The new leader of the Conservative Party trotted on stage, heels clicking, eyes twinkling, grin as wide as a Euromillions winner. She was draped in imperial purple, like a Roman empress – with a pair of sparkly earrings that glistened in the blaze of the spotlights.
Surveying her audience with an air of wonder, Liz Truss let slip a giddy chuckle. If she was trying to milk the moment, you could hardly blame her. She would now be Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury. Good God, she’d done it!
It was ‘an honour’, she said, to be selected to lead ‘the greatest party on earth’. A relief, too. Truss admitted drily that the past seven weeks had amounted to ‘one of the longest job interviews in history’. Say that again: the SAS recruitment process is less gruelling.
Yesterday’s coronation took place at the QE II Centre, that hulking mass of granite and glass that was somehow permitted to be built in the shadow of Westminster Abbey.
Liz Truss trotted on stage, heels clicking, eyes twinkling, grin as wide as a Euromillions winner
On the tiny lawn out front, the world’s media had descended. And where the camera crews go, so does every two-bit attention-seeker and weirdo in London: climate-change doomsayers, anti-Brexit loons. One elderly gentleman brandishing a tannoy was loudly proclaiming that the messiah would soon return. I don’t think he meant Boris.
Inside, the centre heaved with rubber-necking MPs and Sloaney spads jostling to catch the eye of their new leader. The atmosphere was drinks-partyish. On the front row, I spotted the Trussite Kwasi Kwarteng getting his ear chewed off by 1922 Committee treasurer Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. Should Kwasi become chancellor as expected, he will need to become more adept at batting away such irksome earwiggers.
Up stepped 1922 Committee chief Sir Graham Brady, rocking back and forth on his brogues, clutching the result.
Truss was sitting next to her husband Hugh O’Leary – who looked chuffed to be there. When her win was announced, Hugh beamed at her, she grinned
There was a bit of Oscar-night anticipation as he opened the envelope to announce the result. Just over 81,000 votes for Truss and 60,000-odd for Rishi Sunak: closer than many expected, but the announcement was met with little surprise.
The final result had never been in doubt. You could have got a better price on Boris relaunching himself as a ballerina than on Rishi emerging triumphant.
Truss was sitting next to her husband Hugh O’Leary – who looked chuffed to be there. When her win was announced, Hugh beamed at her, she grinned – and then grabbed her speech, which he had been holding. He patted her on the back.
Quick-as-a-flash, the victor was up on her feet, heading for the stage without so much as a conciliatory handshake for her vanquished opponent. Intentional?
More likely Truss simply forgot to grasp his paw, with all that raw adrenaline coursing through her arteries. Rishi clapped graciously – but beneath that pearly-fanged smile, one detected a pride badly wounded.
Truss kissed Brady on both cheeks, and warmly patted him on the shoulder as she soaked up the applause. She quickly found space to mention her nearest and dearest, thanking ‘my family, my friends, my political colleagues and all of those who helped in this campaign’.
Truss quickly found space to mention her nearest and dearest, thanking ‘my family, my friends, my political colleagues and all of those who helped in this campaign’
But there was no celebratory onstage snog for Liz ‘n’ Hugh, like David Cameron with wife Samantha in 2005. Truss spoke only for a few minutes, aiming her few remarks directly at the cameras and addressing the country – that old trick of Nick Clegg’s. Even Liz’s most fervent supporter would admit she is no orator – nor has she mastered the Johnsonian gag or his sense of comic timing. Sentences were punctuated by awkward Pinteresque pauses.
Doubtless she was saving her choicest cuts for when she walks through that imposing black door on Downing Street this afternoon.
She gave the customary burble about how she had ‘campaigned as a Conservative and will govern as a Conservative’ and a Blairesque pledge to ‘deliver, deliver, deliver’.
There was a gushy tribute to ‘my friend’ Boris. Notice how Boris was her friend, not Rishi’s. I’m not sure Sunak’s betrayal of his old boss was something his campaign ever really overcame.
She described her soon-to-be-predecessor as being admired ‘from Kyiv to Carlisle’. That was supposed to be the audience’s cue to applaud, which – thank goodness – they eventually did.
The biggest cheer came at the end when she promised to lead her party to a ‘great victory’ in 2024. No chance of a snap election in that case – and thank goodness for that.
After the speech, she slipped away for a celebratory lunch – before the hard work began. We were told the meal would be a quiet affair with a few trusted aides. The last of those for a while, I’d bet.