Where was Liz Truss? Why, she was in Leeds, she was in Norfolk, she was in Bristol, she was in Lancashire, she was absolutely everywhere

Her preferred method of emerging like a cockroach into the aftermath of a nuclear bomb she dropped on herself was via a quickfire interview round on eight different local BBC radio stations

Tom Peck
Thursday 29 September 2022 15:56 BST
Local radio stations grill Liz Truss in series of interviews

For six long days after she deliberately crashed her country’s economy, the main question people have been asking Liz Truss, “Where are you?” And arguably to her credit, on Thursday that was the one question she did manage to answer.

She was in Leeds, she was in Norfolk, she was in Bristol, she was in Lancashire, she was absolutely everywhere. And everywhere she went she made a quite mesmeric t** of herself.

For reasons best known presumably to someone, her preferred method of emerging like a cockroach into the aftermath of a nuclear bomb she dropped on herself was via a quickfire interview round on eight different local BBC radio stations.

It would be unfair on the prime minister to say that each was worse than the last. It would also not be true, as all of them were equally bad. From Liz Truss’s perspective, not a single good thing happened in any of them, across the entire hour.

She was slightly late for the first one, on BBC Radio Leeds, which meant that the presenter, Rima Ahmed, had to fill the unforgiving minute by reading out questions sent in by listeners, like, for example: “I would like to ask the prime minister, “When will I ever feel hope again”? That, for good measure, was from an army veteran who, having been prepared to die for his country, now finds he can no longer afford to live in it.

All of the presenters, and we shall try to take each in turn, had variations on the same theme to discuss with her, which was, “Why have you tanked the economy and made everyone’s mortgages unaffordable in order to cut taxes for millionaires?”

And Liz Truss had come prepared with one solitary answer. “We had to take decisive action to help people with their energy bills.”

Liz Truss has had a week underground to come up with something better than this, yet she has failed to do so. It was pointed out to her, by James Hanson on BBC Radio Bristol, that as a result of her actions, “We will have to spend more on mortgage fees, based on the predictions, than we would have saved on energy.”

It’s hard to tell if she answered this point, as the pause was so long they could have cut to the weather, the traffic on the M32 and some kind of amateur dramatic reenactment of the toppling of the Colston statue.

It’s also hard to tell if that was the most damning moment of all, as there are just so many to pick from. Hanson, in the interest of fairness, had taken her reply at face value and showed it to be utterly ridiculous. And this really is the thing. Even if it were true it would be stupid, and it palpably isn’t true.

For an entire hour, she sat in a chair in Downing Street, acting as a kind of WMD-style manure spreader, carpeting every corner of the kingdom in some of the thickest nastiest bulls*** it’s ever encountered.

You do not need to study current affairs very closely to know that the prime minister announced her energy market intervention on 8 September. It was a historic moment in the House of Commons, as it was interrupted toward the end by a piece of paper being passed around, alerting the front benches to an imminent announcement on the health of the Queen.

And yet, it was a full fortnight later, and seconds after Kwasi Kwarteng announced £45bn of borrowing in order to fund tax cuts that so far only benefit the wealthy, that we have seen an unprecedented haemorrhaging in the value of sterling, and the Bank of England having to launch its own £65bn intervention to prevent the complete wipeout of large numbers of people’s pensions.

It’s not that it’s simply stupid to blame this week’s financial meltdown on her energy statement of three weeks ago. She knows that’s not true. It’s that she appears to believe, or more accurately hope, that anyone – anyone –might be stupid enough to believe it.

“So the Bank of England’s intervention yesterday was Vladimir Putin’s fault was it?” asked Hanson again.

Pause. Silence. Various geological eras come and go.

Truss: “What I’m saying is, these are difficult and stormy times.”

Which might very well be what you’re saying, but it’s not the question, is it? The question, if we may paraphrase, was “You’re talking absolute rubbish aren’t you?”

Which she most certainly was.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s easy now to say that whoever had this idea should have foreseen what would happen, which is that each local station would want to make its own headline, its own viral clip, out of their seven-minute slot, so each would have little choice but to seek to outdo what had come before.

And after BBC Radio Leeds had got things underway with, “Will I ever feel hope again?” it’s not unsurprising that things quickly went out of control. Radio Kent’s first question to the prime minister was, “Are you ashamed of what you’ve done?”

(No, it turns out, the prime minister is not ashamed of intervening in the energy markets, nearly three weeks ago, which has nothing to do with what she’s being asked about but she knows it’s all she’s got.)

By the time she made it to Nottingham the wheels were well and truly off the bus. Asked by Sarah Julian about the abolition of the 45p tax rate, and how this might relate to the promise of a “fairer tax system” in the 2019 manifesto, the words that somehow left the prime minister’s lips were: “It helps everybody because it grows the economy.”

Does it bear repeating, again, that there are not many people feeling “helped” by Kwasi Kwarteng’s Budget? Mainly there are people who a month ago were merely worried about how to heat their homes, whereas now they’re worried about losing them altogether.

On this specific point, the prime minister (in Stoke now), announced that: “This government has acted decisively to deal with the issues that people face.” Which it most certainly has, it’s just that as a direct result, the issues that people face are much worse.

Having created arguably the nation’s first entirely self-inflicted economic crisis (which we define as the Bank of England having to intervene to save the government from nothing other than itself), perhaps Liz Truss hadn’t considered that some of these local radio stations would still find the time, within their seven minutes, to ask her about local issues.

Perhaps regular listeners to BBC Radio Lancashire, should any be reading this, might like to answer whether any politician has ever been allowed to go on BBC Radio Lancashire in the last few weeks without being asked about fracking, as the prime minister clearly imagined she would be.

Here, Truss was at her most execrable. She has, by way of background, lifted the ban on fracking, and had Jacob Rees-Mogg explain how she’s managed to do it, which is by recalibrating regulations around what does and doesn’t count as an earthquake.

Why had she done it? Well, she said, “I think we have to be clear about why we’re doing this,” before being clear about nothing other than she has absolutely no understanding of why she’s done it.

“The UK has become dependent on global energy prices,” she said. “We have seen through Vladimir Putin’s appalling war in Ukraine how energy prices have shot up, and Russia has used the fact that it produces gas as a way of exerting pressure on other countries and we simply don’t want to be in that position.”

Does Liz Truss know, or care, that Russia manipulates global gas prices because it produces incredibly large volumes of the stuff, and the UK extracting a few droplets from under Lancashire (in about 10 years’ time), will make no difference whatsoever, not least as she has given precisely zero indication that the companies who do it will not be permitted to sell that gas at the same globally benchmarked prices that very small scale UK-based fracking will not affect in any way? The answer to both questions would appear to be no.

She was asked, by Graham Liver: “We are the only area of the country that has actually done it, and it caused earthquakes, people’s houses shook. Why do you think it is safe to continue – because none of the science has changed?”He received, in response, a mumbled groan of such inordinate length it’s hard not to conclude it might not have been tactical. That the prime minister had actually practised in advance how to make the sound of a digital radio buffering, like that bloke from the Police Academy movies.

It is also worth mentioning, that after six days of economic carnage during which the prime minister said nothing, for the entire hour in which she did speak, the price of government 10-year gilts – the specific issue at the heart of what could have been a pension wipe out started rising again, having first been calmed by the Bank of England intervention yesterday. The problem she caused, in other words, is made worse by the sound of her voice.

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You don’t have to be the world’s biggest expert in the financial markets to know that is not really a sustainable position. But what can the Tory party do about it? Three prime ministers ago they got rid of cricket-loving Theresa May and now to borrow a term from that sport, they have burned through all their reviews.

We really do appear to be in a position whereby the economy has to be destroyed, and specifically in a fashion which is the near diametric opposite to what people actually voted for, because it would all be too awkward to do anything now, so soon after they had to get rid of the last guy for the crime – quite literally – of denying the existence of various cheese and wine parties which he personally attended.

Where do we go from here? Who can possibly know. The bottom of the barrel appears to have become one of those Penrose staircase illusions that can never actually be reached. From Leeds to Norfolk, to Bristol to Tees, to Nottingham to Stoke, all roads lead to hell.

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