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12 April 2023

The absurdity of Liz Truss blaming high taxes on woke culture

By making wokery the bogeyman for an economic disaster she’s implicated in, Truss has given the game away.

By Jonn Elledge

Today, 12 April, Liz Truss – the Liz Truss who crashed the economy; the Liz Truss who broke the cardinal rule of modern Tory politics and let old people feel poorer – is giving a speech. In front of the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington DC – an audience that is far enough from Westminster that it may not have noticed what she did – Truss will argue that “stagnation, redistributionism and woke culture” have been “taking hold in businesses and the economy in the UK and the US”. This, she will say, has meant “more tax, more subsidies, more regulation”, as she delivers the annual Margaret Thatcher memorial lecture.

There are so many incredible things there that it makes for a surprisingly effective tribute to Britain’s shortest-serving and most catastrophic prime minister – a leader who did things to the Tory polling that Labour strategists can but dream of. For one thing, the Heritage Foundation has a history of hosting climate change-deniers, promoting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and making claims of voter fraud that have been proved inaccurate. Its politics makes Truss look like a Liberal Democrat (as, of course, she once was). It makes sense, I suppose, in that it’s one of the few rooms in the global politics bubble she won’t be laughed out of, but is this where she’s making her big comeback? Really

(Mind you, I’d like to know how exactly her host will describe her in its introduction. Acknowledging the brevity of her tenure might raise some tricky questions.)

It is mind-blowing how entirely and literally shameless this is. Most of us feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment if we, say, smash a glass in a pub. Truss smashed the entire economy, and her party’s electoral prospects to boot, yet she’s not only able to show her face in public, she’s giving smiley speeches implying it was all the fault of someone who cares about racism and pronouns. At least when John Profumo disgraced himself he spent the next few decades doing charity work.

Then there’s the folly of her actual argument. “At the turn of the millennium,” it is reported she plans to say, “the state was spending 29 per cent and 36 per cent of national income in the US and UK, respectively. Today, those figures are 35 per cent and 47 per cent.” What strikes me about those numbers is that, while the direction of travel is the same, there’s quite a gulf between the US and the UK there. Which suggests there could be some important differences between the two countries.

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What that difference might be is hinted at by the line: “Real incomes haven’t increased significantly since the financial crisis.” But this is not true of the US, or indeed most of the developed world: it’s a UK-specific problem. Which party has been in power in the UK for the majority of the years since the 2008 crash? What economic strategy does it espouse? How sick does the patient have to get before you change the treatment, exactly? 

How Liz of the 49 Days plans to blame all this on wokery is not actually clear from the pre-briefed extracts. But it doesn’t really matter: by including wokery in her list of culprits, by tying it so closely to a British economic disaster for which it can’t plausibly be blamed but in which she, personally, is implicated, Truss has accidentally given the game away. “Woke” is an empty concept, a bogeyman that exists to shift the blame and distract from the right’s own failures. Once upon a time, when Tory ideology didn’t work, they blamed Brussels; now they blame the woke. It’s good that someone who failed so catastrophically as prime minister has made such a useful contribution after all.

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[See also: Liz Truss’s essay shows she is as deluded as ever]

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