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Treatment of Liz Truss shows there is still a bias against middle-aged women

For all her weakness, it is worth remembering we have let other politicians get away with much worse

Leaving office as a political leader must be tricky. Most resign in similar fashion: weary, with a reputation diminished either by scandal, overexposure or bad governance. And then they must face a troubling question: what next? With all the baggage and fame accumulated, how best to use it? The lucrative post-dinner speaker circuit comes for many, and most write a memoir, but it seems insufficiently satisfying to those who once wielded blunt power.

Bertie Ahern went to Bougainville to oversee an independence referendum from Papua New Guinea. Enda Kenny presented an Irish language TV show about trains, like a Michael Portillo of the west of Ireland. John Major wrote a history of cricket. Theresa May dutifully stayed as a backbencher but she will retire at the next election. Boris Johnson would make a good mayor of London, again, if he could drop the ego (he won’t). As for David Cameron’s return to the front line as Rishi Sunak’s foreign secretary? Of course he couldn’t keep himself away.

The post-political career tells us a lot about the character of the politician and the nature of what they achieved – May’s duty, Ahern’s record with the peace process, Cameron’s love of the limelight. And perhaps there is no starker example than Liz Truss. She has launched her comeback as she tours to promote her new book. Ten Years to Save the West casts Truss as a luminary in “the Revolution Against Globalism, Socialism, and the Liberal Establishment”.

Now Truss is fashioning herself as an off-the-shelf new-American right style populist, with all the same anxieties about deep states and establishment cronies. It is hardly a surprise: there were hums of this attitude throughout her 49 days as prime minister. Take, for example, her contempt for the Bank of England in 2022. In her universe it was just another tool of the state that conspired to thwart her economic will. Now, in an oped in the Wall Street Journal, she likens herself to Donald Trump: he was undermined by “an administrative state” just like she was.


Truss is seeking to rescue her legacy. And she has every right to.

It is true that she was a bad prime minister. But for the sake of her legacy she is also not incorrect to say she was never given a proper try. She was too weird, maybe she didn’t have enough friends, her ideas were radical and politics trends towards the status quo. An economics professor called her an “incompetent clown” on the radio this week. Who wouldn’t seek friends on the fringes if that is how the mainstream talk of you? Truss is granted a level of hostility – in and out of office – that seems disproportionate. For all her strangeness, we ought to remember we let people get away with much worse.

For her, it wasn’t exactly a style over substance issue. The substance was a problem too. But her personal affectations made the coal-raking much worse. It is hard to avoid the sense that part of Truss’s problem is that society has a difficult time with middle-aged women, no matter its pretensions to the contrary. And we value aesthetics too highly. David Cameron, as per The Economist: “had the attributes to be an excellent prime minister ... quick wit and a smooth manner. Instead, he managed to be one of the worst.” His comeback was welcomed with open arms – Truss only with establishment derision.

And we ought to remember, Truss brought Conservative Party members with her. They elevated her to the job ahead of Rishi Sunak. She lasted in cabinet for a long time. She was enough of an operator to get big jobs and somehow mediate her transition from Remainer to post-Brexit free market ultra quite convincingly. She is not devoid of talent.

She is, however, prone to delusion. Ten Years to Save the West might be a rather lofty book title. The Rest is Politics is the second most popular politics podcast in Ireland and it features Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart picking over the great political debates of our time and no one questions their authority. Stewart couldn’t even come close to winning a leadership contest and he had to drop out of the London mayoral race. Meanwhile, the golden child of the remain movement in Great Britain is James O’Brien. The title of his book? How to be Right. Talk about lofty. Loving him and loathing her, as many seem to do, surely reveals a pretty severe ideological prejudice.

Truss shouldn’t be treated to a revisionist history: her tenure was rocky and many of her ideas poorly conceived in office, out of office and in cabinet. The pivot to right-wing US populism may not rescue her legacy. But we have to wonder why so few are willing to give her a fair hearing.