I was pleasantly surprised at Truss’s first outing at PMQs. Of course it’s early days with her and Starmer trying to work out the best way of knocking the shit out of each other whilst giving the aura of statecraft. Starmer has to be careful not to fall into the trap of mansplaining and bullying that Sunak dived headlong into. What most encouraged me was that she offered to work with Starmer on matters that they agree on, something that Johnson was incapable of doing. If he sees a belt he can’t resist kicking below it. She also resisted smart zingers and shock horror, answered questions. And she was less robotic then I have ever seen her. Maybe it’s the office, maybe it’s being surrounded by friends, maybe it’s hitting the ground running. Whatever it is, she looked and sounded like a Prime Minister. And she looked and sounded as if she actually believed in what she was saying. Tomorrow’s energy statement will be the real test. Can she master the detail? And will she be able to reassure those ordinary folk and small businesses terrified about energy prices that they are being thrown a life belt and not a millstone. We shall see.
Liz Truss’s priorities are pretty obvious. Restore discipline at Number 10. Ensure that ministers have clear policies to give instructions to officials, and make sure that these policies have been war-gamed to destruction. And then stick to them. We must return to serious government which is joined up, which is honest and which bears no resemblance to the chaos under the grotesque Johnson experiment.
I am not too concerned at the moment about this being a cabinet of friends. Most of the appointments are unremarkable and fairly sensible. Most are competent. Suella Braverman is the weakest link as a Home Secretary who shoots form the lip. I wonder how long she will last. And how will the bright, achingly ambitious Tugenhat deal with her? I suspect with creamy flattery masking utter exasperation.
All this talk of Johnson returning is not unlike his term of office; delusional and dangerous. He has promised to support Truss. But anyone who believes that are out with the fairies. He will want to make money by writing and speaking and he will want to make history by re-writing it. He craves adulation, relevance and a Disneyland legacy. Enough of Johnson though, the circus has left town despite one or two of the clowns loitering on street corners spitting venom.
The most important appointment by far is Therese Coffey as DPM. She is competent, decent and can be very funny. I spent an delightful evening with her a few years ago when she was deputy leader of the House. We were both debating with Andy Burnham and Chris Smith at the Cambridge Union. Quite what we were debating I cannot recall as we had all had a good deal to drink. But it was friendly, entertaining banter. The reason Coffey is so important is that she is a genuine friend and confidante of Truss. She is the only person around that screamingly ambitious table who can tell her the unvarnished truth as she is not a threat. A good, honest sounding board. Liz Truss has found a Willy.