By David Osland
For the average leftie, the label ‘the next Margaret Thatcher’ is the most poisonous possible invective. For many on the political right, it’s the highest accolade imaginable.
And recent weeks have seen the apostolic succession bestowed on Liz Truss. The Foreign Secretary has been glowingly profiled in The Times as “the new Iron Lady”. The Mail on Sunday has been similarly gushing, even pronouncing 2021 “the year of Truss” If coronavirus could talk, it would probably beg to differ.
With Boris Johnson’s authority eroding under the sustained assault of alleged corruption and leaked photographs of cheese and wine parties, Tory leadership hopefuls are jockeying for position like Formula One drivers on the sprint to the first corner.
We want Johnson out because we consider him a duplicitous over-privileged right wing simpleton who is up to his neck in a nefarious public procurement racket.
His Tory enemies want Johnson out because they see him as somehow ‘not Conservative enough’, a faux libertarian hooked on big state European social democracy, even – ridiculously enough – some kind of ‘socialist’.
But one way or another, a lot of people want him out and Truss very much wants to be his replacement.
That much is clearly evidenced by her inauguration of a one-woman historic Thatcher photograph re-enactment society, allowing her mercilessly to seize the opportunity to ride tanks clad in a flak jacket or to nurse cute baby calves, in much the manner of her heroine.
All of this has made her the sweetheart of the right wing rodeo, sometimes clocking 80%-plus approval ratings from the rank and file, according to the grassroots website ConservativeHome.
In the event of a challenge to Johnson, she will be a strong contender. If Conservative MPs allow her onto a shortlist of two that get to go before the ordinary membership, and she maintains right wing press support, she may well walk it.
Ironically, Truss is a relatively recent convert to the Tory cause, starting in politics as a Liberal Democrat. Although she now has responsibility for Brexit, she also campaigned for Remain in the referendum.
That makes her ideas appear lightly held, or at least apt to be presented in the most personally advantageous manner.
She first came to widespread notice after her ‘opening new pork markets’ speech at Conservative conference in 2014, in which she famously compared her supposedly left wing upbringing to that of Ed Miliband, Labour leader at the time.
Now, no disrespect to Mr and Mrs Truss senior, who sound like thoroughly decent provincial CNDers. But I knew Ed’s dad Ralph, if only a little, and suspect their parental example may not have been quite as stridently radical.
If Truss does make it to prime minister, she will be a harder act for Labour to counter than Johnson, if only because she will have the ‘not Boris’ factor. She may even decide to capitalise on that by calling a general election within months.
Thanks to its current mid-term poll lead, Labour will be reasonably placed for the fight, if it does come. But no Labour activist will forget that Neil Kinnock, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn all enjoyed thumping mid-term poll leads too.
But what is clear is that if she does make it to Number Ten, she will not be, and indeed cannot be, ‘the next Margaret Thatcher’.
The political conjuncture in Britain in the early 2010s is entirely different from that of the late 1970s. By the time Peter Mandelson declared in 2002 that “we are all Thatcherites now”, the revolution was over.
The economy was restructured, the unions smashed, the utilities sold off for a pittance, local government rendered powerless. The pension funds had been looted, benefits for the disabled cut, corporate power left subject to no meaningful restraint.
But in some parallel universe where the deliberate decimation of entire communities, three million on the dole, the failed privatisation of essential national industries and the stigmatisation of ‘pretended family relationships’ didn’t scar an entire decade, Thatcher is still the regnant Queen of Heaven.
Nobody can bring her back. The only revelation here is that one woman dreams that she can do so.
David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time left wing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland
Image: Liz Truss MP. Source: Liz Truss MP, Minister for Education and Childcare, at her speech setting out government plans to promote more great childcare. Author: Policy Exchange, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
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