The Daily Telegraph
Steady at the tiller, Truss is captain of her own ship
After the clowning of the Johnson era, PM has set about injecting purpose into her administration
Take one look at Twitter and you’d be forgiven for thinking it had been a disastrous start. Following the unedifying spectacle of Thérèse Coffey, the newly-installed Health Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister being fat-shamed on social media, we then had the hashtag #Thicklizzie trending thanks to those liberal souls espousing “kinder, gentler politics”.
Without that “clown” Boris Johnson to poke fun at, it looked like the Lefties were reduced to revelling in the innate hatred and sexism that has long been the stock in trade of the average Corbynista.
But the uncomfortable truth for Liz Truss’s critics is that her first 24 hours as Prime Minister have more than confounded expectations.
Before she was elected as their leader on Monday, some Tory MPS of the more Rishi persuasion had nicknamed her the “Maybot Mk II”, pointing to her lack of communication skills. As Ms Truss admitted throughout the leadership race: “I’m not the slickest presenter.”
Yet having delivered two solid – if somewhat uninspiring – speeches, both in acceptance of the Tory crown on Monday and as incoming Prime Minister on Tuesday, the mother of two was finally able to show what she is really made of at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
Far from being an automaton, her performance at the Despatch Box was calm, considered, compassionate, and at times, compelling.
Reminding observers of the ideological debates of yesteryear, gone was all the Johnsonian bluster – replaced by someone not just impersonating Margaret Thatcher but genuinely embracing her ideology.
With the deep voice, cream blouse and navy blazer combo, she certainly looked and sounded the part – but the rhetoric was also reminiscent of the way it used to be – before scandals like partygate polluted parliamentary waters.
It was as if we had been transported back to the 1970s, when politics was defined by the low versus high tax debate rather than sordid tales of prime ministerial impropriety.
As veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil tweeted, finally we have “clear blue water between Tories and Labour”.
Proving that she is better in “banter” mode than set piece addresses, Ms Truss was not afraid to take the fight to Sir Keir Starmer, countering his claim that she was “continuity Boris” with the quick-witted retort: “There’s nothing new about a Labour leader who is calling for more tax rises. It’s the same old, same old, tax and spend.”
Much has been made of the fact that Ms Truss has filled her Cabinet with loyalists, amid fears that having former cabinet heavyweights on the back benches could prove problematic for her fledgling administration.
But as one Conservative colleague pointed out: “Sunak’s lot were absolutely vicious towards her during the campaign. Why on earth would she give them jobs? When you’ve been in government for 12 years then the backbenchers are bound to be littered with big beasts. With two years to go until the next election, we can’t really afford any more infighting.”
Nor can the party afford to appear male, pale and stale – a criticism that can no longer be levelled at the most diverse Tory front bench in history.
The atmosphere in the House of Commons, which was filled to the gunnels, was surprisingly supportive, with even Theresa May lending her successor a helping hand with a question about why there had been three female Tory leaders but no women at the helm of Labour.
Mrs May was famously uncharitable to Mr Johnson, who she blamed for her political demise, but this was positively sisterly, not least when Yorkshire-born Ms Truss was able to joke that Labour couldn’t even find a leader who wasn’t from “north London” let alone a woman.
The shadow front bench looked nervous – and rightly so. As Starmer later admitted during a stroll through Portcullis House: “It was very different to Boris Johnson.” Although Labour MPS may still argue that Sunak would have been a trickier electoral opponent – Starmer is going to have a more difficult job navigating the pitfalls of debating a woman, not least
‘If Liz carries on with this clarity of purpose she will gain people’s respect which is what the Tories need’
when he already has a tendency towards what some might describe as “mansplaining”.
The way in which Ms Truss has expedited the process of appointing her Cabinet during her first day in office has also impressed.
As one Tory veteran put it: “There’s an immediacy about what she is doing which is exactly what we need.
“She went up to Scotland, kissed hands with the Queen, was delayed by fog, then delayed by rain, gave her maiden speech and managed to appoint her top four and the rest of the Cabinet by bedtime? That’s unheard of. It must be the smoothest reshuffle in history. There was no public horsetrading – it was very slickly managed. I’m impressed.”
Another backbencher praised the “seriousness” of Ms Truss compared to “the previous circus act”, adding: “This isn’t the time for joking around. Liz might not be half as charismatic as Boris. She might not be as likeable either. But if she carries on with this clarity of purpose then she will gain people’s respect. That’s what the Tories need right now – we’ve got to regain the trust of the voters.”
And what better way to do that than give a straight answer to a straight question? “Yes or no,” Ms Truss was asked in response to one question. Her single answer of “yes” will be music to the ears of voters who loathe political prevarication as much as posturing.
By her own admission, there is a storm to ride out and Ms Truss has only just set sail in choppy waters.
But her first unflustered 24 hours have shown that she is not just a steady hand at the tiller but very much the captain of her own ship.