Skip to main content

Political culture

Liz Truss, Virginia Woolf and the truth about politics

People can’t resist “scorning” Liz Truss for her stupidity, says Henry Oliver in The Critic. She’s been blasted on Talk TV for “stupid remarks”; a recent piece in The Independent labelled her “breathtakingly stupid”. Commentators certainly have plenty of ammunition: her inability to find the exit at her own hustings, that weird speech about cheese, the unhelpful protestations from one supporter that she’s “not thick”. But Truss is just the latest victim of the “stupid politician” trope. Margaret Warnock once suggested Thatcher should be replaced with “someone intelligent like Virginia Woolf”. Reagan was dismissed by political hacks as a “hick cowboy film actor” who was “as dumb as a stump”.

The truth is “you don’t have to be an intellectual to be a great leader”. John Quincy Adams, the sixth US president, was “as smart as they get”, but still had “no flair for politics”. Abraham Lincoln, “self-educated all the way”, had a genius for it. Despite Gordon Brown’s PhD, he wasn’t cut out for PM, and Anthony Eden’s Oxford education didn’t prevent the Suez debacle. Neither of our celebrated wartime leaders, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, had a degree. In politics, “personality matters”. Journalists might enjoy carping at politicians who don’t give “slick answers” in interviews, “but life isn’t a press conference”. We don’t know how Truss will fare as PM, but her “intellectual intelligence” has nothing to do with it.