I’m still heavily sedated after the triumphant return of Liz Truss to the Conservative party conference, less than a calendar year after she caused an unfortunate lab accident involving the entire country. The spectacle is so absolutely mad that it has almost pushed through to the other side and become an impressive tale of resilience that you might use to inspire kids. “See that lady there, she fell off the horse, but she got right back on it like nothing happened.” But no. Sorry, I’m simply not quite there yet. Liz Truss is the human equivalent of honking out a joke about a terrorist attack while they’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble. She is a walking “too soon?”. The only place you should be seeing her this October is as a Halloween costume (foam cheese wedge not included).
Instead, she’s selling out the Last of Us suite at the Tories’ Manchester conference hotel. Hand on heart, I would say Truss’s attempt to reclaim her back catalogue is going slightly less well than Taylor Swift’s. I don’t know if you managed to catch her speech about how to create growth (Liz’s version), but you may have heard that it was a rendition for which conference attendees were queueing up the stairs and down the corridors. This certainly serves as a reminder that the questionably popular should always hold their events in small rooms. Tell you what, if Truss can sell out one night in a single 400-seat regional theatre to non-rubberneckers, then I’ll pretend this is her Eras tour. Until then, we might have to face the fact that being popular within the very odd world of Conservative party conference is the equivalent of having infectious diarrhoea pretty much anywhere else.
Then again, the tale of Truss is still judged a draw. I read this morning in Politico that the TV rights to Harry Cole and James Heale’s book about her mayfly premiership have been sold, and that the story is soon to be made into a drama by the same people who did the Boris Johnson/Covid one that you probably didn’t watch because it was on Sky. I don’t know why the Conservatives hate the creative industries – they’re the only ones they’ve accidentally grown.
But look, like me, I’m sure you can’t get enough of this trend for “making sense” of a situation via art-adjacent drama approximately four minutes after it’s happened, as absolutely all contemporary events are rinsed for every possible form of content, with multi-genre looks at the same story not regarded as eating each other’s lunch, but as mutually enhancing. To complete the typical modern set, we need two competing documentaries about Truss – one on Netflix, one on Amazon Prime – followed by two dramas (Channel 4 and Apple), plus a 44-episode podcast series (one ep for each day of the premiership) that the critics will call “a landmark anatomy of a very human disaster”. Finally, we’ll get the movie, which – because it comes a whole two years after the events described therein – is billed as “reflective” and a “historical drama”. As for other ways into the story, are mortgage payments a genre? I didn’t like the way that mine explored the Truss premiership.
Nigel Farage was in the audience for Truss’s speech, and afterwards pointed out to reporters that he has stayed the same, but that much of the Tory party has moved towards him. Which is somewhat smug, but no word of a lie. For a guy who spent Monday night living it up at some Stygian karaoke event with Priti Patel, though, Nigel is playing it super-cool about wanting to join the Conservative party. I think he just happens to be on a mini-break in the same hotel in Manchester. Still, everything changes, and according to the laws of the cursed timeline to which we are bolted, he can probably wait for the first byelection fought by a Suella Braverman-led opposition and become shadow foreign secretary then.
Anyway, the other big conference plotline that Rishi Sunak is attempting to play out spoiler-free is the decision to scrap HS2. To say this has derailed his conference is a) a feeble pun and b) a million times less feeble than the way he’s handled it. One of the rare character notes to the otherwise weirdly bland Sunak is that he is not very good at politics, and this really is a disasterclass even by his own standards. Not only are we now well over a week into headlines about the U-turn, but the failure to formally confirm it has made Sunak look like someone who can’t make a decision.
Even as I type this, it is unclear how long it is going to be before the PM finally spits it out. There are suggestions it will finally get signed off in Manchester at an emergency cabinet meeting – which, for more directional readers, is government’s equivalent of an emergency podcast. In fact, it’s kind of incredible that there have already been several emergency podcasts about the rumoured HS2 decision, before it has technically even been made. If Sunak had pissed about any longer, the Netflix doc about the decision could actually have come out while he was still droning on about not having decided it. This would have ripped a tear in the events-to-content continuum, reversing the natural direction of travel, and effectively ceding control of the UK to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos. Then again, maybe it would be an upgrade. At this rate, the best hope for the country might be for Ryan Reynolds and the other one to buy us and use us as a content farm.
The dominant current theory as to why Sunak has appeared to dither so long about the HS2 decision is that he had always planned to use his conference speech on Wednesday to announce it, and refused to adapt to circumstance even once it leaked. That feels quite a long way to go for a speech line – and also quite weird that his big centrepiece is cancelling something. Maybe cancelling policies is the good kind of cancel culture. The prime minister definitely seems to enjoy doing it – the recent net zero speech, in which he claimed to be ditching all kinds of policies that never actually existed, felt like a concerted attempt to get a catchphrase going. Every time Sunak referred to seven bins or enforced carpooling, he’d look up from his lectern and go, “I’ve scrapped it”.
While we wait to learn what we already know, then, it’s hard not to pass the time wondering if Sunak is scrapping the UK’s future in a doomed attempt to save his own. It’s a highly aggressive form of declinism – but I guess it will be a fun TV drama in a year or two, and that’s what really matters.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist