In uncertain times, we cling to the comforting familiarity of routine. Each week, friends and families all around Britain will huddle around their television sets — takeaways secured, fridges well-stocked, beers appropriately frosty — in giddy anticipation of the latest spontaneous announcement from Downing Street, for a Tory is certain to appear outside and resign in abject disgrace. And as the remorseless click-click of camera shutters begins to swell cacophonously all around them, they sense the eyes of the baying general public behind the lenses, hungrily licking their lips, drinking it all in. And the sheer weight of it all – the political failure, the personal humiliation, the permanently soiled reputation — becomes too much to bear. And they begin to sob. Softly at first, and then uncontrollably. And the nation erupts into bales of collective, cathartic laughter.
Though these resignations never seem to much change the essential facts of our miserable little lives, the brief respite they offer from them is incalculable. This week, Liz Truss left us in want.
As she concluded her electrifying tenure as the shortest-serving UK Prime Minister in British history, an unmistakable smile began to tease itself across her lips. Hers is a political failure that shatters records on multiple fronts, that defies the lowest of expectations — and yet she seemed to be revelling in it. Why? Cynics identified the £115,000 annual allowance she’s now entitled to receive from the taxpayer for the rest of her life as a result of 44 days of repeatedly fumbling the bag. They’re wrong. Liz Truss was sporting the smug, giddy beam of a job well done.
At face value, Liz Truss’s record in office offers little to smile about. But when viewed from just the right angle, it reveals the most successful politician of the modern era.
Contemporary British politics is filled with a generation of figures who have disobeyed or outright rejected the leanings of their leftist parents (the brothers Miliband, Hillary Benn, Lisa Nandy, Dan Hodges, Michael Gove), and theoretically, Liz Truss, should fit right into their lineage. Her father is said to be “appalled” and “distraught” that his daughter — who he would take on CND marches as a child, who would go on to lead Oxford’s Liberal Democrat society and who would espouse anti-monarchist sentiment at their conferences — performed a political volte-face after university, modelling herself on Margaret Thatcher, whom she had spent so much of her youth attending rallies against.
“Liz Truss may have sloughed off the centrism of her Lib Dem student era, sure, but what if that was because she had only become more radicalised?”
But (and take a leap of faith into the murky waters of revisionist history with me, here) what if she didn’t? She may have sloughed off the centrism of her Lib Dem student era, sure, but what if that was because she had only become more radicalised?
Consider this: Queen Elizabeth II lasted 96 years on this Earth, making her the longest-reigning British monarch ever. When her husband Philip died last year, many expected the ensuing broken heart of her widowing to claim her, as it so often does when one half of an elderly marriage passes. But she stoically ploughed on for over a year after, right up until the very moment she met Liz Truss.
Coincidence? Or did she look into Truss’s eyes and see her for who she truly was? The era of PMs bending the knee of deference to the Crown was over, and that wasn’t a world Liz the Elder could bear to live in anymore. As monarch, Elizabeth II’s undeniable personal popularity had done a huge amount to paper over the cracks of her family’s regular proximity to scandal. She’s since been replaced by her son, who has thus far proved unable to so much as hold a pen without creating headlines. Just one day into her premiership, Truss quite possibly set the monarchy she’d railed against as a student into inexorable decline.
Next, Truss turned her attention to the economy. Her ‘Growth Plan’ was to be the culmination of a decade-long political project set out in Britannia Unchained, a treatise she co-authored with other members of the Free Enterprise Group (FEG), a neo-Thatcherite sect of the Tory Party that Truss founded herself. Theirs was ostensibly a vision of a country unshackled from any and all regulation, devoid of taxes and public services, where the course of our lives could be dictated entirely according to the whims of the market and the interests of capital. When Truss assumed office, she installed fellow FEG alumni Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor, and the pair unleashed the kind of hyper-neoliberal utopia Thatcher could only ever dream of.
The economy immediately exploded. The Bank of England had to intervene in a desperate attempt to prevent entire pension funds from being wiped out. The housing market was pushed to the brink of complete collapse. The value of the pound cratered to dust. Now, all of these things may seem like political failures, especially according to the traditional metrics by which people judge Conservative governments. But from the perspective of an accelerationist anarchist, it’s been an unqualified success. Liz Truss has proven that the hegemonic free market ideology that has organised our economy, our institutions, and our lives for the best part of a half-century now is built on a foundation of sand. The lives’ work of thousands of Marxist theorists, thinkers, and polemicists has been dedicated to producing research papers that attempt to prove what Liz Truss has shown us in a mere 44 days. David Harvey could never.
Finally, sleeper agent Truss set her sights on the Conservative Party itself. The most enduringly successful political party in world history has scarcely been out of government since the early 1800s. Even when it’s been out of power, it’s maintained a substantive presence and influence within Westminster. Opposing movements and figures have risen enough to claim purchase in the mainstream, but all of them have been temporary and eventually swept aside. Prevailing wisdom has it that the only way to survive alongside the Tories is to contort yourself in their image, to denude your political project until it resembles some facsimile of theirs, for they alone have made themselves palpable to the general public. They have been teflon, immovable, eternal.
“The Conservatives have been teflon, immovable, eternal. And yet Liz Truss’s fleeting tenure has brought them to the predicted verge of extinction”
And yet Liz Truss’s fleeting tenure has brought them to the predicted verge of extinction. Her predecessor Boris Johnson’s reign was mired in relentless scandal and the fallout from a global pandemic, and yet Labour leader Keir Starmer was only ever able to occasionally nudge slightly ahead in the polls (arguably on account of being an adenoidal charisma vacuum with nothing to offer other than more of the same, but with a self-proclaimed managerial competency and a quiff). Truss has instantly transformed that from a measly proposition into — if polling is to be believed — a fantastically appealing one. The public has become like Oliver Twist, so worn down and famished that they’re pleading for a second helping of reheated Blairism to be slopped into their outstretched bowls. Meanwhile, the Tories would receive, by some projections, no seats whatsoever. Two centuries of Toryism obliterated in six weeks, two of which were spent dealing with the Queen’s funeral.
If you consider yourself to be of the political left, this isn’t the most ideal development. Not only do you have to suffer the indignity of continuing to live under death-throes-Toryism as the party clings on to power for what could be its final two years, but your reprieve now looks set to come in the former of an incoming Starmer government, a political project which has been at explicit pains to define itself against all forms of leftism. This victory-by-default would almost certainly be forever used as evidence that said leftism is fundamentally incompatible with the Labour Party if it wants to gain power. Some might take up the gauntlet of attempting to argue the case for the left from within the party, others might attempt to establish new political movements beyond.
But comrade Liz Truss has shown the way. If you are really serious about achieving your political ambitions, then dedicate your life to building an air of plausible deniability that you are a Tory MP of the most rabidly dogmatic kind — and then when they eventually hand you the keys, crash the whole thing directly into the closest wall. Workers of the world, join the Conservative Party.