Opinion

The Guardian view on Liz Truss’s cabinet: diverse but dogmatic

Liz Truss first joined the cabinet when David Cameron was prime minister, and has now doggedly pursued her ambitions all the way to the top. It is a feat of tenacity that proves she can outmanoeuvre her peers and win arguments among Tories. Running the country will demand a more varied skill set.

Given the scale of the challenges ahead, the new prime minister would benefit from a cabinet staffed with experienced ministers and proven administrators. Ms Truss appears instead to have recruited on the basis of loyalty and narrow ideology.

It makes sense to give the role of chancellor to a longstanding ally, and Kwasi Kwarteng, an old friend of Ms Truss, has the economic credentials. But his cabinet experience extends to less than two years at the business department. James Cleverly, the new foreign secretary, has only been in cabinet since July. Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has never run a government department.

A positive noteworthy feature of those appointments is the expression they give to diversity on the Tory benches. For the first time in history, none of the great offices of state are occupied by a white man. There is reason to doubt that Ms Truss’s government can serve British society equally, but it would be churlish not to credit advances in representing women and people of colour.

The Tories have now provided Britain with three female prime ministers. Labour has managed none – a record it needs to examine with humility.

Ms Truss’s manner also represents a welcome break from her predecessor’s. She lacks Boris Johnson’s theatrical swagger, but that is no loss. Her first appearance as prime minister at the dispatch box on Wednesday was marked by a serious exchange of opinions on policy. The Tory leader listened to Sir Keir Starmer’s questions on how to fund consumer energy bill subsidies. She responded with more sincere engagement than Mr Johnson ever managed. He set that bar low, but it is still encouraging that Ms Truss clears it.

Less reassuring is the content of her answers, which expressed dogmatic conviction that corporate profits are sacrosanct and that the only legitimate thing to do with taxes is to cut them. In that respect, Ms Truss brings the opposite of intellectual renewal to government. She is pragmatic enough to see that the state must intervene during a cost of living crisis, but her attachment to hand-me-down Thatcherite analysis makes her oblivious to the complex character of the present emergency.

The clearest evidence of that obtuseness is her appointment to the business department of Jacob Rees-Mogg – a man with no discernible record of achievement in government. His reputation is built on media indulgence of cartoonish aristocratic affectations, and his self-appointed status as a grand inquisitor of Eurosceptic purity. That he is now the secretary of state responsible for the energy sector, workers’ rights and climate policy is dispiriting.

The sheer magnitude of the economic challenge requires a government with intellectual agility and managerial skill to avoid turning a crisis into a calamity. Ms Truss has at least demonstrated a different style to her predecessor. That much is welcome, but not enough. She will also have to prove that she is capable of seeing the world through a lens wider than the one she applied when her only focus was rising through the Tory ranks.

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