Credit: BBC

Is Liz Truss…. A British Trump?

I do not mean the headline as an insult, though I am no fan of Donald Trump. I mean the following:

Objectively speaking, the British Tories should lose the next election. They should, really, lose it by a landslide. The UK economy – which is supposed to be their strong suit, remember – is growing sluggishly, if at all. Inflation is high. Brexit remains an open wound, both unfinished, and perhaps unfinishable. The party has been dogged by infighting, scandal, and sleaze. In Keir Starmer, Labour does not have a Tony Blair, but it does have a man who projects reasonable competence. In the normal course of events, “reasonable competence” should be enough to bury this Tory Party for at least five years, if not more.

The tweet above, though, gives me pause.

Truss, much more than her opponent, Rishi Sunak, seems to understand two things: First, that the economy is a weakness for her party, and second, that the culture wars are her strength. She knows, perhaps better than any other Tory, that standing on the debate stage at the next election being the only one to say that diversity and inclusion officials are a waste of money is a vote winner. She knows that that issue ties Keir Starmer – and the Liberal Democrats, and others – directly to the kind of stifling political correctness that lower income voters increasingly hate.

Fighting the next election on the economy – barring a sudden turnaround – is a non starter for the Tory Party. Fighting it as a war on woke? It might, just, give them a chance.

Truss is already outlining the key tenets of that strategy: She knows what a woman is. She thinks gender quotas are a waste of time. She is relatively non-commital on “net zero” targets, though pays lip service to the goal itself.

It should be remembered that Boris Johnson did not win the last UK election simply by winning over traditional Tories. Those voters exist: They tend to be well off, liberal, and live in the south of England. They are very close in their own way – except on EU matters – to Fine Gael voters here. But those voters did not win the election for the Tories. Boris Johnson won instead by winning the kind of people who vote for Sinn Fein in Ireland, and Donald Trump in the USA: economically left wing, lower educated, often very traditional people who live in run-down towns in Northern England, or Ohio, or Leitrim. The kind of people that the left in all three jurisdictions cannot help themselves from talking down to.

These voters consider immigration as an economic threat, not a cultural boon. They consider crime something that should be punished by prison, not dealt with by education. They also know what a crime is – breaking a window, they think, is a crime. Tweeting something mean about gay people, less so.

In this, and on many other issues, they are out of step with the mainstream modern left. Of the two candidates for the Tory leadership, Truss is the only one who seems to recognise that.

That is why it is, perhaps, much too early to write her off, as many Irish commentators – and many in her own country – seem ready to do. She is the only candidate who seems to understand the nature of the modern political realignment, and where the votes might be.

It is not hard, at the next election, to foresee the campaign that Truss might run. It will be to paint Starmer into corners in which he has no good or right answer: What, for example, is a woman? Does he support reducing immigration? Does he support arresting people for tweets? Does he think diversity and inclusion officers are a good use of money?

Truss has two years to make this work, should she be elected. It would not work today, for the simple reason that Starmer’s response to each of those questions, today, would simply be: If you don’t like these things, why have they all thrived under your Government?

But in those two years, if, as I suspect, she becomes the first leader of her country to fully commit to the culture war, she has a chance – a chance – to turn Keir Starmer into Hilary Rodham Clinton.

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