The weight of her new responsibility was written across the face of Liz Truss

Politics

Liz Truss has faced constant tests in the infancy of her premiership. 

Forty-eight hours after being appointed by the Queen, the PM had to lead a nation in paying tribute to her.

Today the Commons chamber was a sea of black as MPs stood for a minute’s silence, and the prime minister was again tasked with capturing the mood of a country, reflecting the spirit and personality of a monarch, and marking the transition to a new reign.

MPS in The house of Commons

In contrast to Liz Truss’s first speech standing alone in front of the door to Downing Street, in parliament she was surrounded by predecessors who have richer recollections of the Queen, and opposite Sir Keir Starmer who has greater experience leading a party from the despatch box.

The PM spoke of “one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known” who “generously shared with me her deep experience of government, even in those last days”.

Ms Truss’s contribution, however, is unlikely to be the moment those present will remember.

Boris Johnson
Image:
Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson spoke of “Elizabeth the Great” and forty minutes into proceedings, he was the first speaker to provoke laughter from MPs: “I remember innocent joy more than ten years ago after the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, when I told her that the leader of a friendly Middle Eastern country seemed actually to believe that she had jumped from a helicopter in a pink dress and parachuted into the stadium,” he said.

Sir Keir touched on the reassurance the late monarch provided during the pandemic, telling MPs: “The loss of our Queen robs this country of its still point, its greatest comfort at precisely the time we need those things most.”

Theresa May, perhaps not considered a natural humourist, changed those perceptions with a funny and moving speech.

Keir Starmer
Image:
Sir Keir Starmer

Read more on the Queen:
The Queen and her 15 prime ministers
The Queen’s death – what happens next?

Former Labour cabinet minister Harriet Harman recounted the period after she was sacked from the government when her diary was empty and her phone stopped ringing: “My office was astonished to get a call from Buckingham Palace.

“No one else wanted to have anything to do with me. But the Queen wanted to see me. I was invited to tea with the Queen for her to thank me for my service as a secretary of state.”

It is rare to see MPs nodding and murmuring in support of the contributions from opposing parliamentarians. That happened constantly during this first session of tributes.

At the centre of the chamber, however, Liz Truss was almost completely still listening to colleagues. The weight of her role at this moment seemed clear on her face and in her body language.

And those challenges will likely continue in the coming days.

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