Is Liz Truss ever going to be prime minister? Es no, Derecha? Eso es bastante definitivo. I know she’s foreign secretary and statistically speaking that shortens the odds considerably compared with a general member of the public but, looked at another way, it’s binary: you’re either someone who is going to be prime minister one day or you’re not. The overwhelming majority of people aren’t and she’s one of them. There’s no Tory leadership election I can imagine that wouldn’t be won by someone else.
quiero decir, I suppose some terrorists might fire a rocket at the cabinet room when Liz is in the loo. Even then, she’d only be acting prime minister for a few weeks of being asked “When are you calling a leadership election?” and “Why didn’t you go before the meeting?” plus maybe a lone photo op with Justin Trudeau on his way to Brussels, and then she’d lose to Robert Jenrick or Theresa May or the ghost of Michael Gove.
So I really think we, and she, can rule it out. She must realise that. I really hope she does because otherwise she’s delusional. She is literally more likely to win Estrictamente. She’s foreign secretary, and that is a very important job, but it is the most important job she will ever have. It is not a springboard or staging post, it is the destination of her political journey. So she might as well set the politics aside and try to do the job as well as she can.
Desafortunadamente, that doesn’t seem to be her approach. A key sign of this is her handling of the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen who is being held hostage in Iran on trumped-up charges. She’s been there since 2016 y su esposo, Richard Ratcliffe, is currently camped outside the Foreign Office on hunger strike in his desperation for the British government to bring her home to him and their seven-year-old daughter.
Ratcliffe had a meeting with Truss last week at which she expressed her sympathies but didn’t resolve to do much else. A few hours later, she tweeted merrily, amid a flurry of emoticons, on the subject of international travel opening up, that “family and friends can reunite”, cual, as well as being staggeringly insensitive, doesn’t suggest that the Ratcliffes’ horrendous situation had particularly touched her. Her next tweet was something sabre-rattly about summoning the French ambassador over that fatuous fishing row with which the governments in London and Paris are courting the votes of their respective countries’ xenophobes.
“But what can she do?” you might ask. One thing she can do is get Britain to pay Iran back the £400m the government acknowledges it owes, that the international court in The Hague has ruled that it owes and that has, according to the Ratcliffes’ lawyers, been explicitly linked by the Iranian judiciary to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fate. Todavía, it’s not a ransom, it’s a debt. There’s no shame in paying it, regardless of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation. The shame is in not paying it.
I understand Truss can’t just issue the cheque herself. She’d need to persuade the MoD (which owes it) y el tesoro, but as foreign secretary sums of that magnitude are within her power. I believe she could do it if she wanted to.
But it’s not what a politician would do. Whether or not the money gets paid, the astute political move is to avoid being the one who agrees to pay it. The Ratcliffes present an awkward problem. Basic political strategy, the techniques that have resulted in Truss landing her current exalted post, dictates that she should manoeuvre herself away from such problems and towards more popular issues such as foreign holidays and shouting at the French. No pictures were published of her encounter with Ratcliffe, though she certainly doesn’t mind a photo and was hailed last month as “a style influencer” by the Times. But she’d rather be snapped on the deck of an aircraft carrier or jogging across Brooklyn Bridge than telling a heartbroken and starving man that she’s got another meeting in five minutes.
Every politician whose desk the Ratcliffes’ file has crossed has done the same thing. They’ve made the right noises and shunted the issue away, somehow managing to close their minds to the protracted torment that they’re causing an innocent family. They’ve all prioritised the protection of their careers over the childhood of a little girl whom many of them have met. I suppose that’s the kind of unsentimental mettle it takes to prosper in Britain’s political system. Matt Hancock’s wife knows what I’m talking about.
But if Truss could stop and think for a moment, she’d realise that, for her, there’s no point in doing that any more. She has reached her zenith. So she can stop playing the game and do what she thinks is right. But can she remember what that is? Have all such thoughts been swept away by the exigencies of her career? Do the skills required to get the job preclude those required to do it well? Is Britain like a company that appoints its chief electrician based on who is best at plumbing? They spend their lives climbing the greasy pipe and end up at the top perplexedly contemplating an enormous fuse board while holding a spanner.
Our system uses the Ratcliffes. Their plight is quite handy. Politicians can show their support and look good doing it. Jeremy Hunt did that last week, despite being one of the foreign secretaries who previously failed to solve the problem. That’s quite a clever trick to pull off – I don’t fancy Truss’s chances in a leadership election against him.
So why not try to get a few things done as foreign secretary and give up on the repositioning, the image projection, the static affectation of dynamism? The Ratcliffes’ problem can be resolved. Iran would let her go, but the right conversations need to be had in the right way and a debt needs to be paid and it has to actually happen, not merely be “moved towards”. This will be a culture shock for Truss. It will feel risky. But the real risk, if she doesn’t do it, is that she’ll have somehow become foreign secretary for no reason at all.