During the Tory party conference, Liz Truss was described as ‘a dead woman walking’ by one of her colleagues. One wonders what she could be described as now – an ‘anti-prime minister’?
Throwing her chancellor under the bus, as if she were not his closest confidant, as if she did not approve wholeheartedly of his reckless budget, and then claiming the credit for bringing stability by sacking him and reversing his budgetary measures, is despicable. Her economic plan – dubious at the best of times (and these are not) – is in tatters. And yet, zombie-like, she carries on, as if her reputation is intact.
What purpose does Truss now serve? To say she is ‘out of her depth’ is a monumental understatement. By comparison, Theresa May was Churchillian. At least Boris Johnson made us laugh. For all his obvious faults, he had redeeming qualities. It seems that Truss has only one quality: shameless ruthless naked ambition.
Truss has long described Margaret Thatcher as her hero. Many of us would have difficulty in describing Thatcher as a conservative in the traditional Tory sense. She was a nineteenth-century laissez-faire liberal. Notions of community, tradition and mutual obligation were foreign to her. Everything could be left to the market.
But Margaret Thatcher was a political giant – and she believed in the principles of sound finance. The debate about the size of the state and the level of taxation is one to be had, but Thatcher would never have countenanced unfunded tax cuts.
Where do we go from here? Who will replace Truss?
The Tories are probably now ‘political toast’ whatever they do. But I have a suggestion.
I know he has been described as, and probably is, the Tories’ answer to Peter Mandelson, a ‘poison dwarf’, deceitful, backstabbing etc – but politically, philosophically, culturally, and intellectually, Michael Gove stands head and shoulders above the rest of them.
I listened in to an evening panel meeting at the Tory conference last week to discuss a new paper launched by the New Social Covenant Unit promoting ‘social capitalism’ and ‘communitarianism’, and aiming to strengthen ‘families, community, and nation’. Gove was on the panel and spoke with great eloquence, as well as being thoughtful, respectful, and generous to other panel members.
What stunned me, though, was his description of conservatism, and of how it differed from liberalism. He knew. Conservatism, Gove argued, might be described as lying between the statism of social democracy and the untrammelled laissez-faire of liberalism. There were times for both these others, but at the centre of conservatism lay the idea of community. Individualism, vital though that was, must be tempered by a shared civic identity, by obligations to community, and by tradition. Gove even spoke admiringly of De Gaulle as a conservative, and of what he had done for France.
It might have been Roger Scruton speaking. Who else in the current Conservative Party could get anywhere remotely near this?
The Conservative Party is in existential crisis. It desperately needs a philosophy around which it might unite. Why not conservatism?
Yes, he has his faults. But it’s Gove for me.