ANALYSIS: There's one thing consistent about Liz Truss – her inconsistency

Liz Truss arrives at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) after winning the Tory leadership election. Picture by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
Liz Truss arrives at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) after winning the Tory leadership election. Picture by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

OPINION in the north on the new British prime minister appears divided between those who think she has limited abilities and those who think she’s completely useless. In the decade since her ministerial career began, you’d be severely challenged to find one instance where what Liz Truss said was in any way insightful or inspirational. Instead, we’ve had stilted speeches that verged on the comedic, bewildering vagueness, eye-rolling blandness and an incredible ideological volte face that has seen her move from avowed Remainer to ally of the European Research Group.

Such inconsistency rarely instils public confidence and it also makes it difficult to plot the expected course of the forthcoming Truss administration. In the leadership campaign, she cosied up to the Conservative right, taking aim at all things ‘woke’ and pledging to cut taxes. Cast by herself and supporters as a 21st century Margaret Thatcher, the comparison appears to have little substance, given the single-mindedness and unwavering determination of Truss’s Tory forebear. Unlike the late and widely loathed MP for Finchley, the new prime minister’s previous record is that of an ideological chameleon, changing her political direction on a whim or seemingly for personal gain.

She inherits a ‘kingdom’ from Boris Johnson that is united in name only. The terminal fallout from Brexit, self-serving sentiment and sleaze against the background of a deepening cost of living crisis have served to fuel nationalism of all shades and increasingly disillusioned those voters in the Red Wall whose support ensured a third Tory term on the trot. Any notion that her tenure will bring stability, never mind prosperity, appears misplaced.

The priorities among the mounting challenges that await the new prime minister will largely depend on your economic status and outlook. For the Tory rank and file, her first aim must be unite and revitalise a party that has been on the back foot for months, if not years. While on paper this is about internal housekeeping, it’s likely to play out in public as the growing media obsession with personality politics helps distract from the real tasks in hand.

We can expect plenty of hard talk and rousing rhetoric, coupled with leaks to a sympathetic press that seek to create an image of a formidable leader who knows exactly what she’s doing. The reality will almost certainly be the opposite, a shambolic continuity Boris-type administration that lurches from one crisis to the next and invents ill-thought-out, hare brained policies to cover for its missteps, lack of strategy and incoherence.

While Ms Truss has signalled her intention to deal immediately with soaring energy costs, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything especially radical that will lift the collective sense of woe that’s descending ahead of winter. She’s also pledged to look at energy policy in the long term, which is likely a euphemism for pausing decarbonisation and increasing nuclear capacity. However, given the longevity of her immediate predecessors, it’s moot whether she’s be around long enough to fulfil any promises beyond the short-to-medium term.

In regards to the wider cost of living crisis, the Tory leader’s solution appears to lie in the myth that a rising tide lifts all boats. The belief that cutting taxes and regulations will help the more vulnerable is arguably Truss at her most Thatcherite. She’s just about old enough to recall the misery and division of the 1980s but it doesn’t seem to have quelled her appetite for rewarding the rich while squeezing the poor.

Then there’s the Northern Ireland protocol, mentions of which were conspicuously absent from the new prime minister’s acceptance speech. However, it will inevitably dominate any conversations she has with political representatives of all hues from this side of the Irish Sea. Ms Truss’s sympathies appear to lie squarely with unionists, who are unhappy with the outworkings of the deal Boris Johnson agreed with Brussels after giving personal pledges that there be no customs border between the north and Britain. The faith the DUP and its allies in the Orange Order are putting in Liz Truss has echoes of the fawning deference they showed to her predecessor and while the relationship is likely to appear fruitful initially, it could sour very quickly when Washington reminds the new prime minister who her real special relationship is with.

The protocol, by another name or in a slightly different format, is destined to remain, while the British government’s legislation aimed at disapplying elements of the post-Brexit trade arrangements is going to take months to move through the House of Lords, from where it is expected to emerge somewhat watered down. Such an outcome does not bode well for a speedy return to Stormont but similarly the prospect of another assembly election won’t be welcomed by the DUP, despite what they may say publicly. As for the threat to trigger Article 16, it isn’t quite the nuclear option it’s often portrayed as, and while far from ideal in terms of bringing political stability back to Stormont, it can at least be regarded as playing within the rules, rather than acting unilaterally and breaking international law.

But for now let’s wait and see what happens – if there's one thing consistent about Liz Truss, it's her inconsistency.