How Liz Truss planned to launch Michael Gove on Israel

Former UK prime minister offered Israel ambassadorship to arch-political operator to keep him out of Britain, author tells 'The National'

Liz Truss delivers her keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. PA
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After 12 long years of clambering the fraught British political ladder, Liz Truss had finally conquered the summit. There was also one person who could help keep her there, the arch-political operator of his generation who had made and broken prime ministers.

Author Harry Cole told The National how her curious relationship with Michael Gove came back to bite her.

They were friends but she did not fit easily into his ideological circle of neoconservatives, not that Ms Truss was ever particularly firmly planted in any ideology.

Their friendship had extended to Ms Truss as foreign secretary lending Mr Gove her grand grace-and-favour flat in London when he abruptly separated from his wife in 2021.

But on becoming prime minister in early September there was no place for him in her Cabinet and she knew having such a canny politician on the backbenches could prove problematic.

A week before the annual Conservative Party conference she met Mr Gove and made him an offer.

“She has a strange relationship with Gove and knows him very well,” said Mr Cole, the co-author of an intriguing biography on Ms Truss. “That he is very good at politics but also troublemaker so she tried to make peace with him by dangling a very large job out of the country as ambassador to Israel or China. It was basically ‘name your job Michael’.”

But the offer came just as the mini-budget calamity was unravelling. On the Sunday that conference began, Mr Gove found himself on the same BBC political show as the prime minister.

“He came out and machine-gunned the entire budget,” said Cole. “There was an offer and that was his answer.”

Cole’s book, co-authored with James Heale, received national attention when the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer used it as a quip during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Michael Gove and Liz Truss in Whitehall. Getty Images

“A book is being written about the prime minister’s time in office,” he said. “Apparently it’s going to be out by Christmas — is that the release date, or the title?”

The ensuing mirth at the Tory leader was prescient but Sir Keir was wrong on both counts. Ms Truss resigned 24 hours later and the book is titled: Out of the Blue: The inside story of the unexpected rise and rapid fall of Liz Truss.

Its sharp insights into Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister could well see it bulging from many Christmas stockings.

The idea for the book came to Cole, political editor for The Sun newspaper, when he realised in early July that a little known politician was going to lead the country.

“It was clear Liz was going to win the leadership but she was the most unknown inhabitant of that office so there was definitely a market for ‘who the hell is this person?’”

After a decade as Westminster lobby journalist, Cole had grown to know and like Ms Truss and her advisers, allowing him to detail her taxing trait of self-publicity.

“I don't think she's a bad person, I think she made some bad choices,” he told The National in a quiet corner of parliament. “There's two schools of thought on Liz with very little middle ground. She either brings out massive loyalty or …” He paused. “ … it’s not despair, as that is too hard a word, but head in hands and ‘what the…’”

He outlines Ms Truss's relentless “bulldozing mentality”, which is brutally unwrapped across the unauthorised biography’s highly readable pages.

In pursuit of power, the state-school-educated politician took every opportunity to publicise the good work she was doing for Britain and no better opportunity presented itself than her role as trade secretary, jetting around the globe to land post-Brexit trade deals.

In an extraordinary direct conversation with her US counterpart, she demonstrated her “total misunderstanding of social context and social norms” by going off “on a weird tangent about shortbread”, the book reveals.

“She was like a wrecking ball and didn’t really care about what was actually expected … she just got straight to the point.”

The Washington trip was not an immediate trade success but “Truss, unchained on the global stage, was only just warming up” the book warned.

Like a highly-paid Instagram influencer, the politician rigorously pursued the ideal tapestry for a picture.

In Sydney this meant ditching her entire political schedule to drive around the suburbs looking for “the hipster coffee capital of the world that was relying on British imports.” She was finally snapped with a very British sausage role in one hand and espresso in another.

Ms Truss was pictured on a British-made Brompton bike with a Union Jack umbrella in Sydney. Photo: Liz Truss / Twitter

But the results failed to meet her high editorial standards and the entourage headed to a car park near Sydney Harbour Bridge, where Ms Truss was pictured on a British-made Brompton bike with a Union Jack umbrella.

Editorial standards met, the picture went around the world accompanied by her Tweet of “Get on your bike and look for exports”.

When appointed foreign secretary by Boris Johnson in September 2021, it was another step on the quest for the top spot and by now she had developed a rock star’s taste for specific travel requirements.

British embassies were sent memos on what to expect:

— Double espressos served in a flat-white-sized takeaway cup.

— No pre-made or plastic-packed sandwiches

— No big-brand coffee.

— Bagels or sushi for lunch — absolutely no mayonnaise on anything, ever.

— A bottle of sauvignon blanc provided in the fridge of any overnight accommodation.

Her desire for the limelight was incessant. When she heard that Mr Johnson was meeting US President Donald Trump for preliminary trade talks in New York she ordered her staff to pull every string to get her in the room. They failed but their boss succeeded by collaring the then prime minister after a press conference, knowing he would accede to a direct request.

Liz Truss had very specific coffee requirements. PA

Ms Truss was “like the cat that got the cream” an aide recounted. “She was grinning ear to ear when she told us, ‘We’re in. I’ve sorted it!”

Exiting the meeting with the two world leaders, her first words were: “Get the pictures.”

Foreign travels meant that Ms Truss was stranded in Indonesia when Mr Johnson resigned in July only getting back to London two days later.

But she rapidly gained ground in the leadership contest, reaching the crucial second place behind Rishi Sunak and it was then that Cole, 36, knew the Tory membership would ultimately make her prime minister.

The cover of 'Out Of The Blue'.

After Queen Elizabeth II’s death, Ms Truss waited until 23 September to launch the financial hand grenade of unfunded tax cuts that put her administration into an irrecoverable tailspin.

“I think she was in a hurry, she wanted to quickly turn it around,” said Cole “She thought ‘I'm at the peak of my powers, we are going to jump-start this thing’.”

As someone who was “transactional rather than ideological” Ms Truss had no tribe of Tories to rely on when things went wrong. “That's when the true sort of extent of her skills and all her failings became very clear and very quickly. She had tried to be too many things, too many people.”

What now for Ms Truss? “I imagine it's probably going to hit her quite hard at some point,” he sympathised. “But she's the youngest ever living former PM and obviously very talented as you don't get to that top job without having a pretty skilled control of politics. I’d be fascinated to see where she ends up.”

The book’s publication was delayed for two more chapters to be written on her six week premiership, one with the ambiguous title of “Into the Red” — either referring to the massive budget deficit or Labour’s likely general election victory as a result.

But Ms Truss indefatigable nature might suggest this will not be the last chapter.

Out of the Blue: The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss by Harry Cole and James Heale is published by William Collins in hardback on 24 November. Currently available on Kindle.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 3:29 PM
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