces on ‘high alert’. In a leadership debate in mid-July, when asked how to respond to Russia, Truss said: “I would go there and call Putin out”. Yes Liz, you go! After all, this is somebody who literally once said: “I don’t think anyone would describe me as diplomatic”.
Truss’ enthusiastic passion for accidentally selling arms to war criminals is something to behold. Under her stint as international trade secretary in 2019, Truss claimed she “inadvertently” sold weapons to Saudi Arabia not once or twice, but thrice, in a clear breach of a court order banning the sale of weapons to the country. Over the last five years, the leading arms maker, BAE systems, sold £15bn-worth of arms to the Gulf’s kingdom, killing thousands of civilians in Yemen.
And as a minister who also appoints members to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s board, Truss’ record of both human rights and foreign policy is concerning. After resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia in July 2020, days later, seven children and two women were killed in a Saudi-led air strike. Truss was subsequently branded “deeply cynical” by human rights groups Amnesty International for arguing that apparent war crimes by Saudi forces in Yemen had been “isolated incidents”. In 2016, as justice secretary, Truss released the “Prison Safety and Reform White Paper”, which described her commitment to expanding the prison system by 10,000 places.
This lack of concern for human rights hasn’t – and won’t – disappear if Truss becomes prime minister: just this week, Truss removed commitments to abortion, sexual health rights and bodily autonomy from an official statement on gender equality signed by more than 20 countries. As of yet, no explanation has been given.
As a committed warrior for the ‘war on woke’, Truss has been rewarded for her loyalty to Johnson – so much so that she may now represent Britain on the world stage. Through appealing to the Conservative base with populist soundbites and meaningless phrases, Truss has cemented her position as a person of power, while ignoring the chaos she has been complicit in crafting.
This piece is a part of gal-dem’s Bad Politicians series.
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