In four years as a councillor in Greenwich, no one expressed surprise that Liz Truss failed to rise beyond the Opposition backbenches.
Elected in 2006, she managed to speak twice in the Council Chamber across her four-year term of office. The Conservatives emerged from the election in buoyant mood, increasing their representation from just under 1 in 6 councillors to 1 in 4.
The Conservatives looked forward to a more robust engagement in Council and across the various bodies on which we served. The mood was short-lived. A former leader told me the new group of thirteen had split 7:6 right down the middle. And the reason was Liz Truss.
“She’s mad”, he told me. “She doesn’t listen, she’s rude and she thinks she knows it all”. As such, the Opposition front bench of Greenwich Council remained beyond her reach.
Her term of office proceeded with her increasingly described as ‘aloof’, ‘rude’ and ‘ignorant’. What we saw was a closed mind, where fact or reality were not permitted to intrude on a predetermined thought. A fact was an inconvenience at which she seemed to take offence.
The most memorable of her contributions was to argue that all secondary schools in London should be restricted to four forms of entry (120 children in four classes per year).
While this would make schools, although not class sizes, smaller it would prevent them from offering a full curriculum to children. Beyond this inconvenience, there was no thought as to how to acquire the hugely expensive land in the capital, let alone pay for it.
During her Conservative leadership bid, she attempted to attack her school in Leeds for giving her a poor education. Yet it got her to Oxford. I do wonder if young Elizabeth suffered some psychological episode of being overwhelmed by the transfer to ‘big school’.
In the twelve years since she departed local government, nothing has happened to persuade me, or any of my former colleagues, that our Conservative opponents missed a talent within their ranks.
From the distance from which I now observe her, there seems to have been little in the way of personal or intellectual development. As Abraham Lincoln once observed in a time before women had the vote,
“…if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.
I have known both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. I was asked upon her succession whether she’d be better than Johnson. Many were surprised when I said not.
In psychology, there are perceived to be four stages of competence. Johnson took the country down towards the penultimate stage, known as ‘conscience incompetence’.
But the people who fall into this category have a chance because there is some self-awareness of what they don’t know. Johnson’s term as Mayor of London is viewed by many as reasonably successful. Almost all would agree this was because Eddie Lister ran City Hall for him and allowed him to float above the detail.
His Downing Street tragedy was that Dominic Cummings was no Eddie Lister.
With Liz Truss we hit the bottom of the four stages of competence. What is understood as ‘unconscious incompetence’.
She will think herself competent and her thoughts flawless. Unlike Johnson, she is not aware of her own incompetence. We have already seen where this is likely to lead.
Self-awareness, empathy and understanding are all lacking. This is why she looks like a character from Watership Down in her interviews. Any question which hints that she may have got something wrong will be met with startled amazement.
Her lack of personal skills means she cannot think on her feet and so will do whatever she thinks is necessary to extract herself from an uncomfortable position. She will hesitate, block or deny what she previously said.
Sometimes as the Chancellor has already found out, it will not be above her to throw a colleague ‘under the bus’. It’s going to get very crowded under that bus!