What should Liz Truss do when she realises that no one is taking her seriously? - David Behrens

It was in 1980 that Richard Nixon turned General MacArthur’s old axiom on its head, saying of himself that “old politicians usually die but they never fade away”. But what of younger ones whose time has come and gone?

Boris Johnson never really faded; he hangs around like a relative you invited for Christmas who won’t take the hint that it’s now April. And the delusional Liz Truss is the parliamentary equivalent of Covid: just when you thought you were immune, up she pops again.

Truss has been all over the media this week because she’s promoting her prime ministerial memoir, which I haven’t read but presume it runs to around eight pages. She insists she doesn’t want to be PM again and no-one is arguing. It’s the first time she’s judged the mood of the country correctly.

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At this point, taking aim at the former barely-prime-minister is like shooting fish in a barrel. She had a 26,000 majority at the last election but she’ll be lucky to keep her seat next time and the only title for which she’s now eligible is that of Britain’s most disliked woman. It’s her or Paula Vennells.

Former prime minister Liz Truss during the launch of the Popular Conservatism movement. PIC: Victoria Jones/PA WireFormer prime minister Liz Truss during the launch of the Popular Conservatism movement. PIC: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Former prime minister Liz Truss during the launch of the Popular Conservatism movement. PIC: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

So what should she do when she finally realises no-one is taking her seriously? She’s a chartered accountant by profession but after the way she fumbled the nation’s remaining finances she’ll be lucky to get a job counting school dinner money.

In any case, her natural level is not Downing Street but middle-management in a small local authority – the sort of place where listening to no-one, falling out with colleagues and harbouring ideas above your station is par for the course.

In fact, to judge from recent figures, anyone would be glad of such a posting because the salaries on offer are out of all proportion to their worth. It’s as if they were plucked from one of Liz’s Learn-Excel-In-a-Day spreadsheets.

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They have been published by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the pressure group that compiles an annual Town Hall ‘rich list’ to show us how bad a deal we’re getting from our public bodies. That makes it something of an old chestnut – and indeed the figures are slightly disingenuous coming from an organisation that’s not too transparent about its own funding – but they are compelling reading nonetheless.

In Newcastle, for instance, the ‘director of resources’ was given a payout worth more than £400,000 when the role was declared unnecessary. And here in Yorkshire no fewer than 11 council chief executives are on a higher salary than Truss when she was prime minister.

More surprisingly still, five staff at the tiny and now disbanded Hambleton Council in the North Riding took home more than a quarter of a million pounds each in pay and benefits. Hambleton’s patch covered Northallerton, Thirsk and Stokesley – which made it a nice place to live but hardly a plum location for a go-getting careerist. But why be ambitious when you can get £429,000 just for being in charge of bin collections and car parks?

That’s what Hambleton’s top earning executive was paid in the year before his council was rolled up into the new county authority. The directors of environment and of ‘law and governance’ collected not much less, with packages that included compensation for loss of office even though they’d been offered roles at the new council. MPs who lose their seats without a job to go to will get pennies by comparison.

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Hambleton’s payouts were deemed acceptable because the new jobs on offer might not have conferred the same status. But status is relative; in the private sector anyone calling himself director of governance would be laughed out of the boardroom.

And therein lies the difference between the two worlds: one is competitive, the other cosy and complacent. They mix like oil and water and that’s why so few people float freely between them.

Actually, increasingly few public sector workers bother to drift further than their living rooms these days. Earlier this month civil servants at the Office of National Statistics voted to strike after being told to report to their desks two days a week rather than work from home.

How is their union going to enforce that: picket lines between the lounge and kitchen? And what about the ritual chants: What do we want? Another cushion! When do we want it? Now!

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Not going to the office has become so ingrained in Whitehall that there may soon be an entire Department of Working From Home with a minister all its own. And perhaps that’s where Liz Truss may yet find her calling, should she survive the election – as Secretary of State for Remote Working, attending Cabinet meetings on Zoom. How much damage can she do from there?

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