Perhaps I’ve been reading too much John le Carré but is it possible that Liz Truss, hot favourite to be the next UK Prime Minister, is actually a plant?

I don’t mean the sort of plant you grow in a remote farmhouse using hydroponics and strip-lights then dry and crumble into a king-size Rizla, tempting as it is to view the political events of the last month as the result of a sort of dope-induced fever dream. No, I mean plant as in mole. Specifically a Liberal Democrat mole – a sleeper agent sent undercover decades ago by Paddy Ashdown and David Steel. Given a secret mission to renounce the Lib Dem membership she was so proud of as a student at Oxford University. Asked to undergo a mind-wipe to forget she ever gave a speech at the 1994 Lib Dem conference calling for the abolition of the monarchy. Tasked with joining the Conservative Party and working her way up that most slippery of greased poles by dressing like Margaret Thatcher and acting ever so slightly unhinged.

If it’s true, it has worked. Almost, anyway. Truss is now seems a shoe-in to beat former Chancellor Rishi Sunak in a contest voted for by 160,000 or so Conservative Party members, at least if they can find time between spending their generous private pensions on cruises and blaming cyclists for the hot weather in their corner of southern England.

Not that Agent Truss has always made it easy for herself as she has burrowed her way into the Tory party like a tick into a dog’s backside. That cheese speech really caused a wobble for a start. Truss was widely ridiculed for a 2014 conference rant in which she appeared to berate the British public for not eating enough of the stuff. Her reputation for being a little bit weird probably doesn’t start there, but if you want it evidenced in under 80 seconds check out the You Tube clip of it.

Talking up the European Union two years later was another slip for someone wanting to head up the Eurosceptic Tories. “I am backing remain as I believe it is in Britain’s economic interest and means we can focus on vital economic and social reform at home,” Truss tweeted in February 2016. She followed it just days before the vote with this: “Leave cannot name one country we would get a better trade deal with if we left the EU”. Then, in a BBC debate on the referendum, came this: “What people in the Leave campaign are saying is ‘We can have our cake and eat it’. We can’t.”

Even getting lost trying to leave her own leadership campaign launch – she had to be helped to the right door – doesn’t seem to have dented her confidence or her chances. On the contrary: it has taken Boris Johnson even longer to find the Downing Street exit, so you could say it’s almost an established Tory tradition by now.

So if, during Truss's first Prime Minister’s Questions, Lib Dem MP Layla Moran and that guy who looks like Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey unveil a banner reading ‘Come in Agent Liz, mission accomplished!’, we’ll have definitive proof my Truss-as-mole idea is bang on the money. If not, then I really have been reading too much le Carré.


Liz Truss taking part in a TV debate with Rishi Sunak on July 17

Running contrary to the theory is the notion that Truss is merely a political dandelion, blowing this way and that and scattering seeds in the form of weird sound-bites. Or, to put it in less decorous terms, an opportunist sock puppet blurting stuff out as it occurs to her because she thinks that’s what people want to hear.

Or maybe she is on what future biographers will call a political journey. Joining the Liberal Democrats at university hardly makes you a student radical, but she wouldn’t be the first person to have undergone a shift in political convictions as they have aged. Perhaps by her early twenties she really had decided that all the stuff about equality and improving outcomes for the underprivileged was best served by moving to the right of the Conservative Party and serving in a cabinet stuffed with ex-public school boys and overseen by a mendacious, entitled, self-interested clown. You never known.

What we do know is she has plenty of backers in the current parliamentary party, people like Old Etonians Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kwasi Kwarteng, BBC-baiting culture secretary Nadine Dorries, and backbencher Sir Christopher Chope, the man who told us we would “rue the day” Boris Johnson was forced to resign.

Hasn’t happened yet, Chris. Don’t know about you but I’m still very definitely in non-rue mode.

We also know Truss has more than a passing acquaintance with Scotland, which is more than can be said for either her predecessor or her rival for the top job. Born in Oxford she moved as a four-year-old to Paisley, where her left-wing parents joined the local branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). She was taken to the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common to protest against the siting of Cruise missiles, and there’s a cute picture of her and her family with a home-made Paisley CND banner.

Back home she was enrolled at the town’s West Primary School. Don’t expect a plaque there any time soon, though. “At the time of the 1983 general election, my teacher asked me if I wanted to play the role of Margaret Thatcher in our class equivalent,” she later recalled. “I jumped at the chance, and gave a heartfelt speech at the hustings, but ended up with zero votes. I didn’t even vote for myself. Even at that age, we knew it was simply unpopular to be a Tory in the West of Scotland.”

Thatcherism was a thing and Thatcherite a tag we can still apply to people and policies. Johnsonian likewise, though it is now and will forever be used predominantly as an insult (e.g. you’ve had a Johnsonian haircut, you cut a Johnsonian figure in that ridiculous high-vis tabard, your levels of sexual incontinence are positively Johnsonian).

What will be Liz Truss’s gift to the political lexicon (and, while we’re at it, the headline writers) should she become Prime Minister? Will we speak of things Trussian and Trussite? Will backbenchers forced to toe the line be described as having been ‘Trussed up’? Will the UK’s foreign policy become a form of ‘Trussian Roulette’. Remember that as recently as February Truss said she supported Britons heading to Ukraine to fight the Russians and it took former Attorney General Dominic Grieve to point out that this was illegal under the terms of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870. Everyone knows that, right? Meanwhile another brainy Dominic – Cummings this time – has described Truss as “truly useless”, “mad as a box of snakes” and “a human hand grenade”, none of which should fill us with confidence regarding her diplomatic skills on the world stage.

Another of Truss’s childhood recollections involves being taken to political demonstrations in Paisley Piazza where she chanted political slogans. These were yelled “in Scottish”, as she puts it. One of them was: ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, out, out!’ Come September, if the bookies are right, it’s looking like the cry will be: ‘Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie! In, in, in!’

One silver lining, though: she has promised not to touch that £840 a roll wallpaper the Johnsons stuck up.