Liz Truss has managed Boris Johnson’s trick of appearing to offer a change of

Boris Johnson achieved a remarkable feat, presenting himself as a new government, which had nothing to do with the Conservative Party that had been in power for the previous nine years. Now Liz Truss is poised to succeed with the same trick. Fool me once, and so on.

Will Walden, an adviser to Johnson as London mayor and foreign secretary who helped run his leadership campaign in 2019, watched Truss at the hustings on Thursday. “She’s done an extraordinary thing,” he told LBC, “which is what Boris did in 2019 – she’s almost painted a picture that she’s totally new to government.”

It is easy to point out the contradictions. She has been in government for 10 years and is still in the cabinet, unlike her opponent. She is running as a supporter of Johnson, supported by Johnson, and as the candidate of change. This involves a complicated unspoken story: that Johnson wanted to cut taxes but was a prisoner of the Treasury, and now that Rishi Sunak is out of the way, she can be the prime minister that Johnson wanted to be.

Conservative Party members want to believe it, but it isn’t true. Johnson managed to present his government as a fresh start mainly because of Brexit, but also because it did change direction. He was a big-state, interventionist Conservative, a Brexity Hezza, as he put it. Theresa May had started to move away from the constrained public spending of the coalition years, but lacked conviction. It took Johnson’s 2019 manifesto promises on the NHS, schools and police to dramatise the change.

Naturally, Johnson wanted to cut taxes too, but as Sunak tried to explain to Andrew Neil yesterday, if you want good public services they ultimately have to be paid for out of taxes. Johnson could not defy this economic reality while in government, but Truss, from her position outside government in the Foreign Office, can dismiss it as the “Treasury orthodoxy”.

And she is winning, because party members want to believe. They don’t want to accept that the £400bn coronavirus spending was real money, so when Truss says it can be put in a compartment called war debt and forgotten, they nod and move on.

Success will create its own aura. If Truss becomes prime minister, the government will look renewed. Without referring to Johnson by name, she will disown him by imposing new standards of probity in politics. An adviser on ministerial standards will be appointed and given powers. Tax cuts will be announced and, because it is an exciting new government, no one will pay too much attention to the stealth tax rises imposed at the same time.

She and the Conservatives will enjoy a bounce in the opinion polls as the nation rejoices at the return of John Redwood to ministerial office. But it is unlikely to work for long.

The trick of renewing a party in office is a hard one to carry off. Johnson succeeded at the last election, with the advantages of Jeremy Corbyn as his opponent, an unfinished Brexit to get done, and the promise of more spending on public services. His renewal was partly bluff and bluster with photo-opportunities, but there was also more substance to it than there is likely to be to Truss’s. Once she has done…

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