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What do politicians do after stepping down? Do they still speak on our behalf and legislate our lives?
John Profumo was an MP in Harold Macmillan’s Government, but is best-known for his political career-ending relationship with Christine Keeler. Following his 1963 resignation, Profumo spent 40 years as a volunteer for east London charity Toynbee Hall.
Macmillan was also forced out by the Profumo affair but continued to make domestic political interventions, advised Thatcher’s Government and held talks in China. He was ennobled later in life.
While some are put off politics for life by ignominy, others put it behind them and continue to try to shape the laws and lives of a nation. Any number of routes out of a position of power are possible.
What matters is how integrity and transparency in representative democracy are impacted by ex-ministerial paths. Which brings us to the last few PMs…
Liz Truss is of course still involved in politics, as she remains the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk. Her premiership last autumn was the briefest in UK history. File under “travesty” – “even by British traditions of political failure, this Prime Minister’s brief tenure has been a spectacular disaster”, it has been observed.
Prior to that, Truss was Foreign Secretary, causing Vladimir Putin to call her “a little out of her mind” over her openness to using nuclear weapons. The Institute for Government said that her leadership left Foreign Office “morale low” and “Russian expertise lacking”. Perhaps she should have partied with Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia.
If we kneecapped the economy, cost it £30 billion and counting, and jacked up mortgages, we’d be in for a lifetime of trouble. We’d slink away from failure and shame, resigning ourselves to unelectability and possibly prison. But Limpet Liz keeps trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.
She’s already made several ‘comebacks’ that fizzled as swiftly as bath bombs. It’s not going to happen. Poking fun is fun, but none of this should be of interest regarding a backbencher. Yet we must pay attention, because it appears Truss is still our representative overseas – or thinks she is.
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In May, Truss made a four-day trip to Taiwan to show “solidarity” against Beijing “aggression”. The Conservative chair of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns, was withering, terming it “the worst kind of Instagram diplomacy” and warning that it might escalate tensions in Taiwan. “Liz Truss doesn’t have any influence any more – this is more about keeping herself relevant,” said Kearns.
Truss also made the keynote speech in Tokyo at a meeting organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. She said the UK was naïve to court Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 and called for a package of supportive measures for Taiwan. Again, her global intervention was viewed as an attempt at a political glow-up, and also as pushing Rishi Sunak to stand up to Beijing.
Truss also delivered the annual Margaret Thatcher “freedom lecture” to ‘conservative’ think tank the Heritage Foundation in Washington. She fit right in, attacking “wokeism” and claiming a conspiracy within her own government brought about her downfall.
The response to Truss’ loose cannon careerings? The Chinese Embassy in London termed Taiwan a “dangerous political stunt”. Former ally MP Sir Jake Berry said she should sit down, adding that interventions from former PMs should be like “sex in a long and happy relationship: infrequent but anticipated with glee”.
The Government response was that it won’t involve itself in the “independent travel decisions of a private citizen who is not a member of the government”.
If that characterised Truss, she wouldn’t be invited to play away in the first place. She’s only just finished holding – and dropping, and breaking – two of the four Great Offices of State. Like it or not (not), she’s still a face of the UK. Her statements and their timing could easily be mistaken for foreign policy.
This is self-evidently a bizarre and wrong-headed line for a government to take.
Which brings us to Boris Johnson.
Custard’s Last Last Last Stand
Despite what happened in the recent Privileges Committee Report debate – which was more of an exorcism – Johnson still appears to be doing very nicely. It seems a fever dream now that he was PM until losing party support for protecting an MP accused of groping just a year ago.
He’s spent millions on a moated manor. He’s trousered millions giving speeches, the most mysterious earnings-to-performance ratio since Elon Musk … did stuff.
He’s charged legal fees to the taxpayer, as well as security and prime ministerial pension expenses, while ‘writing’ richly rewarded regurgitated bilge for the Daily Mail.
Before also resigning as an MP to avoid the garlic and holy water headed his way in the Commons, Johnson already resigned his constituents to being without a functioning representative. He failed to turn up to 187 votes between being not-PM and not-MP. Some absences were due to being overseas.
Johnson travelled to Ukraine again in January. Security for the surprise visit was taxpayer-funded. He met with Republican law-makers in the US in the same month. Who else has he met with, where and why?
It’s a concern because of the issues raised when we consider his history with Russians in Italy. It’s never a meeting for Johnson if it can’t be a party. Perhaps the air of frivolous fun helps hide that more than small talk is being made. Party business.
But who pays for it? How does it affect us? What national security issues occur?
Even GB News‘ Alastair Stewart said in The Times that “something is awry when retired British politicians, without any instruction or democratic base, unilaterally extend or undermine foreign policy with freewheeling media interviews and cavalier trips abroad”. He said the UK needs something like the US’ Logan Act, which criminalises unauthorised negotiations with foreign governments by unauthorised citizens.
Stand Up, Sunak
Despite being forced out of Downing Street, Truss and Johnson continue the norm-trampling they became accustomed to. And Rishi Sunak allows it.
He could be, as is so often said, “weak”. Then again, he himself had secretive meetings with US healthcare interests in between stays in his Santa Monica home. Maybe shuttle(cock) diplomacy is just how he likes it.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’d like to see Johnson, Truss and, soon, Sunak lumbering around the Blackpool ballroom or eating reproductive organs in the jungle. Better that than them trying to conduct illicit foreign policy.
Desperate bids for relevance, influence, connections and contracts muddy the waters within and outside the country. Like they’re not already murky enough.