Opinion | Liz Truss, Britain’s Prime Minister, Wants to Break America

By Equipo
9 Min Read

Liz Truss was the prime minister of Britain for 49 days in 2022, an interregnum between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak that was so short it was outlasted by a lettuce. In the annals of British decline, Ms. Truss will be remembered for being in office just 3 days when Queen Elizabeth II died, and her plan for an enormous and apparently unfunded tax cut, which she abruptly dropped after a run on the pound.

If this were the 19th century, Ms. Truss would have perhaps exiled herself to a country estate where peacocks roamed the grounds or fought her enemies with pistols. (In 1809 the foreign secretary, George Canning, was wounded in a duel with the war minister.) But this is not a time of penance or honor. Instead, Ms. Truss has reinvented herself as a populist and has a new book, “Ten Years to Save the West: Leading the Revolution Against Globalism, Socialism, and the Liberal Establishment,” which is part memoir, part pitch to the American right: She has seen the deep state up close and knows what needs to be done.

This is not Ms. Truss’s first political transformation. She began her career as an anti-monarchy member of the centrist Liberal Democrats, before transmogrifying into an uneasy Margaret Thatcher tribute act. She voted to remain in the European Union and then remade herself as a champion of Brexit. She survived every government from 2012 until her own. As environment secretary she got memorably angry about cheese — “We import two-thirds of our cheese. That. Is. A. Disgrace” — but was never really considered a likely leader of the Conservative Party until her predecessor Mr. Johnson almost burned the party down.

When she did get her turn and tried to execute her vision of a low-tax, low-regulation, high-growth Britain, it did not go well. After she announced her economic program, the pound sank, interest rates shot up and the Bank of England had to intervene. Abandoning a central plank of the plan was not enough to mollify her critics, and she resigned soon after. (Even Mr. Canning, who survived his wounds and eventually became prime minister, lasted longer. He died of pneumonia after 119 days.)

People deal with public failure in different ways. For Ms. Truss, the method seems to be twofold. First, to insist that she was and is right but was foiled by the deep state. Second, to see if America might buy what she’s selling.

Last April she gave the Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., where she sketched out how she was foiled by the establishment. “I simply underestimated the scale and depth of this resistance and the scale and depth to which it reached into the media and into the broader establishment,” she said. The anti-growth movement, in which she seems to include President Biden, the I.M.F., the British Treasury and the Bank of England, among others, is “focused on redistributionism, on stagnation and on the imbuing of woke culture into our businesses.”

This year, in February, she told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland that “the West has been run by the left for too long and we’ve seen that it’s been a complete disaster.” (The Conservatives have governed Britain for 14 years.) Real Conservatives, she said, “are now operating in what is a hostile environment. We essentially need a bigger bazooka in order to be able to deliver.” While at CPAC she also spoke to Steve Bannon, whom she invited to “come over to Britain and sort out Britain,” and told Nigel Farage that she “felt safer for the West” when Donald Trump was president.

And now here is “Ten Years to Save the West,” which in title seems squarely aimed at America but in content often feels oddly parochial. Ms. Truss writes of traveling to Balmoral to accept Elizabeth II’s invitation to form a government. Here, Elizabeth II is a soothsayer. “She warned me that being Prime Minister is incredibly aging. She also gave me two words of advice: ‘Pace yourself.’ Maybe I should have listened.”

She is not sure that the flat above Downing Street “would be rated well on Airbnb.” It felt “a bit soulless,” she writes. It was apparently infested with fleas. And she couldn’t sleep because of the noise, including the clock at nearby Horse Guards, which chimed every quarter-hour. Picturing her flea-bitten and exhausted made me think of a line from Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” — “Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?”

By the time she got to her resignation, she writes, it “seemed like just another dramatic moment in a very strange film in which I had somehow been cast,” which, to me, felt like truth.

It’s unclear whether Ms. Truss will be able to read an American room any better than a British one. In the book, she describes America as Britain’s “proudest creation, albeit an unintentional one,” and she is critical of Mr. Biden, who called her tax cuts for the wealthy a “mistake.” “This was utter hypocrisy and ignorance,” she writes. She notes, on the other hand, that she was an early fan of “The Apprentice” and enjoyed Mr. Trump’s “catchphrases and sassy business advice.”

But Americans who fear the deep state aren’t necessarily the ones who want a small one, and Ms. Truss is a poor public speaker. I’d expect conservative Americans to see her as a curio and move on to more familiar and charismatic icons. But one never knows.

Who is to blame for Liz Truss? Maybe it was the winds of history. Or a political system that rewards risk-takers and narcissism. Or it was 14 years of one party in power, at the end of which are the people who hung on long enough.

Or it was Boris Johnson, who made her foreign secretary in his own government. (Mr. Johnson is now a tabloid columnist writing about his late-night chorizo binges and how much he loves his lawn mower, so he has nothing to laugh about either.)

The Conservative Party is packing for the wilderness. Many lawmakers are not even standing in the forthcoming election, which must be held by January. And Ms. Truss herself may lose her seat, in Norfolk, to James Bagge, who is standing as an independent. Mr. Bagge is part of a local cohort concerned about issues like the National Health Service and the cost of living, and unimpressed by Ms. Truss’s globe-trotting. “Truss says she has ten years to save the West,” he recently told The London Times. “Well, we have six months to save Norfolk.”

I wonder whether Ms. Truss is coming for America because her enemies in Norfolk are coming for her. The Conservative endgame is here. The land of opportunity beckons.

Tanya Gold is a British journalist.

Photographs by Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press and RunPhoto, Issaraway Tattong, Cathering Fall Commerical, Flashpop, posteriori, and Carl Court/Getty Images

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