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Liz Truss went down in history as the shortest-serving UK PM. She’s rebranding as a US right-wing darling

The woman whose political heyday was outlasted by a lettuce is trying to grow her base among Donald Trump’s allies. Andrew Feinberg reports from CPAC

Friday 23 February 2024 00:06 GMT
Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss at CPAC
Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss at CPAC (AP)

Nearly 18 months ago, Liz Truss was the UK Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, with the authority to direct the actions of Her Majesty’s Government and even to unleash the United Kingdom’s store of nuclear-tipped Trident missiles.

But on Thursday, standing before a half-empty ballroom at a Washington DC-area hotel and convention centre, she cut a far less impressive figure.

Ms Truss is appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual right-wing confab once home to conservative and libertarian stalwarts such as Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney but which, in recent years, has morphed into a Trumpian pep rally.

To that end, she made her CPAC debut at a hastily-arranged “international summit” alongside Nigel Farage, the ex-UKIP MEP and former Brexit Party leader who has spent more and more of his time since Brexit focused on boosting Donald Trump’s effort to return to the White House.

Mr Farage has long been a darling of the American far-right and a CPAC regular. But Ms Truss’ appearance at the gathering appears part of a new offensive meant to give her a base of support in the US and new allies in the populist, antidemocratic milieu inhabited by Mr Trump, Mr Farage, and other authoritarian-friendly gadflies such as ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

To that end, she peppered her remarks on Wednesday — and a second speech in the main CPAC ballroom on Thursday — with attacks on unelected civil servants and non-governmental agencies who she blamed for her time in Number 10 coming to a disastrous end after just 49 days. (She was infamously outlasted by a lettuce.)

She told attendees that the “most almighty backlash” she faced after the catastrophic reaction to her 2022 mini-budget – which sent the pound into a nose dive and sparked a crash in the markets – came both from the “usual suspects” in both media and the corporate world, as well as government, the Office of Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England.

Ms Truss also levelled partisan attacks on the sitting American president, accusing Mr Biden of being “asleep at the wheel” and “projecting weakness” from the White House, while also accusing him of playing a part in her ouster and having “intervened to have a go at my policies”.

“Can you imagine being attacked on your economic policies by the inventor of Bidenomics? Talk about offensive,” she said.

Her comments about Mr Bide, which parroted the right-wing talking points of the string of MAGA speakers at the event, drew some applause – while her diatribes about the British civil service fell flat.

Whether Ms Truss’ attempts to remake herself as a right-wing celebrity will succeed is anyone’s guess.

When The Independent sought to survey CPAC attendees on their reactions to her remarks, Americans appeared negative – or worse, indifferent – towards the former PM.

One MAGA hat-wearing attendee — who declined to give his name — called her a “secret globalist” and “bad news,” citing her prior opposition to Brexit.

“She was against it and she flipped,” he said, before walking quickly away.

Another Mr Trump fan wearing a student ticket to the conference and the obligatory red hat told The Independent Ms Truss was “a loser” and said he wasn’t sure why she was there.

But Jamile Davies, an international attendee who had travelled all the way from Wales, thought the former prime minister had made a good impression on the American crowd.

“I do believe that she has all the right words and the good intentions. And she was not given the opportunity to act on them or … much support from the Conservative Party,” she said, adding that Ms Truss most likely came to the US because “the British public’s just fed up of good words and very little actions”.

Ms Truss’ attacks on the president even drew some praise from the conference’s lead organiser, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp.

Mr Schlapp told The Independent he saw nothing untoward in the former prime minister’s behaviour, calling it “standard procedure” when pressed on whether he’d object to attacks on a Republican president by Sir Keir Starmer or another high-profile Labour MP. He also implied the criticism was justified because President Biden had not had an in-person meeting with Ms Truss during her short time in Number 10.

“A lot of these politicians, they come here and they get featured on places like CNN, when they’re negative, so no, I’m not clutching my pearls over the fact that we have a former Prime Minister of Great Britain who comes to CPAC, shows these people great respect, and yes, has criticisms of the current president United States, who by the way she worked with, and I don’t think ever had a meeting with her,” he said.

“So if she has some criticisms of Joe Biden, I think it’s warranted — I’m okay with it”.

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