Bremainers Ask….Revisited

Bremainers Ask….Revisited

To start the year, we asked three former Bremainers Ask contributors to tell us about their highs and lows for 2022 and their hopes for the coming year. This is what they had to say.

Alexandra Hall Hall is a former British diplomat who resigned from the Foreign Office in December 2019 after concluding she could no longer represent the British Government’s position on Brexit with integrity. She is now a frequent commentator and writer on British politics and foreign policy post-Brexit. You can read Alex’s earlier contribution to Bremainers Ask from May 2022 here

The low point of 2022 for me was without question Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. By the same token, the highpoint was seeing the courage of the Ukrainian people in refusing to yield to Russian aggression, under the inspiring leadership of Ukrainian President, Volodomyr Zelensky.

I was glad to see the UK respond so robustly to Russia’s invasion. Though I might question some of the motives behind Boris Johnson’s decision to champion the Ukrainian cause, I genuinely believe the British Government has shown impressive leadership on the issue. Johnson’s own visit to Kyiv in the spring undoubtedly boosted Ukrainian morale. I am willing to give him credit for that. I was also glad to see the UK work constructively with the EU and NATO to galvanise an effective international response, including by coordinating sanctions against Russia, and conducting a long overdue clamp down on Russian money and influence within the UK.

I was disappointed this did not translate into wider reflection within the British Government on our post-Brexit relationship with European partners. I had hoped that cooperation on Ukraine might prompt greater willingness to put UK-EU cooperation on broader foreign and security policy matters onto a more structured footing. Instead, many Brexit advocates argue it is proof that the UK can successfully coordinate with the EU from the outside, even though such coordination is now far more time-consuming and burdensome, and we have lost our direct influence on EU decisions.

I had also hoped that the need to stay united on Ukraine might persuade the British Government to adopt a more constructive approach on Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the UK persists with its threat to renege unilaterally on certain aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol unless it is renegotiated to British satisfaction. While the mood music on this issue has improved, it remains to be seen whether Sunak will be willing to face down the hardliners in his party in order to strike a deal.

From a purely domestic perspective, 2022 was the year of British politicians behaving badly. I do not need to recount all the shameful examples. The UK’s global reputation, already badly damaged by the incompetent, dishonest handling of Brexit, took a further battering. The disastrous Truss premiership was the absolute nadir.

At least with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, a veneer of normality has returned to British politics. But just as Donald Trump’s Presidency still casts a long shadow over American politics, so the continuing influence of Boris Johnson and his ilk casts a long shadow over the Conservative party and British politics. Like his predecessors, Sunak seems to remain afraid of the extreme wing of his party, and willing to compromise again and again in an effort to appease them.

As a result, even though restoring the British economy is Sunak’s priority, he is unable to pursue some of the easiest ways to achieve this, such as by relaxing immigration to address UK labour shortages, or by staying aligned to EU standards in order to facilitate UK-EU trade. Instead, he is pressing ahead with the Retained EU law bill to shred all outstanding EU legislation on our statute books by the end of the year. Not only does this risk many important environmental, consumer, worker, health and safety protections being lost, without time to draw up adequate replacements, it also risks UK businesses being left without a stable and predictable legislative environment within which to operate. Even worse, the draft bill gives unprecedented powers to the Government to draft new laws without proper parliamentary  oversight, using so called Henry VIII powers, representing a further erosion of British democracy.

I wish I could be more optimistic for 2023. Instead, I fear the war in Ukraine will grind on with more bodies and blood, as the West still hesitates to send Ukraine all the weapons it needs. I also fear that Sunak will remain in thrall to the right wing of his party, and that Boris Johnson and his supporters will also constantly try to undermine him in hopes of engineering Johnson’s return. British politics risks continuing on an unstable, damaging path.

For me, the big question for 2023 is whether British opinion will finally swing sufficiently decisively against Brexit, that it will give the Labour  party the political space it needs to adopt a stronger position in support of UK-EU cooperation. Opinion polls suggest that more and more British voters are coming to regret the decision to leave. Our challenge is to demonstrate how top voter concerns like the poor state of the economy, the NHS and other public services, are directly related to that decision to leave.

2023 is also the year in which we need to nail the Brexiter narrative that if Brexit is not going well, it is only because it was poorly implemented, or “thwarted” by Remainer elites, or because Ministers have yet to take proper advantage of the so-called opportunities of Brexit. Brexit never was and never will be the solution to the UK’s problems.

Gavin Esler is an award-winning broadcaster, novelist and journalist. His most recent book is entitled “How Britain Ends – English Nationalism and the Re-birth of Four Nations”, and he is currently working on a new book explaining how, as a nation, we can do better. You can read Gavin’s earlier contribution to Bremainers Ask from April 2022 here

It’s always daft to write history when you are still living it, but the past year has been so crazy I’m happy to give it a go. The year 2022 will be seen by future British historians rather as Olaf Scholtz spoke of his country when he became Germany’s Chancellor. The United Kingdom is at a “Zeitenwende” – a turning point. Everything seemed to change, including our three prime ministers in four months and the resignation of at least 60 government ministers, plus the notorious Kwasi Kwarteng political suicide note. He called it a “fiscal event,” forgetting that a cardiac event is to most of us just a heart attack. The good news was that we managed to change our head of state and head of government almost simultaneously with no revolution, gunfire or rioting. The worst that happened was a leaky fountain pen and a temporarily grumpy King. I felt sorry for King Charles at that perfectly normal human moment when he was ambushed on TV by an inky malfunction.

The bad news however was everything else, and a group of failed politicians it was impossible to feel sorry for, especially Matt Hancock whose bush tucker and other trials did not seem stressful enough. In Roman times he would not have been on I’m A Celebrity. He’d have been forced on to I’m a Gladiator and fed to hungry lions. But the event of the year – as Oscar Wilde might have said – is that for the British people to lose one prime minister might be seen as unfortunate. To lose two is carelessness. In fact, we have lost five prime ministers in six years and none of them struck me as up to Gladstone and Disraeli standards.

What was exposed ruthlessly in 2022 is not merely the characters of some very strange people who rise to the top in politics. It’s a failed system of governance where those in power seem to make up the rules to suit themselves. Liz Truss became our prime minister because around 80,000 people who pay just over £2 a month to join the Conservative party decided she was The Right One. Or Far Right One. Rishi Sunak became our prime minister because Conservative MPs decided trusting their own party members was a disaster, so they chose him. Boris Johnson became prime minster because he undermined his two immediate predecessors and the party whose supposedly “secret weapon is loyalty” rewarded his disloyalty with the top job.

The one serious bit of good news of 2022 was that the B-word returned in public speech. Brexit, that greatest self-inflicted wound that we British have inflicted upon ourselves in recent years was finally regarded as something which could be discussed in polite company. My hopes for 2023 therefore include the real possibility that the unravelling of Brexit will become so obviously clear that the leadership of the Labour party will aggressively try to unpick its worst aspects even if they pretend to be living up to what was once supposed to be “the will of the people.” Many of the people who voted for Brexit have inevitably changed their minds.

My second great hope is that we start to remember what is meant by patriotism. To be a patriot is not to sit in front of a Union Jack and witter endlessly about the non-existent benefits of Brexit. To be a patriot is to want the best for your country, and to avoid making British citizens, wherever they may live, poorer and experiencing more difficulties in their lives. By that definition Brexit is one of the least patriotic events in British history.

Otto English is the pen name of author and journalist Andrew Scott. He has written for the Independent, New Statesman, Politico and Byline Times. His book “Fake History” was published in June 2021, and he is currently working on a sequel. You can read his earlier contribution to Bremainers Ask from September 2022 here

Some years ago, while down an absolute rabbit hole of research, I came across an old interview with the author Graham Greene. Unfortunately, I cannot find the recording now but suffice to say that Greene came across as extremely grumpy and when prodded on why that might be, complained that he was very easily bored. He went on to describe an incident where, while on a boat in the Suez Canal, he and the rest of the passengers came under fire from the shore.

“At first,” Greene said – and I paraphrase – “one felt an immense fear and excitement – but soon it gave way to boredom… it was just very, very boring”.

I remember wondering at the time how anyone could ever think that dodging bullets in the middle of the Suez could ever be described as ‘boring’, but as the last eight years, of at times cartoonish events, have unwound, I think I’m beginning to get it.

Living through extraordinary times can get very boring indeed and ever more, the country has felt like an absurd soap opera in which a team of frenzied writers have been cooking up crazy plot lines.

Since the Scottish independence referendum in 2015, the once United Kingdom has reeled from one crisis to another, like a drunken bear fighting a donkey on acid, in a glassware shop. In hindsight, the Scottish referendum was but an amuse bouche for the uncivil war of Brexit that followed in 2016. That disastrous folly wrecked our global standing, screwed our political institutions and wreaked economic turmoil on us all. What followed whipped back the curtain on the libertarian lies of British exceptionalism – and the myth that we ‘don’t need the EU’. But in the process, it also took a sledgehammer to the old political consensus.

In all the chaos that followed, whether that be the inanity of the culture wars, the misery of Covid, lockdowns, the migrant crisis, the on-going disaster in Northern Ireland or the tsunami of other miserable stories lost in its wake, people’s positions have been largely defined by how they voted in that referendum.

At the same time, the pandemic and war in Ukraine have been a salutary lesson in how very dangerous it is to take our certainties for granted. World events can turn in a moment and threats to our peace and security can come out of nowhere. All of this has, I believe, irrevocably changed the political landscape. Britain’s new political lines are no longer defined by left, right and centre, but by ‘pragmatic and progressive’ versus ‘chaotic cloud cuckoolandism’. The good news is that, if polling is to be believed, most voters now sit, ever more, in the ‘pragmatic and progressive’ camp.

As we’ve gone through Prime Ministers and Chancellors faster than most of us get through underwear in a heatwave, this country seems to have edged ever more back towards a general consensus – that we want to be a grown-up country once more.

So, call me a crazy optimist and cross your fingers very tightly, but I’m beginning to think there are brighter times ahead. Happy New Year.

Coming next month

Former London Mayoral candidate and senior civil servant, Siobhan Benita, left Whitehall to campaign for better politics.  She is passionately opposed to Brexit and spoke at the first National Rejoin March in London in Autumn 2022. Siobhan has a French husband and two bilingual daughters.

If you wish to submit a question for Siobhan for consideration, please email us before the 7 February.

Hunt for optimism

Hunt for optimism

The chancellor’s economic plans for growth require a good dose of optimism, a dollop of delusion and some rose-tinted spectacle

Sue Wilson MBE bySue Wilson MBE

On Friday morning, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined his economic plans for growth to a business audience in London. In his first major speech since the Autumn statement in November, he promised to use “Brexit freedoms” to boost economic growth in the UK.

According to Hunt, Britain is “poised to play a leading role in Europe and across the world” and the government’s plan for growth “is necessitated, energised and made possible by Brexit”. All that’s required is a good dose of optimism, a dollop of delusion and some rose-tinted spectacles.

Not all doom and gloom

Hunt criticised the media for suggesting that Britain is facing an “existential crisis” and “teetering on the edge”. The “gloom” being expressed about our country’s economic outlook was “based on statistics that do not reflect the whole picture”. Statistics, it seems, can only be relied upon when they support the story that the government is trying to peddle. In a desperate attempt to find some evidence of growth during the government’s time in power, Hunt could only state that the UK had “grown faster than France, Japan and Italy” by going back to 2010.

Without a hint of irony, Hunt suggested that “confidence in the future starts with honesty about the present”. Not sure when, exactly, that honesty about Brexit is expected to start, but there certainly was little to be found in this speech. Or any mention of so-called Brexit benefits.

When challenged to concede that Brexit was causing problems for business, Hunt admitted there had been some “short term disruption”, but said it was wrong to focus on those issues “without looking at the opportunities”. Whether business owners are cognisant of those unidentified opportunities, or would agree that three years of disruption could be classed as ‘short term’, is another matter altogether.

Hunt’s cunning plan

The plans for growth seem to rely on three things, all supposedly made possible by Brexit and based on “British genius” and “hard work”. The first – “restraint on spending” – effectively means £100bn being cut from government spending over the next two years. But balancing the Treasury budget does not equate to balancing the economy – or levelling-up, for that matter – and public services need investment, not further cuts.

Then we have Hunt’s plan to turn the UK into “the world’s next Silicon Valley”. Not exactly a new idea, and we’re hardly overrun with recent examples of entrepreneurial success. Hunt also aims to exploit “the freedoms which Brexit provides” and raise productivity levels. As with all other elements of his cunning plan, the details of how and when were left entirely to our imaginations.

The reaction

If Hunt was expecting wide coverage for his speech, he was to be disappointed. The leading business channel in Europe – CNBC – didn’t even bother to cover it.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) highlighted the failure to announce detailed proposals as a lack of “meat on the bones of his vision”. The BCC also drew attention to the fact that energy costs and exports had not been mentioned. Although Hunt’s plan was a start, they said, we have moved “no further forward”. They ended their response by suggesting that the chancellor read the BCC’s own business manifesto “for realistic policies to help get back to growth”.

Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, agreed with Hunt that the UK has “so much potential”. Unsurprisingly, she claimed only her party could seize the opportunities and pointed out the economic failings of the last 13 years of Tory government.

Sarah Olney, the LibDems Treasury spokesperson, compared the chancellor’s comments to “an unfaithful partner asking for yet another chance”, adding “why should we trust them again?” Why indeed! The government’s record, she added, was “nothing less than a shambles” and the public would see through this “desperate attempt” to rewrite history.

On the government website, Hunt’s speech is described as “his vision for long-term prosperity in the UK”. A long-term view will be of little comfort to those feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis right now. Or to businesses suffering from additional red tape and expense thanks to Brexit. Considering that the Conservatives are likely to be kicked out of power next year makes such claims rather pointless. No wonder so few bothered to pay much attention.

Collins English dictionary defines optimism as “the feeling of being hopeful about the future or about the success of something in particular”. Not for the first time, we are being asked by the government to ignore reality and be optimistic about our country’s future. We are being entreated to believe in the cult of Brexit, despite all the evidence of economic damage and the government’s own appalling record of management. It might have worked six years ago. It might even have worked three years ago. It won’t work now.

Open letter to Truss #3 – October 2022

Open letter to Truss #3 – October 2022

by Sue Wilson MBE

Dear Liz,

Since our earlier correspondence, (December 2021 and January 2022) it’s good to see that you have finally ditched the multiple hats and roles in favour of focussing on just one job. The big one. I guess I should start by offering my congratulations, but as you have been under-performing so spectacularly, that wouldn’t seem appropriate under the circumstances.

Given that you have only been in the job such a short amount of time, (is it really only a month? – it seems so much longer), I have held off from writing until now. Let’s wait until after the party conference, I told myself, and give her a chance to turn this thing around and show us what she’s got. Sadly, it seems, we had already seen the best you had to offer. Though frankly, you and I had far more in common before the dreaded (don’t worry, I won’t mention the ‘B’ word) referendum.

So, let me get to the reason for my missive. I am writing to complain. I appreciate this will not come as a surprise as I imagine the vast majority of your correspondence is made up of complaints of some description. In addition, in light of your recent party conference speech, the list of those with genuine reasons for complaint has increased exponentially.

It seems that the list of your supposed enemies has expanded considerably, and we all share a shiny new label. Not only is the previous insult de jour of “Remainer” no longer in vogue but now I’m a “Br*x*t denier” and a member of the “anti-growth coalition”! At least your name calling is not limited to us pro-Europeans. It now also applies to Labour, the unions, environmentalists, think tanks and talking heads.

I’m sure if you, or your script writers had taken just a bit of time, you could have swept up a lot more supposed enemies in that meaningless list. After all, considering the state of your party at the moment, surely you could have included a few disloyal backbenchers in your catalogue of reprobates.

Of course, there will always be a ready supply of useful idiots, like Nadhim Zahawi, to defend your nonsense, and I can live with that. After all, when you fall, you’ll be taking a lot of them with you. Even your former candidate for the top job, Tom Tugendhat, has been waffling on about growth in your defence. Apparently, growth grows opportunities, lives and futures, and you are right to be focussing on delivering it for everyone. Well, everyone except the poor, the hungry, the disabled, the needy etc., etc. Well, speaking as a non-economist, non-expert I can assure you that is complete “bollocks”, as we’ve been saying about Br*x*t (enter six letter word beginning with ‘Br*’ and ending with ‘x*t’ here).

To your credit, I don’t doubt for one minute that you believe all this rhetorical horse manure you are spouting, even in the face of ample evidence to the contrary. Certainly, the Bank of England doesn’t believe it, nor the financial markets. But I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt as you are still relatively new at this game. After all, it’s only a maximum of two years until the country decides on our next PM, rather than a few thousand elderly, white, wealthy right-wingers. Assuming, of course, that your party doesn’t decide before that to give another ERG supporter a go at running the country.

Another complaint, before I toddle off to count what’s left of my diminishing state pension. Could you please instruct your cabinet and ministers to stop pretending that this is a brand-new government. Anyone would think you were trying to suggest there has been a different party/government running things for the last 12 years. As the longest serving member of the Conservative government that is currently in power, and has been for over a decade, I’m sure you will agree. After all, there is so much (not!) to take credit for.

Finally, could we please stop with the three-word soundbites and slogans like the irritating “getting Britain moving” nonsense. Laxative commercials have had more convincing slogans. As for answering questions, let me be very clear (see what I did there?) – your stock answers are now so familiar that there’s really no point giving any more interviews. The whole country can predict how you will respond with considerably more accuracy than you can predict the economy or public opinion.

Despite your protestations that you are “listening” and you “get it”, I’m afraid I remain (no pun intended) sceptical. I don’t believe you have a “clear plan” (unless you mean one that you can see through), I don’t believe your party has the “determination to deliver” or that you can “unleash the full potential of our great country”.

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t think you do either. So, why not save us all two years more nonsense and go for the mandate from the country you already claim to have. Call an election. Put your money – rather than ours for a change – where your mouth is. If you don’t mind me finishing with one of your own quotes, “that is how we will build a new Britain for a new era”. You know it makes sense, and I’m sure, in the end, you’ll be only too glad to see the back of that wallpaper when you are “moving on up” and out!

Yours hopefully,

Sue Wilson MBE

Bremainers Ask….. Baroness Sarah Ludford

Bremainers Ask….. Baroness Sarah Ludford

Since 1997, Baroness Sarah Ludford has been a member of the House of Lords and is currently the Liberal Democrat’s Europe and Brexit spokesman.

She was a Member of the European Parliament for London from 1999 to 2014, working mainly on EU security, justice and human rights issues and on EU foreign affairs including as vice-chair of the EP delegation to the US.

A qualified barrister, Sarah has worked in Whitehall, in the European Commission and in the City for Lloyd’s of London and American Express. Sarah was a local councillor for 8 years during the 1990s in the London Borough of Islington.

Keith Glazzard

Is there any justification at all for changing Human Rights legislation in the UK?

Thankfully, one of the few sensible things the Truss government is doing is drop the Bill of Rights Bill which would have gutted the Human Rights Act. However, we cannot lower our guard because the fear is that this right-wing government will simply try to insert into a range of new legislation the horrors that the BORB would have delivered in one place.

There is no justification for substantially changing the Human Rights Act, which has proven its value for nearly a quarter of a century. In particular, it ‘brought rights home’ so that claimants no longer have to make the long and expensive trek to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (which of course is separate from the EU) to seek to enforce their rights, but can do so in domestic courts.

I thoroughly concur with the views expressed in this letter in June from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I sit.

The Independent Human Rights Act Review led by former Appeal Court judge Sir Peter Gross – ignored by the unlamented Dominic Raab as it largely gave the HRA a clean bill of health – suggested just a few relatively minor reforms, which can be read in the executive summary of their report. Sir Peter also gave evidence a few weeks ago to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (on which I sit). Here are the transcript and the recording.

A major recommendation of Sir Peter’s review was to increase ‘public ownership of rights’ through greater public and civic education. I thoroughly endorse this call, as the myth peddled by much of the press that the HRA only assists criminals and illegal immigrants is untrue but highly persuasive and corrosive. As we saw, the rights of people in care homes – not least, their right to life – was a big casualty of the Covid pandemic.


Michael Soffe

How would you convince me (as a 110% “Rejoiner”) to vote for the Lib Dems in the next election?

Valerie Chaplin

Why are the LibDems not supporting the call to rejoin the EU when the majority of the British public now think Brexit was a mistake?

Lisa Burton

It was good to see you speak at the National Rejoin March. What would you say to those who say it is too early to discuss re-joining the EU?

I am grouping these three questions together as they raise essentially the same ‘Rejoin’ issue. The Liberal Democrats have passed several conference motions post-Brexit, but the latest one was in March 2022 which reaffirmed the party’s support for a longer-term objective of UK membership of the EU.

I think a key paragraph is “Conference therefore recognises that as the UK seek to build a closer partnership with Europe, it must first convince EU member states that the UK is serious about rebuilding the relationship and forging stronger links, which can only be built back gradually over time.” The same applies to public opinion in the UK. The full policy paper which the motion endorses is here.

Given the awful mess Liz Truss has got us into in terms of our EU relationship, seeking to breach the Northern Ireland Protocol unilaterally – and unable even to say whether President Macron is friend or foe! – a gradual ‘road map’ approach simply reflects the political and economic realities.

Had it not been for our September conference having to be cancelled due to the sad death of the Queen, we would have debated (and undoubtedly passed) our first ‘sectoral’ motion deriving from our road map policy, on UK-EU cooperation on foreign and security policy.

I would also draw attention to this excellent Times article (26 September) by Edward Lucas, a senior journalist as well as LibDem parliamentary candidate in City of London and Westminster, on LibDem policy.

So while we do not call for ‘Rejoin Now’ as that is simply impractical, our commitment to the end goal of rejoining is not in any doubt whatsoever, and I shall be speaking at the rescheduled National Rejoin March on 22 October.

Sue Scarrott

Can the Labour party be persuaded to dispense with the undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system in favour of proportional representation?

The jury is out on whether Labour can be persuaded to abandon FPTP in favour PR. John Harris observed in the Guardian that ‘Polling suggests that 83% of Labour members now support electoral reform. In the build-up to its conference this week, about 140 constituency parties have submitted motions calling for exactly that’ but ‘Unfortunately, Keir Starmer and his allies still see changing our systems of power and politics as an irritating distraction, and are clearly terrified that any conversations about coalitions and partnerships will be a gift to the Tories.’

A conference resolution proposing a new voting system is due to be debated as I write this. The deputy political editor of the Guardian tweeted that she expected it to include ‘Labour must make a commitment to introduce proportional representation for general elections in the next manifesto’ – but we will see!


David Eldridge

What, for you personally, has been the worst aspect of Brexit?

We are all losers in a material sense, as imports and exports have become more expensive and burdened by red tape, through the loss of amenities we used to enjoy in the Single Market and Customs Union such as free data roaming, pet passports or EU border channels. I entirely sympathise and seek to support those who have experienced the worst effects, whether businesses ruined, or lives disrupted, by the loss of free movement and having to go through the settlement schemes.

For me, the worst part of Brexit has been an emotional wrench, a kick in the guts. I lost my husband three years ago and so it has been a period of intense grief from all directions.

I first felt ‘European’ nearly 60 years ago, on our family camping trips down through France to Spain, thinking ‘I belong here’. Then as a student I studied European history and current affairs, was an intern (‘stagiaire’) then for seven years an official at the European Commission, and later for 15 years an MEP. So it is a strong part of my identity. I have been able to reclaim my European citizenship by getting my Irish passport; I did not have to apply for citizenship as I am Irish from birth due to my mother having been born in Dublin. (I realise this understandably arouses jealousy, but it’s not from anything I did myself!). As I have no intention of ever moving from London, the main value to me is that it restores that part of my identity that was brutally torn away. I hope by working towards Rejoin to get it back for all Brits.

In next month’s newsletter we are delighted to be featuring National Rejoin March founder, Peter Corr.

Peter is a former soldier and lorry driver who lost his job thanks to Brexit and decided to do something rather special to protest about that. Peter is organising the biggest pro-EU, anti-Brexit demonstration and rally for years.

As the march is scheduled for October 22 in London, we are delighted that Peter has agreed to be our next featured campaigner in Bremainers Ask, especially at this very busy time.

Please note that the feature will be published after the march, at the end of October, but your questions will be submitted to Peter before the march takes place, so please bear this in mind when you submit your questions.

If you would like to put a question to Peter, please email us at no later than Thursday 6 October.

Truss lost for words in the face of proper journalism

Truss lost for words in the face of proper journalism

The prime minister finally emerged from hiding today to give a series of quick-fire interviews on local radio – and it didn’t go well

Sue Wilson MBE by Sue Wilson MBE

Until her appearance on BBC local radio on Thursday morning, newly minted (if not shiny) PM Liz Truss had been missing in action. A question was being asked as to whether Truss had taken a leaf out of her predecessor’s book and was hiding herself away from trouble or criticism. In a fridge, perhaps. At a time when the public are facing a cost-of-living crisis, inflation, interest rate hikes and real concerns about fuel, energy and mortgage costs, our prime minister been missing in action. Not even an appearance for the seemingly obligatory photo op.

Sound fiscal plan or “material risk”?

Perhaps, we all hoped, Truss was busy coming up with a plan to ease the financial burdens the country is facing. But no. Instead, she was colluding with new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, to come up with the most dangerous, incomprehensible ‘solution’ to the nation’s financial problems possible.

The ‘mini budget’ announced last Friday was so outrageously inappropriate that it caused the most severe of market reactions. The pound fell to record low levels, the IMF – making an unprecedented intervention – suggested the government needed to re-evaluate its policies, and the Bank of England was forced to spend £65bn propping up the financial markets. The chancellor’s budget, they said, represented a “material risk” to the country’s economic health and wealth.

You might have expected that under such circumstances the PM might have something to say on the subject. If only someone could find her. After four days of silence, she finally came out of hiding to comment on local radio. But far from being worth waiting for, Truss’s responses were mind-bogglingly awful and widely and justifiably criticised.

Lost for words in the face of proper journalism

Appearing on local radio, ahead of the Conservative Party conference, is a long-standing tradition for British prime ministers. If Truss had thought that local radio hosts would give her an easy ride, or wouldn’t be all over their brief, then she had made a severe miscalculation. Yes, another one. Not only were the interviewers well informed and articulate, but they did not shy away from difficult questions or from putting Truss on the spot. Hopefully the mainstream media were taking notes.

Kicking off at BBC Leeds, Rima Ahmed asked Truss if she had slept well, then in reference to her disappearing act asked, “Where have you been?” Ignoring the question, Truss responded by saying the government had taken “decisive action” over the energy crisis, in order to deal with inflation and to get the economy moving. It was all Vladimir Putin’s fault, apparently, and the issues were global. Not my fault, not my responsibility.

Avoiding the question, evading an answer or changing the subject completely, was the best we could expect. This was all starting to feel like very familiar territory, even if she had only been in the job for five minutes. Throw in a refusal to accept any responsibility and a misplaced confidence in your own abilities and it was just like old times. Old – well, not that old – Tory times.

Badly briefed, dishonest or just plain incompetent?

An oft-repeated falsehood reiterated by Truss throughout the interviews was that no family would pay more than £2,500 for their energy bills. A ‘fact’ that was immediately repudiated on social media, including by consumer champion Martin Lewis and Labour MP Jess Phillips.

Phillips tweeted that Truss “doesn’t know what she is doing … doesn’t know what she is talking about … is poorly briefed”, and as always, was “trying to blame someone else”. And for good measure, Truss was “lying”.

Comedian David Baddiel also commented, tweeting that Truss came across as “so far out of her depth” that he felt the need to call on the RNLI. From Norfolk to Lancashire, Bristol to Stoke, Tees to Nottingham and Kent, the questions were sharp, the answers were not. Assuming the questions got answered at all. The presenters may have had several clues but the PM clearly couldn’t find one, even with help. At times, Truss was completely lost for words. And when she wasn’t lost for words, we rather wished she had been.

Truss insisted that the government’s “plan” was the right one and she was sticking to it. Even in the face of tough questions on mortgages, pensions and the public’s very genuine financial concerns, Truss demonstrated a complete lack of understanding or empathy. No, she couldn’t guarantee our pensions were safe. No, she wouldn’t change course. No, the mini budget wasn’t the cause of economic problems, but the solution. That’s despite all the evidence to the contrary from those with a much greater understanding of economics than the PM. Which is most of us, it would seem.

Truss’s main priority, she told us, was to protect the public from economic shocks. The fact that her own government has been responsible for the most extreme of these economic shocks seems to have failed to register. When Truss can’t or won’t answer a question, she now regularly turns to her go-to trite response, “I don’t accept the premise of your question”.

Well, I’m not quite sure how to break it to you, prime minister, but most of the country doesn’t accept the premise that you are our prime minister. You may be lost for words. I, on the other hand, have a few choice ones I’d be only too happy to share!

If you missed the interviews, catch up via BBC Sounds.