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The Tragedy of Liz Truss

An abortive premiership, then an abortive comeback, now a conventional financier’s turn at the helm: British politics is technicolor and tragicomic.

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In his suicide note, “Football Season Is Over,” Hunter S. Thompson diagnosed himself: “No More Games. No More Bombs.… No More Fun.… I am always bitchy. No Fun—for anybody.” Across the pond football is soccer, but a season is over.

Cheap thrills for those intent on demonstrating that chivalry is in fact dead, the live demolition of British Prime Minister Liz Truss was to this observer no more comfortable or noble than a vivisection. Truss, who resigned after less than two months in power, was sent to politics’ abattoir about as cinematically and publicly as Hu Jintao at the Chinese Communist's Party Congress.

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Truss is a career politician, or was, and the most real kind, a former student politician. To see Truss rise to her level of incompetence (a blockish, but occasionally true heuristic) and her libertarian faith humiliated by the market itself was evocative of the Joker of Christopher Nolan’s films: “Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.” Incidentally, the Baffler magazine once categorized Nolan as “the last Tory director.”

The notorious Pedro Gonzalez of Chronicles magazine eulogized on Twitter: “Liz Truss was the ultimate conservative politician of a Western liberal democracy: she assumed most of the premises of the left around things like immigration and diversity while being insanely hawkish on foreign policy and pushing tax cuts. Just the worst.”

And, fair enough, that’s all pretty much true.

Lost, slightly, in that character-limited analysis is that Truss was the candidate of the British right in 2022: considered the right-ish alternative to Boris Johnson, and certainly the party faithful preference against Rishi Sunak, the financier’s financier and former chancellor of the Exchequer. That was why she won in the summer.

But the race to succeed Truss, now too apparently an abortive endeavor at least as far as a Johnson comeback goes, demonstrated the enigma of the Western right in the present: is it more statist than the establishment? (Yes.) Is it more libertarian than the establishment? (Also yes.)

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To self-plagiarize, I wrote on August 1: “Neither [Sunak nor Truss] is the exact Grenache=Syrah blend I’d reach for.… Still, Truss’s undead Thatcherism is the stuff of a low-trust society, or no society at all, as left-wing abominators so diagnose. It’s responsive to a world where even the almighty Dollar or Pound Sterling isn’t as reliable as it used to be. It’s a philosophy that wordlessly recognizes that permanent survival means having the knowledge that the knives are always out. Certainly, a British politician would know.”

Prescient stuff! Just not enough to save Truss.

I’m not alone in recognizing the weird politics and contradictions now at play here. The rising star Tom Harwood of GB News writes, of post-Boris, post-Truss Conservatives and likely Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: “Overwhelmingly likely now that tomorrow the Conservative Party will install a Thatcherite leader that the right of the party hates, after rejecting a Tory leader the left of the party hates.”

I wrote, too, in the summer that Truss was the relative double hawk of the pair—more hawkish than Sunak on both Russia and China. And argued that if pressed to choose, the anti-establishmentarian should select full hawk over full dove. Perhaps Sunak will broker peace in the East, but Sunak’s foreign policy is a Davos Set dove’s on China. The nature and threat of that country’s government to anyone not China should be plain to all after the culmination of its gangster conclave over the weekend.

The coming premiership of Sunak promises to be one of a man probably more interested in transporting himself, understandably, to California, than transforming an ex-empire in denial. I suspect he will last more than forty-five days. I also suspect he will lose narrowly and honorably to Keir Starmer and Labour in two years, something that I would not write of Truss or Johnson, who were high-risk-high-reward commodities both.

To filch from and butcher a witticism from British intelligence’s most famous alumnus: Competence is not enough.

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