/ 22 July 2022

Truss is the Tory Corbyn: How the Conservative Party will destroy itself

Liz Truss
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrives to attend a Tory Leadership hustings event on July 21, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Elections are won in the middle — it’s one of the iron laws of politics. They are not won by telling members of your own party what they really, really want to hear. They are won by winning over independents and undecided moderates. Despite the fact that everyone in politics knows this is the case, this fundamental truth is often ignored. And the result is always the same — disaster. 

The greatest defeats in United States and United Kingdom electoral history always work the same way. Below is the recipe for electoral disaster in a general election, with specific reference to a possible snap election after the Conservative Party in the UK elects a new leader, which is expected to be known by 5 September:

  1. Have an intense competition for the leadership of the party;
  1. Make sure this gets really quite nasty;
  1. Take care to ensure this means the most ideologically extreme members of one’s party get super fired-up to guarantee that the most radical candidate wins the contest;
  1. Sit back and watch as that candidate gets eviscerated by the opposition party’s more moderate candidate; and 
  1. Enjoy the peace and quiet of not being in power for a decade.

This tried and trusted recipe has been used by many candidates to ensure mind-boggling electoral disasters. 

Barry Goldwater: Republican defeated by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 after being so right wing he advocated the use of nuclear weapons against North Vietnam and Cuba and also hinted at resegregating schools in the South.

George McGovern: Democrat defeated by Richard Nixon just a few years later. McGovern was so liberal he is still beloved by people like me. He had good hair, wore jeans while campaigning and was a veteran anti-war campaigner suspected of smoking marijuana.

Jeremy Corbyn: Recent leader of the British Labour Party, so liberal he was accused — with some limited justification — of wanting to abolish the army and of being so pro-Palestinian as to be anti-Semitic and led the party to its greatest defeat in 84 years.

There are many other examples of how this works. But the intriguing thing is that the Conservative Party in the UK is following this recipe. In an attempt to win over the small number of Conservative party members who will appoint their next leader and thus the next prime minister, foreign secretary Liz Truss has told this group of older, white-er, male-ish people who tend to live in the southeast of England exactly what they want to hear. 

She has promised an impossible combination of drastically cutting taxes while spending (at recent count) about 30-billion more on things like defence (obviously). Truss has become — she was, until very recently, a moderate who voted to remain in the European Union — so right wing that she has achieved the unlikely goal of positioning the former chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, as an unstable lefty. And that’s not an easy thing to do. 

Sunak, a reasonably responsible politician, has stated that, as prime minister, he would not be able to start cutting taxes until well into 2023. But Truss has promised to cut tax on day one by enormous margins, while pushing up defence spending to 3% of GDP. She claims that cutting taxes will help fight inflation. The fact that every economist on the planet knows this isn’t true is apparently not a problem for her or her supporters.

Truss has the support of 62% of the Conservative Party members who anoint the next prime minister. Conservative Party MPs who, like all politicians, really only care about staying in power so that they can pay their mortgages and get lavishly entertained by lobbyists who have extraordinarily good taste in champagne and calf-skin loafers, are horrified by this. 

There is a general election in the not-distant future, and they are doing all kinds of things to try to make sure that Sunak leads the party. Because they know for a fact that if Truss wins they will be massacred at the next general election, and will have to find real jobs that involve work other than eating oysters on junkets to Dubai.

But that’s their problem. They don’t choose the next leader of the party. A few wildly out-of-touch men named Nigel, Malcolm and Phillip, who wear cardigans and know the exact fuel consumption of their cars, will be doing that. And it is very likely that they will choose Truss. Who will be their Jeremy Corbyn. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.