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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: Liz Truss’s cabinet will be a democratic disaster

Truss is preparing to form a cabinet filled with failures, opportunists and third-raters while we watch on helplessly

Image: The New European

Despite Boris Johnson’s best efforts, the fact that he will shortly be leaving Downing Street indicates that amid all the other pressures on our unwritten constitution, the notion of cabinet government as a central tenet just about held.

It was the resignations of Rishi Sunak as chancellor and Sajid Javid as health secretary that provided the tipping-point moment from which there was no return for the lying crook who had somehow inveigled himself into the most important job in the country. It underlined that no matter how much power a rogue prime minister might accrue, even a cabinet as weak and untalented as the one he appointed can have a significant impact.

Though he was doing the country a service in bringing down the worst PM in our history, Sunak may well have paid a price for it with the tiny electorate of Tory Party members deciding who between him and Liz Truss should be prime minister for all of us. His perceived disloyalty is one of the reasons she is going to win, a thought that seems to excite some Tory members who have bought the Thatcher tribute act guff, a few self-motivated editors and media owners, a few MPs, among them those who think she will give them ministerial jobs, and pretty much nobody else.

I have been around long enough to know that there will be more inaccurate than accurate stories about planned ministerial appointments, but if some of the most commonly reported suggestions are true, then it really could be quite soon that we will have to acknowledge that Johnson had only the second-worst cabinet of all time.

Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor. Perhaps I was spoilt having worked alongside someone as intellectually bright and relentlessly restless as Gordon Brown for so long, but I like my chancellors to be really, really clever and really, really hard-working. Kwarteng (another Old Etonian, incidentally) has never struck me as that.

James Cleverly as Truss’s successor as foreign secretary. Again the job requires brains, breadth and reach, and these have not been overly evident from Mr Cleverly. Of course Truss’s not-very-clever questioning of whether President Macron was friend or foe suggests she doesn’t exactly take diplomacy and foreign policy seriously, which will be confirmed if the appointment of her ill-named colleague goes ahead.

Even worse though, the suggestion that Suella Braverman might be home secretary. Braverman as attorney general has defended law-breaking at home and abroad. It seems odd therefore to put her in charge of law and order. And for absolute absurdity, can anything match the reported plan to put Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of levelling up?

Then we keep reading that not just failed leader Iain Duncan-Smith, but also failed Welsh secretary John Redwood are being lined up for ministerial appointments, alongside failed Brexit negotiator “Lord” David Frost, whose rise to eminence as some kind of Tory power-player is an indication of a party and broader political culture gone very badly wrong.

I can’t really put it any better than the journalist and author Will Hutton’s tweet: “It’s extraordinary. We watch on helplessly as Truss prepares to form a cabinet populated by misfits, failures, ideologues, third-raters and opportunists to manage one of the greatest economic and social emergencies since 1945. A titanic constitutional and democratic failure.” Indeed it is.

A senior official in the Singapore government, passing through London last week, became the latest of many foreigners to speak to me about what is happening to UK politics in the tone of voice normally reserved for the loss of a loved one.

“It is just so, so sad,” he said. “We used to look at Britain as a kind of role model. We’ve always followed your politics closely, and we still do, but it is for the wrong reasons. We used to follow it with respect and admiration, but now…” the shrug said it all.

I recorded last week’s The Rest Is Politics podcast after swimming in an Alpine lake, a few miles beyond Alpe d’Huez, which cyclists among you will know as one of the great Tour de France climbs. The water was cool, fresh and clean, and with our rivers and seas back home being pumped full of raw sewage, it seemed relevant and apposite to point out the contrast.

Rory Stewart, perhaps thinking I am too prone to say how marvellous things are outside Tory Britain compared with the post-Brexit shitshow, went into his former Penrith MP mode and said he was sure that if I headed to the Lake District, I would find water just as cool, fresh and clean, in a setting every bit as beautiful as Alpe d’Huez. And yes, having swum last autumn in Lake Windermere, I agreed with him.

However, back home a few days later, I switched on the radio and the very first thing I heard was an interview with a man who sounded close to tears as he described the damage sewage was doing to Lake Windermere, to wildlife and to human health. Then on came the environment secretary, George Eustice, with one of the most remarkable pieces of rebuttal communications I have ever heard, namely that brown stuff floating by you in the water is less dangerous than the grey stuff.

I cannot think of any other country in the developed world that would allow a lake as wonderful as Windermere to be turned into a cesspit, and have a government that sought to defend it, rather than fix it.

“Solar panel sales boom as energy prices soar”, ran the BBC headline, suggesting British people and British business are a little more intelligent and forward-thinking than Lishi Trunak.

The stand-out piece for me in last week’s TNE was Paul Mason’s analysis of the comments made by Trunak in their golf club bore tours about their seeming loathing of one of the more obvious ways to save the planet. It suggests that the virus of post-truth populism that gave us Brexit and Johnson as prime minister has got worse, if anything, over the course of the Tory leadership election.

Johnson was a symptom as well as a cause. I won’t be able to celebrate his departure properly until not just he, but the politics he represents, are defeated.

My ABBA fandom, renewed and refreshed by their new album and the incredible ABBA Voyage show, has been noted beyond our own shores, and last week I was asked by a German journalist, exploring the Swedish band’s continuing cultural success, to name my top five ABBA songs. I found this so hard to do, and ended up asking to be allowed 10.

So here they are: The Winner Takes It All. Thank You For The Music. Andante, Andante (not the best known maybe, but possibly the most overwhelmingly romantic). Super Trouper (love the Glasgow shout-out, and surprised it is not part of the Voyage spectacular). Fernando. Chiquitita. I Have A Dream. Lay All Your Love On Me. Waterloo, of course, as the one with which they exploded into our lives and made 1974 a great year for the world.

But I also wanted one from the new album, and when you see the avatars perform I Still Have Faith In You, you realise that it is a song about ABBA, and all their doubts about whether they still had it in them, now in their 70s, to make great music.

And they do.

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