I HAVE a soft spot for politicians uncomfortable in their own skins. The cliché has it that politics is show business for ugly people. But often as not – it’s also acting camp for people with no stage presence, speech-making for folk with a speech impediment, and charm school for characters so bereft of natural sparkle, they missed their vocation as a concrete bollard.

Forget the natural smoothies who can work a crowd. The politicians to watch are the ones with the rictus grins, the pained ­expressions, the stilted delivery, the ­statutory sense of humour bypass ­combined with the clumsy attempt to ­persuade you that they’re actually good for a laugh or two. Watch these strivers strive.

Many of these characters remain ­safely on the backbenches, happy to be ­included in public affairs, but spared the ­searching ­scrutiny which is visited on anyone ­determined to fight on the front line of politics. But there are some – a small and bleakly fascinating vanguard – who are ­undiscouraged by their lack of natural ­talent at the glad-handing and ­room-warming ­aspects of the gig and are nevertheless ­determined to see their name in lights.

Maybe it is their ideas which fire them. Maybe it is policy which floats their boat. More often than not, it’s just the rocket fuel of ego and blind ambition. Boris Johnson may have told his family that he wanted to be “world king” when he grew up – but there are plenty of less rambunctious ­politicos who also start hearing voices and think they feel the hand of history on their shoulder.

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And so it goes that folk who couldn’t ­raffle a duck in a pub convince themselves – and convince others – that they’re the best candidate to direct the affairs of the nation. You know what I’m talking about. The ­Conservative and Unionist Party is currently deciding which socially-awkward oddball should be Britain’s next prime ­minister – and the rest of us are meant to take it and the candidates seriously.

There’s Mr Moneybags Rishi Sunak – unctuous, ­incurious and ­condescending – and Liz Truss who may well be ­performance artist, trying to see how far a character from The Thick of It can really go in the modern Conservative Party by dressing up as ­Margaret Thatcher. Quite far, it would appear.

The press line is that the Foreign ­Secretary has “grown in stature” since the start of the leadership campaign, which is presumably designed to persuade us to forget that, hitherto, Truss has mainly impinged on the nation’s consciousness as a nuclear-powered gaffe-generator and reliable source of strange and stimulating performances on stage, in parliament, and in political interviews.

Truss’s most significant contribution to human development thus far was her memorable speech to the 2014 Tory ­conference, where she characterised the fact Britain imports two thirds of its cheese as “a disgrace,” and waxed poetic about the pork markets of Beijing she was throwing open for business later in the year.

The speech’s Churchillian conclusion doesn’t get the slagging it also merits. With heavy gravity, and no apparent self-awareness, Truss thundered that she “will not rest until the British apple is back at the top of the tree”. As defining political missions go, I can think of worse ­aspirations – Truss has outlined several in her leadership campaign so far – but what made the turn memorable was its complete lack of emotional ­intelligence or tone control. Truss could deliver ­McGonagall with all the gravity of Henry V Gravitas, there is none.

And in the leadership race, she has not disappointed. Having just launched her campaign, Truss managed to get lost on her way out of the room with the cameras still rolling, with a look which suggested a hornet had decided to make its nest in her epiglottis and a minor aide should brace themselves for bollocking.

The photoshoots are still marvellously stilted. You could see Theresa May wasn’t a natural, even before the helpful PR gurus got to work on her. The ill-at-ease Truss makes her likely predecessor look like a picture of authentic self-possession. And if she wins, it is only going to get worse, as she strives to project authority, to evoke that ineffable quality of being “prime ministerial”.

She answers even the small ­questions in a pleasingly surreal way, seeming ­ambushed by everything. Asked what makes her nervous, Truss said she “doesn’t like jumping over large caverns and things like that” – which strikes me as an anxiety crying out for the attentions of a good psychoanalyst.

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It isn’t just fromage free which stirs strange passions in Liz. The runaway ­favourite to be Britain’s next prime ­minister told us last week that she ­believes “one of the most depressing sights, when you’re driving through England, is ­seeing fields that should be full of crops or ­livestock full of solar panels”. Theresa May still needs her fields of wheat to run through, after all. This is the coffin of her English dream.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of sadder vistas to contemplate – but this is the kind of pastoral ­nimbyism and ­pre-Copernican obscurantism which is ­designed to appeal to the ­average Tory member from the notoriously ­impoverished corners of Kent that Sunak wants to plough public money into.

Last week, Truss claimed she was a “plain talking Yorkshire woman”, ­making her only the second leadership ­contender to annexe the English county to their campaign.

Sunak – Winchester, Oxford, ­Stanford – apparently affects his best Last of the Summer Wine accent behind closed doors and tanks gallons of Yorkshire Tea, ­presumably in the hopes of convincing his local electors not to focus too closely on the £400k swimming pool he’s ­currently having installed in his pied-à-terre in ­Kirby Sigston.

The cost of running the modest leisure suite – reportedly £13,000 – is half of what an average British worker earns a year. You can understand, therefore, why the ex-Chancellor’s attempts to come off as worldly and down-to-earth ring a little hollow. This is a man in his forties who only ­recently mastered the knack of the ­contactless credit card payment. When he talked about his pride undoing ­Treasury spending plans which “shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas”, ­Sunak showed us exactly what he’s about.

Truss tried to get out in front of what you might charitably describe as her presentational limitations in an early TV debate, while deftly implying that Sunak was so well oiled, he is essentially self-basting.

“I might not be the slickest presenter on this stage,” she said, “but I think my ­colleagues understand in Parliament when I work with them that when I say I’ll do something, I do it.” Wooden ­perhaps, but with grit.

Liz Truss appears to be ‘ambushed by everything’ when interviewed

But the problem is – Truss doesn’t have grit. She’s trundled all over the political map. She had her infant Robespierre phase before her ambitions took her into the Tory party.

“Some people had sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. I had the Liberal Democrats,” she quipped. This may sound like something Nick Clegg says to his therapist before the wracking sobs break out and the Kleenex is supplied – but whichever way you look at it, it is a hell of a way to misspend your youth.

But it is her more recent changes and evasions since which are more telling.

There’s her Brexit volte face, and her transmutation from middle-of-the-road Cameron-era Tory to her current ­incarnation as hard right banner bearer, ­tax-cutter and civil servant culler.

Even the campaign so far has ­demonstrated Truss’s capacity for a ­wandering sense of her own ­commitments. She announced she intended to save £8.8 billion with a wonderful package of civil service cuts, including reducing holiday entitlement and cutting the pay of folk outside ­London and the southeast of ­England – and then sprinted away from the policy when it turned out ­drastic ­reductions in public sector salaries isn’t exactly a ­popular idea. “When I say ­something, I do it?”

Show don’t tell, the writers say. Truss is telling everyone who will listen she’s gusty, fearless, plain-spoken. What we see, however? That’s a different story.