A Small King Edward Potato
On the morning after the EU referendum result, back in those distant, hazy times of 2016, David Cameron washed his hands of his own disastrous tactical balls-up, and announced his resignation. I remember being struck at the time at the imagery he deployed, casting himself as “the captain of a great ship”, while conveniently forgetting to recall that he had managed only to run it aground, mostly by turning the ship in a direction it didn’t need to go, and setting a collision course for an enormous iceberg at ramming speed.
It’s not Cameron, and his unsettlingly wax-smooth visage, that made me think of potatoes though, even though reading through what I wrote at the time feels in some ways uncomfortably prescient. In the six years that have passed since that moment, much of what I feared has not only come to pass, but has hit far worse than I feared. I was half right about the fact that Johnson wasn’t the immediate successor. Sadly, that disaster was merely deferred; first we had to suffer the era of May, and the constant sense of paralysis and inertia, before the Conservatives did what they do, and sent the lame horse to the glue fac … to live on a lovely farm¹. We will gloss over Johnson, for that is the only thing to be done, thinking of him only as the worst cheese dream in living memory, if the cheese you’d eaten was laced with arsenic, ground glass, and angel dust.
What we have arrived at, by the early days of September this year, was Elizabeth Truss. Less than six weeks later, her own party, the media, the majority of the country’s voters, and probably even small scattered communities of coastal molluscs are asking who might do a better job as Prime Minster. On her first day in the job, I happened to mention the short term in office of another Conservative PM (Alec Douglas-Home, who lasted all of 362 days), and (half-)jokingly wondered if she’d make it that far. I’m not really laughing about it now: it seems almost laughably optimistic she’ll still be in office even by the time the effigies of her are being burned on Bonfire Night next month.
Looking at the press conference she called yesterday, one could only think that a small King Edward potato might have looked more poised, and would have had more of a clue than she did. It would certainly have been better at answering questions. Noticeably, the first two questions she asked for were from the usual suspects at Telegraph and The Sun. At least they could be relied to throw her a soft one for starters? Well, no. Perhaps that’s why the four excruciating iterations of “Why won’t you resign?” were more than enough for her before she fled the scene. Still, at least it saved us from the blank looks, interminable pauses, and more leaden attempts to crowbar her tired and discredited “growth” mantra into everything.
Like Johnson before her there is a level of almost tragic irony that someone who has devoted almost their entire life and political career to becoming the Prime Minister, and First Lord of the Treasury appears to be so arse-clenchingly inept at it. But we did see it coming. Pork markets and cheese exports should have been more than enough sign of someone who didn’t have the fluency and intellectual heft to think on her feet politically, and who spent most of her time in the FCO in photo-ops to airbrush her image. Of course, the media conveniently forgot to mention that “new” PM Truss had managed to take up space in Cabinet for a full eight years without managing to achieve anything particularly noteworthy, and has surrounded herself with a talent pool so shallow you could do school experiments on monomolecular layers with it. She herself has been thuddingly mediocre in ministerial roles, which was probably more than enough to keep the rank and file members happy². It does show how far down the road to madness we’ve come when you almost wonder if Sunak would have been less of a disaster, and where Jeremy Hunt, a man who looks and acts like an AI designed by a brain-injured stoat is now suddenly being called “the adult in the room”³ by the political hacks.
To continue the Cameron metaphor, it’s like each successive captain of the Great Ship he talked about deciding that hitting the iceberg once wasn’t sufficient. Their predecessors simply hadn’t hit it hard enough, so on their go, they were going to circle and just jolly well hit it harder. The problem wasn’t the presence of an enormous iceberg, merely that the crew and the passengers just didn’t believe hard enough that the iceberg would back down when a British ship rammed it. Properly exceptional.
It’s difficult to see where things go from here, in Truss’s La-La Land of Britannia Unhinged. Hunt is already apparently promising more austerity for a public sector that simply can’t afford any more of it now that the First Lord. and her erstwhile ghost hand⁴ has tanked the economy, and the currency, and our international reputation. No one is convinced that Truss has any grip on her party, economic policy, or (most important of all) the country, so they think they may be able to try to oust her and replace her with some kind of bloodless coup. There are already reports that the 1922 committee chairman has a fair bit of post writing for him when he gets back to Westminster on Monday. But that simply won’t wash either. Three Prime Ministers in as many months with the electorate having precisely no say in any of it risks making an already angry and resentful public even more obviously mutinous than they already are. Around her, her party are in open rebellion⁵, while the usual lickspittles plead for unity they know can’t ever come. And the rest of us are just laughing at how utterly hopeless and deluded she is.
Will someone please call a small King Edward potato? We need you.
¹ Some people might say this is “being ‘elevated’ to the House of Lords”
² Any other reasons why the aging Conservative membership voters might have preferred Truss over Sunak are left entirely to the reader.
³ Whose performance as Secretary of State for Health should not be forgotten. For all the wrong reasons.
⁴ Notice I’ve not otherwise mentioned Kwarteng. He doesn’t deserve it, he’s barely even worthy to be a footnote.
⁵ Swivel-eyed lunatic, Suella Braverman is already media schmoozing, being reliably unmoored from reality, hoping to place herself again for a leadership run to please the Conservative Cargo Cult. Interestingly, she’s all over this morning’s Times. Clearly Rupert approves.