On October 14, after firing her chancellor and reversing a mini-budget so disastrous that it took Britain to the very brink of ruin, Prime Minister Liz Truss gave a short and alarmingly robotic press conference. One of the few questions she took was from The Sun’s political editor, Harry Cole. A man who, at the best of times, looks at least a decade older than his 36 years, Cole seemed even more miserable and exhausted than usual. “You and the chancellor—the ex-chancellor—designed this budget together, in lockstep, we’re told, at times in secret,” he huffed at Truss. “He has to go because of the fallout from it. How come you get to stay?”
The reason for this palpable misery might have been because Cole, like the rest of the country, had just witnessed the unedifying sight of a prime minister in full death rattle. But perhaps something else was at play.
Perhaps it was because Cole had just spent the last few months co-authoring a book about Truss, entitled Out of the Blue: The Inside Story of Liz Truss and Her Astonishing Rise to Power, that wasn’t set to be published until December. The book’s increasingly microscopic shelf life instantly became the punch line to a million jokes. Opposition leader Keir Starmer even taunted Truss with it during Prime Minister’s Questions, hooting, “Apparently, it’s going to be out by Christmas. Is that the release date or the title?” Suddenly Cole’s gloom became perfectly understandable. You’d look cheesed off, too, if you knew that your masterpiece was about to be pulped into toilet paper.
But the world of publishing cares not for political inconvenience, and on Tuesday (a week after Truss left Downing Street for good) the book found itself being rush-released into existence, now bearing the subtitle “The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss.” Out of the Blue is currently available only as an e-book, which is fortunate because the last few chapters were re-written in such a hurry that readers otherwise might have found themselves covered in wet ink.
Even before Truss self-immolated so spectacularly, this was destined to be a quick turnaround job. Just last week, in an article for The Spectator, Cole’s co-author, James Heale, revealed that the pair only signed their contract in August. Even working on the assumption that Truss wouldn’t implode at the first opportunity, this still meant writing a book in just two months. The tight deadline is acknowledged right up top, with the introduction shrugging, “We decided to write this book quickly, so those of you expecting Robert Caro will be disappointed.”
The book’s increasingly microscopic shelf life instantly became the punch line to a million jokes.
The haste shows. While Out of the Blue is very clear on what Truss has done—galloping through her youthful conversion from the left to the right, her fight to be selected as an M.P., her seemingly unstoppable rise through the Cabinet—it fails to perform the one thing that good political biographies should do. At no point does it manage to put Liz Truss into any sort of satisfying context.
The book repeatedly treats us to other people’s impressions of Truss. Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings pops up to call her “mad as a box of snakes” and “about as close to properly crackers as anybody I’ve met in Parliament.” A critical text Truss receives from backbencher Richard Drax after a televised debate reads, “‘u r too wooden … no humanity there.… U r a nice looking lady but u look far too serious.” Even Truss does a pretty good job of describing herself, at one stage informing a visitor to her home that “I think I would be a very good Prime Minister, there are just two problems: I am weird and I don’t have any friends.”
We also discover what drives her. On the basis of this book, her motivations appear to be a toxic mixture of coffee and Instagram. Her love of the latter is already very well documented. Truss has long made use of a personal photographer to follow her around, capturing such moments as her walking across a road in Japan, or riding a tank through Estonia like a conquering hero.
The photography obsession quickly grew out of hand—in Truss’s first five months as foreign secretary, The Guardian reported, her team uploaded more than 700 pictures of her to the government’s Flickr account, one for every five hours of her term—but it’s nothing compared with her insatiable hunger for coffee.
On the day of the Brexit deal, according to the book, “Truss had been up literally all night, fuelled on six expressos and a few glasses of Australian white wine.” On another occasion she “stayed up ‘knocking back espressos’ until 3 a.m. in the bar of the hotel.” A former aide, Kirsty Buchanan, claims that “she drinks about 42,000 espressos a day.” A meeting with a local dignitary is scuppered because “she’d had so much coffee and just wasn’t interested in meeting the ambassador.”
And then there is her “rider.” That’s the list of requests that traveling rock stars are known for. As though it weren’t already slightly mortifying for a public servant to have a rider, Truss’s demands were hilariously specific to boot. Her requests included “double espressos served in a flat-white-sized takeaway cup,” “no big-brand coffee,” “no pre-made or plastic-packed sandwiches,” and “absolutely no mayonnaise on anything, ever.”
None of this paints a particularly flattering picture of Truss, a woman who at one point zones out of a briefing because she’s busy on social media. But nor does it get to the heart of who she actually is. This seems to be as much Truss’s fault as the authors’. A strange mix of the ambitious and the instantly forgettable, Truss comes across as a figure who is desperate to make an impact, only to find herself constantly overshadowed by bigger personalities. One of the more telling passages comes during the 2016 Conservative Party Conference. A delegate approaches Truss at the bar one evening, overjoyed that he has bumped into an old schoolmate. “Well, what do you do now?” he drunkenly asks her. Her slightly hurt reply? “I’m the Lord Chancellor.”
“I think I would be a very good Prime Minister, there are just two problems: I am weird and I don’t have any friends.”
Had it been written with the benefit of hindsight, this book could have been a steady, measured exploration of six terrible weeks when the Conservative Party blew a gaping hole in Britain’s chest and watched it bleed out in the name of self-preservation. As short as it was, Truss’s tenure as P.M. was historically awful, and it deserves to be unpacked properly. But here, all of this stuff, the panic and the terror and the abject ineptitude, is hammered out in a few bolted-on chapters at the end. Again, no fault of the authors—who were merely trying to chuck out a Christmas book for the party faithful—but it is impossible to write a proper history of the hand grenade while one is currently going off in your face.
There is a book to be written about Truss, and Brexit, and this whole mad raging whirlpool that the U.K. currently finds itself stuck in. But it shouldn’t be written until the dust has settled and the panic attacks have subsided. In other words, maybe it would be better to wait for Robert Caro’s version.
To hear Stuart Heritage reveal more about his story, listen to him on AIR MAIL’s Morning Meeting podcast
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the author of Bedtime Stories for Worried Liberals