I eventually found confirmation of my accreditation for Liz Truss in the spam folder. Perhaps my email was trying to tell me something. Meanwhile, it was again standing room only for the last of the Tory leadership campaign launches, and the mood was flat. There was no buzz, no momentum.
There was just a feeling of going through the motions. That Liz Truss was less a person, more an idea whose time had been and gone, if indeed it had ever existed. That she had already been promoted well beyond her talents as foreign secretary. And being prime minister was a fantasy. An aberration. A category error.
Still, at least the aircon was working. So it wasn’t all bad. Before the start, a gaggle of MPs hung around at the front of the room. As if unsure what they were supposed to be doing, or, more importantly, why they were doing it.
Things had moved at lightning speed. A week ago being the continuity Boris candidate had seemed like a viable pitch. A keeper of the sacred flame for Daily Mail readers. But things had moved on. Now The Convict was not even an irrelevance. That might have been survivable. Rather he had turned actively toxic. Distance from the poisoned legacy is a necessity. Which is a problem if, like Liz, it’s just about your only selling point.
Nadine Dorries, Therese Coffey and Dehenna Davison took selfies together. Perhaps they’ll look back on their pix in five years’ time and ask themselves what they were doing in the summer of ’22. The year the Tory party went even more bonkers than usual. There must have been even more drugs flying around than they remembered. The seat reserved for James Cleverly went unfilled. Perhaps he had come to his senses and run for the hills.
It was left to Kwasi Kwarteng to make the introductions. He kept it short and sweet, before welcoming her to the podium. Only she didn’t turn up. We waited. And waited. And waited. It was all getting very awkward. There were even a few sniggers. Then eventually Liz made it to the front. She had literally got lost after walking through the door. It wasn’t the best of starts.
Truss looked blankly straight ahead, her body rigid with fear, and started misreading her script. She stumbled over words and left pauses mid-sentence. If she was hoping to sound statesmanlike then it misfired badly. She was robotic, brain dead, managing to make Theresa May sound engaging, animated and personable. A laugh a minute. If this is the prime minister the country has been waiting for then we have all been lobotomised.
“I delivered on Brexit,” she began. Which was news to everyone still waiting for the government to show there had been any benefits. Or perhaps she just meant she always knew Brexit was a bad idea – she was a remainer in the referendum – and she was thrilled to have been proved right.
Still, Truss was big on delivery. She said so, over and over again. She had delivered all the good things that people liked and hadn’t delivered the things that people didn’t. These had all been delivered by someone else. The Convict. Or the snake Ready4Rish!
Not that she was going to badmouth any of her colleagues. She was bound by collective responsibility. Loyal to the last. Though she was quite happy for any of her supporters to trash talk anyone. Only that morning she had been devastated to hear Lord Frost accuse Penny Mordaunt of not taking her job seriously enough. This from a man who has spent the last six months running away from his own Brexit deal. That level of denial will get you a long way …
What the country really wanted was a modern Conservative party, Truss concluded. This left most people non-plussed. Because if they did, what was she doing standing for leader? All that she could promise was a bit more of the same. Though even she could sense the writing was on the wall, that she was haemorrhaging support. All she really had to offer was the one thing that no one wanted. The Convict. So she mumbled until no sounds at all came from her mouth. A rabbit in the headlights.
As she left the room, she headed for … the window. The launch may have been bad, but it hadn’t been that much of a disaster. Eventually as she walked through a cluster of camera tripods, a snapper took pity on her and directed her to the door. Classico. She couldn’t find her way into the room and she couldn’t find her way out. I’ve never loved her more. Obviously she would be a total disaster as prime minister, but she’d be great material for the sketch. Someone worse than the Maybot. Sign me up for Team Liz.
Elsewhere, the other candidates were also on manoeuvres. Tom Tugendhat was living his best life. He seemed to have realised he had no chance of making it to the last two and was just hoping to make it to the TV debates where he would have a chance to shine. He’d visibly relaxed over the last two days. He now takes the piss out of his near constant references to his military background and is enjoying being courted by the other teams eager for his votes, like a prom queen. Welcome to the next cabinet.
Rish! was in full-on defensive mode on the Today programme. He seemed taken aback by how many people disliked him. And that was just his colleagues in Westminster. He didn’t even let the BBC broadcast video footage of his appearance in case he was caught crying. He now trusts no one but his teddy.
Suella Braverman went full on mad, with a hostage video on Twitter in which she blew up the entire Good Friday agreement by promising to pull out of the European convention on human rights. Might as well go down fighting, I suppose.
Shortly after 3pm the results of the second round of voting were announced. Sunak and Mordaunt were both comfortably ahead. Truss was desperately scrabbling to scoop up any spare votes from the other right-wing candidates, while Simon Clarke, one of her minders, tried to persuade everyone things were absolutely on track … Anything to avoid the humiliation of not making the final two.
Kemi Badenoch was comfortably in fourth. Going nowhere, but happy enough with that. Result. Tugendhat had lost votes but made it to the TV debates. Result. Braverman was out. One less nutjob for the country to worry about. Result.
July 14, 2022 at 10:22PM John Crace