SARAH VINE: Liz Truss has made a fool of herself and all Tory voters

SARAH VINE: Having Jeremy Hunt take over as Chancellor is like ordering a rump steak on your Ocado shop and finding they’ve replaced it with a tofu burger

After the events of the past few days, the fact that Liz Truss is still pretending to be Prime Minister might seem to many not just absurd, but bordering on the deranged.

She hasn’t just made a fool of herself: she’s made fools of all those who voted Conservative at the last election. In a few short weeks, she has turned the party of Churchill and Thatcher into a laughing stock — and pretty much guaranteed a Labour landslide at the next election.

Whatever the Tories do now, the chances of winning a new mandate, let alone the kind of majority that Boris Johnson delivered in 2019, seem less than zero.

Unless the entire Labour front bench turns out to be part of some satanic sex cult, the game is up.

I used to worry that Starmer would do a backroom deal with the Lib Dems in order to secure power in the event of a hung parliament. Truss’s incompetence has relieved me of that concern. For this, at least, I suppose I should thank her.

The Conservatives have simply run out of road. The next election is only a couple of years or so away. And much of that time is going to be dominated by soaring living costs and struggling markets, even before you’ve factored in a potential resurgence of Covid, more threats from Vladimir Putin and whatever other curve balls the universe has in store for us in these turbulent times. Giant locusts, probably, knowing our luck.

Sarah Vine says: ‘I know Jeremy a bit, and despite what people say, he’s not a bad egg. But having him take over as Chancellor is a bit like ordering rump steak on your Ocado shop and finding they’ve substituted it with a tofu burger’

We are all about to experience a nasty dose of reality and when that happens, history shows that whoever’s in charge gets the blame. Not entirely unreasonably, if we’re honest.

Wise Tory heads know this. They know that the next two years are not really about delivering on manifesto commitments and preparing to fight an election in the hope of winning a fifth term — although they will of course go through the motions.

They know that it’s more of an exercise in damage limitation, of salvaging what they can from the wreckage and regrouping and rebuilding while the next lot inevitably smash up the metaphorical playground after they win power.

That may well explain why, despite everything, Truss clings on.

In crude terms, she is acting as a human shield. Politics is a nasty business at the best of times, ruthless when the going gets tough. She’s already shot to pieces, her colleagues will have reasoned, so she might as well provide cover until they figure out what to do next.

Trouble is, it doesn’t look like they can even manage that. Every MP and minister I speak to is racked with indecision, partly because they are in something like a state of shock — but mostly because they are searching for a solution that doesn’t exist.

There is no ‘unity candidate’, no one person who can appease all the factions. That’s just pie in the sky. Everyone — from Rishi Sunak to Penny Mordaunt to Ben Wallace — represents a red line to someone. And that’s because the Tory party, in its current incarnation, isn’t really a single party at all, but an uneasy alliance of ideological fiefdoms.

People keep talking about Britain heading the same way as Greece or Italy. But we’re already there. Politically speaking, the Tory party is Italy: a rag-tag grouping of warring factions so busy arguing and briefing against each other I wouldn’t trust them to agree what day of the week it is, let alone reach a consensus on electing a new leader.

We are all about to experience a nasty dose of reality and when that happens, history shows that whoever’s in charge gets the blame. Not entirely unreasonably, if we’re honest. That may well explain why, despite everything, Truss clings on 

Italy, of course, has practically had a new leader each year since World War II. The Tories are fast catching up. But even assuming by some miracle that they could agree on someone, it wouldn’t help in the wider country. And that’s because, understandably, people want what they voted for. Which, let’s be honest, was not this.

Take Jeremy Hunt. I know Jeremy a bit, and despite what people say, he’s not a bad egg. But having him take over as Chancellor is a bit like ordering rump steak on your Ocado shop and finding they’ve substituted it with a tofu burger.

Nothing wrong with tofu — perhaps you even quite like a bit of the stuff now and then. But tofu is not steak, whichever way you slice it.

The idea that you could vote for larger-than-life Brexiteer Boris Johnson and somehow end up with bloodless Remainer Jeremy Hunt is surely a fundamental breach of the electoral Trading Standards Act. You’re not just messing with the reputation of the Tory party; you’re messing with democracy itself.

So really, it doesn’t matter who replaces Truss. The party is so far out of whack, so far gone in terms of credibility, he or she is doomed to failure. And if that’s the case, then why bother? If you’ve already written off the car, why go to the effort of changing a tyre?

Because they owe it to the electorate, that’s why. Britain simply cannot have a lame duck Prime Minister, someone who is an embarrassment on the world stage. Which, I’m afraid, Truss is.

The idea that you could vote for larger-than-life Brexiteer Boris Johnson and somehow end up with bloodless Remainer Jeremy Hunt is surely a fundamental breach of the electoral Trading Standards Act

We are still — just about — a G7 nation, yet in the past few weeks the country has felt more like Zimbabwe.

The only way the Tories can undo that damage is to put a grown-up in charge. Someone who is a known quantity, however imperfect. What we need now is a purely bureaucratic solution, dull predictability instead of pyrotechnics.

If it were up to me, I’d choose Rishi Sunak. Not because I think he’s the best man for the job (or because my ex-husband has told me to: strange as it may seem, I do occasionally have opinions of my own). It’s because he’s the one who got us into this mess in the first place by pushing out Boris.

If he hadn’t resigned, Boris would still be in No 10. Instead, we have this shambles. And ultimately, it’s Sunak’s fault.

So he owes us and he owes the party. He broke it, he can jolly well fix it. Even if it does mean, as it undoubtedly will, his own political suicide.

Besides, Sunak was the runner-up in the original contest that gave us Truss. He lost the final membership vote, of course — but he won the MPs’ ballot by 137 to 113. And since the one thing on which everyone seems to agree is that nobody wants another contest, it stands to reason he has a strong claim.

The truth is that however much Tories like me would wish it, Boris Johnson is not going to come riding in on his white charger to save us.

Maybe one day, who knows. But for now, we have to just make do with what we’ve got. It’s a thin gruel. But realistically, what choice do we have?

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