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.