Ten Years to Save the West by Liz Truss review – economical with the truth about her own downfall

<span>Liz Truss walks towards her family on her last day as prime minister, 25 October 2022.</span><span>Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters</span>
Liz Truss walks towards her family on her last day as prime minister, 25 October 2022.Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Three people, none of them the author, emerge from this book looking prophetic. One is her constituency agent in Norfolk. Told she is thinking about running for the Tory leadership, he tells Liz Truss it would be for the best if she lost. Another is her husband, Hugh. He faithfully backs the tilt at No 10, but predicts that her prime ministership will “all end in tears”. The third prescient person is the late queen, who concludes the formalities appointing Truss as prime minister with the warning: “Pace yourself.”

“Maybe I should have listened,” muses the author, one of the very few acknowledgments she offers to the reader that she might have got the odd thing wrong.

The ostensible purpose of this book is to help those of her rightwing persuasion to “heed the warnings of what I saw happening and learn the lessons of the battle that I lost”. Don’t presume that the warning she wants to impart is not to be such a gobsmackingly dreadful prime minister that you are vanquished by a supermarket lettuce. She wants us to be very clear who is to blame for her calamitous seven-week prime ministership, the shortest tenancy at No 10 in our history, and that is everyone but herself. For starters, we treat prime ministers hideously. The pay is rubbish and the living quarters at No 10 would not “be rated well on Airbnb”. While at No 10, her daughters had the opportunity to visit the nuclear bunker while their mum was nuking the British economy. The abbreviated sojourn in Downing Street was otherwise a source of constant disappointment to Truss.

The chimes of the clock on Horse Guards – there’s more than one cri de coeur about this – kept her awake at night

The prime ministerial flat was “infested with fleas”, a bequest, she suggests, of Dilyn, the Johnsons’ dog. Most of the furniture had been removed with its previous occupants and the wallpaper wasn’t golden after all. Getting an Ocado delivery was a pain in the proverbial. The chimes of the clock on Horse Guards – there’s more than one cri de coeur about this – kept her awake at night. “I was effectively a prisoner” because of the security at No 10. The Downing Street One also complains: “Despite now being one of the most photographed people in the country, I had to organise my own hair and makeup appointments.” I don’t recall Margaret Thatcher, whom she claims as a heroine, ever moaning about that. Truss’s whingeing is at its most unedifying when she is informed of the death of the queen and realises this will require a response from the prime minister that will take her out of “my comfort zone”. She wails: “In a state of shock, I found myself thinking: Why me? Why now?” Her italics.

The paucity of the self-reflection and the intensity of the self-pity are even more evident when we get to the maxi-disaster of the “mini-budget”, the self-detonating experiment with the economy that sent markets into turmoil and borrowing costs soaring while crashing sterling and the Tory poll rating. Her account of this catastrophe is a tangle of contradictions. On the one hand, she tells us that she and her ideological soulmate and chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, had been planning an event like this for years in the conviction that fiscal shock and awe was the only way to wrest Britain out of decline. On the other, she says it all had to be done in a terrific rush without adequate support or time to think about “how to sell” their wheezes to the markets and the media. One of her unconsciously hilarious laments is that there was “a distinct shortage of expert voices supporting our agenda”. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that this might have been because it was a really bad idea. On her telling, she was a brave woman of principle doing what had to be done to rescue Britain – only to be sabotaged by a cabal of malign actors in the “ruthless” establishment. Here, she goes the full Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo. This section of the book ought to be entitled: “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.”

Related: ‘She still carries an aura of spectacular failure’: why hasn’t Liz Truss gone away?

The alleged architects of her downfall included the “anti-growth coalition”, “the global left”, Joe Biden, the IMF and soppy Tories who are “Cinos” (Conservatives in name only). The finger of blame is also pointed at Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak and all the other treacherous chickens in her party who failed to offer the support she needed. The prime culprits were the “three-headed hydra” of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the Treasury and the Bank of England, which, she claims, failed to alert her that the mini-budget would explode in her face and, once the crisis broke, then schemed to make it worse. It is fair to say that she didn’t receive any warning from the OBR. That was because she and her chancellor refused to give the budget scrutineers any advance sight of the disaster they had in the works. The daringly dud duo of Downing Street had also sacked the top civil servant at the Treasury and made clear their contempt for the judgment of the Bank. The most alarming revelation in this book is that the market meltdown in the autumn of 2022, horrendous as it was, could have been even more destructive had Truss followed her instinctive desire to be rid of invigilation by the OBR altogether by abolishing it. She also dreamed of installing “new senior leaders” at the Bank – by which she has to mean firing the governor.

Other than as a cautionary tale about hubristic zealotry, I doubt many people want to relive the reign of Mad Queen Liz and even fewer will want to hear her rant to them that none of it was her fault. So who on earth is this book intended for? Some argue that it is really aimed at finding an audience for Truss among the Trumpite right in the US, where it is being concurrently published and she is doing a lot of events. The copious number of references to Donald Trump, whom she wants to see back in the White House, suggest that this is made for the US. So does a portentously apocalyptic title designed to appeal to the paranoid right. If the west does indeed need saving, the record suggests it would have a better chance of survival under the leadership of a leafy green vegetable than in the hands of Liz Truss

  • Andrew Rawnsley is the Chief Political Commentator of the Observer

  • Ten Years to Save the West: Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room by Liz Truss is published by Backbite (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply