Lettuce remember: One year on, Liz Truss’ 9 wildest moments

LONDON — Oh what fun we had!

It’s a year to the day since Liz Truss became Britain’s prime minister, kicking off the wildest and shortest-ever tenure of a U.K. leader.

As her successor (and former rival) Rishi Sunak studiously plods on with the business of government, Truss has been busy defending her record and even plans a big speech later this month addressing the economic chaos that swiftly called time on her administration. The opposition Labour Party’s keen to remind voters of all that too, funnily enough.

Take a walk down memory lane as POLITICO runs through nine of the most memorable moments from the Truss premiership.

1) Truss enters Downing Street for glorious reign

What happened: Having trounced her hopeless rival Sunak (whatever happened to that guy??) after a hard-fought contest to win over Conservative members, Britain’s former foreign secretary had a spring in her step as she got going.

Stood on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street a year ago this week, Truss vowed to “tackle the issues that are holding Britain back,” and hinted at the unashamedly pro-growth agenda that would be her undoing.

Liz Truss and husband Hugh O’Leary pose outside number 10 Downing Street on September 6, 2022 | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“We shouldn’t be daunted by the challenges we face,” Truss confidently declared, before being daunted by the challenges she faced.

One year on: In retrospect, this was basically as good as it got for Truss.

2) Truss totally smashes the orthodoxy

What happened: Two days after taking office, Truss made her mark on a civil service machine she’d long railed against as bloated and risk-averse by sacking Tom Scholar, the long-serving top official at Britain’s powerful finance ministry, the Treasury.

Truss was no fan of what she called “Treasury orthodoxy,” and Scholar was basically as orthodox as they come. Fortunately for Truss, his deep knowledge of financial markets, government spending and complex departments would in no way be needed in the weeks to come.

One year on: Scholar is struggling to get by on a bumper civil service severance payout of £335,000 (take that, wasteful public spending!). The ex-Treasury bigwig was also given an award for “exemplary” public service as 2022 drew to a close, in what looked a bit like brazen trolling from Truss’ successor Sunak.

3) Oh yeah, the Queen died

What happened: Look, no one is arguing this bit is Truss’ fault. But let’s just say Truss probably didn’t have the death of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch in the old week one comms strategy.

Before she’d even had time to start the onboarding Powerpoints, Truss had to snap into gear and oversee the carefully orchestrated plan for handling the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Ten days of national mourning threw plans for a rapid-fire economic shake-up into disarray, and left Truss unable to announce any new policies or properly take the fight to Labour.

Still, Twitter got to have fun at least, merrily sharing a resurfaced video of Truss denouncing the monarchy in her university student days. We each mourn in our own way.

One year on: Charles is the king, Rishi Sunak is the prime minister, and the Truss administration lives on forever in our hearts.

4) The mini budget goes really well

What happened: What’s a “mini budget,” you ask? It’s a bit like a normal government tax-and-spend statement but has this cool feature of not being scrutinized by the government’s own spending watchdog and tanking the markets.

“Trussonomics” — the PM’s deregulatory, tax-cutting brand of liberal Conservatism — finally got its big moment in the sun towards the end of September as the period of national mourning ended. It didn’t quite go to plan.

Pooled photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

Actually called the “Growth Plan,” Truss’ (first) Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng used the statement to unveil a bunch of supply-side reforms as well as a host of debt-funded income and business tax cuts, including some much-needed relief for Britain’s hard-pressed rich people.

Just days after the details-light borrowing bonanza, however, the pound crashed to its lowest-ever level against the U.S. dollar and the Bank of England had to step in with an emergency bond-buying program “to restore market functioning,” both of which seem … bad?

One year on: Very little of the mini-budget remains in place — but Truss isn’t convinced she had the wrong idea, and Britain’s mortgage rates continue to climb.

Truss has since lashed out at the “powerful economic establishment” that railed against her and didn’t give her plans time to bed in. The Pulitzer Prize judges treated your POLITICO correspondents exactly the same way.

5) The lady is for turning

What happened: To her credit, Truss did make it to one Conservative Party conference as leader. But the jamboree — widely known in normal times as a non-stop festival of fun and creativity — instead descended into days of policy backpedaling and noisy Tory infighting. Perish the thought.

On the first proper day of conference, Kwarteng bowed to pressure from Conservative colleagues and dumped his flagship cut to the top rate of tax. “We get it, and we have listened,” Kwarteng said, possibly while crying on the inside. 

One year on: In the wake of the mini budget bust-up, only a very, er, brave politician would consider cutting taxes for the wealthy again. But the Conservative desire to lessen the U.K.’s historically high tax burden is going nowhere. Kwarteng’s successor Jeremy Hunt (more on him in a sec) still faces regular questions about when exactly he plans to slash taxes, questions he likes to answer by looking very disappointed in whoever’s asking.

6) Charlie isn’t her darling

What happened: As October pressed on, Truss held her first weekly audience with the new monarch, King Charles III — and, well, he didn’t look particularly thrilled about all the flames everywhere.

In their televised meeting, Charles asked Truss: “So you’ve come back again?” He then added the British royal equivalent of a bodyslam: “Dear, oh dear.” 

One year on: Truss’ one-time leadership rival Penny Mordaunt got to become a global celebrity by carrying a massive ceremonial sword at Charles’ coronation. To her credit, Truss did turn up for the bash, although she was swiftly compared by one Twitter wag to “an actor who appeared in one episode of Doctor Who attending Comic Cons for the rest of their life.”

7) Come back so I can fire you, plz

What happened: No one likes being fired, okay?

But there was something particularly brutal about Truss — desperate to calm still-tanking markets and rising mortgage rates — summoning her key ally Kwarteng back from an important finance ministers’ meeting in Washington D.C. to … let him go. 

However, while the move may have been harsh, it paid off handsomely — buying Truss a mammoth 36 hours more in office. 

Kwasi Kwarteng | Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

One year on: Jeremy Hunt, the centrist Tory who replaced Kwarteng and immediately delivered a military coup-style televised statement to tell the public everything was fine, remains chancellor. Kwarteng has admitted his own mortgage costs have “gone up considerably” since his time at the Treasury, but pointed the finger squarely at the Bank of England for misjudging inflation.

8) Famous last words

What happened: Pro tip. If a politician swears they’re staying put, they’re probably on the brink.

Just a day before she ultimately resigned, Truss — hit by a fresh party row over state pensions and anarchic scenes in the House of Commons voting lobbies — told MPs she was a “fighter, not a quitter.” Obviously she then quit.

One year on: Truss hasn’t exactly vanished into the political wilderness. She’s made punchy interventions on everything from China to wind farms, and continues to generate headlines pretty much every time she opens her mouth.

Showing little sign of heading off into the sunset, Truss has helped set up a new “growth commission” aimed at overhauling Britain’s sluggish economy. And, almost a year on from the mini-budget debacle, she’s planning a September 18 speech on the country’s ills which may or may not be titled “Harder Than It Looks, Isn’t It, You Smug Pr**ks?”

9) The Lettuce wins

What happened: Here’s a normal sentence. In the Truss era, an actual lettuce became a powerful global symbol of Britain in trouble.

Boasting a blonde wig, googly eyes, and a vivacious grin, a livestream of the decaying vegetable was set up by tabloid paper the Daily Star in mid-October to see whether it or Truss would last longer. The lettuce triumphed.

One year on: Breaking her silence on her leafy tormentor, Truss said in June that, actually, the “puerile” lettuce stunt wasn’t funny, and accused the media of treating politics “as a branch of the entertainment industry,” obsessed with “who’s up, who’s down, who says what about who.” As if!