Who is Liz Truss? Instagram-obsessed, ‘very odd’ but a ‘true blue’ — does she have what it takes to replace Boris Johnson?

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·9-min read
Who is Liz Truss? Instagram-obsessed, ‘very odd’ but a ‘true blue’ — does she have what it takes to replace Boris Johnson?
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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has made it to the final two candidates in the running to replace Boris Johnson as our next Prime Minister.

The 46-year-old ‘true blue’ Boris-loyalist has support from the right of the Conservative Party, counting Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg among her backers, and has held many roles in Westminster since beginning her political career in 2010.

But with rival Rishi Sunak above her in the leaderboard, critics that call her ‘very odd’ and some particularly cringe-worthy speeches, including an infamously bad one about cheese, questions are being raised about whether Oxford-born Truss has what it takes to run the country.

Here we get to know the ‘freedom’ loving, espresso-guzzling, mum-of-two, Taylor Swift fan.

What’s her background?

Truss was born in Oxford in 1975 to Labour-supporting, Thatcher-hating parents. Her father was a professor of mathematics, and her mother, a nurse and teacher and she is the eldest of four, with three younger brothers.

She went to primary school in Paisley, in Scotland before moving to Leeds to attend secondary school.

Liz Truss arrives ahead of the live  Channel 4 TV debate for the leadership candidates (PA Wire)
Liz Truss arrives ahead of the live Channel 4 TV debate for the leadership candidates (PA Wire)

Ambitious Truss was competitive even as a child. Her younger brother once revealed to BBC’s Radio 4’s Profile that his sister would often abandon playing family board games rather than risk losing.

In an interview with You Magazine she described herself as the ‘bossy’ elder sister and said: “I was always the doctor operating on them.”

‘Laughable’ claims about upbringing

Truss was recently criticised for claiming to have grown up in the “heart of Red Wall” in a Leeds suburb. In fact when Truss went to school in the leafy area of Leeds it was represented by a Conservative MP. The seat has been held since then by Labour’s Fabian Hamilton.

Mr Hamilton said: “The suggestion that Roundhay is a red wall area is frankly laughable and shows how out of touch Liz Truss and the Conservatives are when it comes to the north.”

She also took aim at her school, Roundhay, saying it “let children down.”

“Roundhay school has been an excellent educational institution for decades and its staff and students are real assets to our community. It’s shameful that Liz Truss has decided to attack them today,” added Hamilton.

Liz Truss, canvassing in the village of West Walton, in Norfolk (PA Archive)
Liz Truss, canvassing in the village of West Walton, in Norfolk (PA Archive)

She was Lib Dem at uni before switching to the Conservative party

Like many politicians Truss went to Oxford (Merton College) to read philosophy, politics and economics. She became president of the Oxford Liberal Democrats and in 1994 gave a speech at the Lib Dem conference calling for the abolition of the monarchy. “We Liberal Democrats believe in opportunity for all. We do not believe people are born to rule,” she said.

But after graduating she switched allegiance. “I met Tories and I realised that they didn’t have two heads and were actually good people,” she once explained.

It’s also said that a trip to eastern Europe in the 90s was influential in her decision and made her admire a figure she’s often compared to today: Margaret Thatcher. A colleague told the FT: “Those countries had just become free again and the sense of newly found freedom was quite overwhelming for Liz. She was convinced that Thatcher, by being strong, had taken the right approach.”

These days she’s known as a Thatcher 2.0 and a ‘true blue’ candidate.

Path to politics

After university Truss became an accountant and worked for Shell, and Cable & Wireless but always wanted to get into politics. After some unsuccessful attempts she was finally selected MP for South West Norfolk in 2010, with a 13,140-vote majority, and just two years later she joined the government as an education minister.

Liz Truss after her announcement that she would be running for the leadership (Getty Images)
Liz Truss after her announcement that she would be running for the leadership (Getty Images)

First female Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor

In 2016 she made history by becoming the first ever female Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor in its thousand-year history. The year after she left the role to become Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

An advocate of free market policies, she co-authored a book while in Parliament called Britannia Unchained, which recommended stripping back state regulation.

Brexit flip-flop

Truss backed Remain in the EU referendum saying: “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”. However she switched sides and became a firm Brexiteer.

One colleague told the FT that Truss had always been a Eurosceptic but was under “enormous pressure” from then PM David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne.

Truss was once accused of having said Brexit would have no serious impact on Ireland ... it would merely “affect a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks” but Truss said she didn’t recognise the comment.

Appointment to Foreign Secretary

Last year Truss became Foreign Secretary when Dominic Raab was sacked after facing criticism for how he dealt with evacuating interpreters from Afghanistan.

She’s the second woman to ever hold the role after Labour’s Margaret Beckett 15 years before her.

During her time as Foreign Sec Truss secured the release of British nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori who were detained in Iran and took a hard line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (PA Wire)

Mocked for cheese speech and called ‘crackers’

Speaking to the FT One Tory MP described Truss as “a very odd person”- “not good or bad – just very weird.” It’s also said that she has a habit for talking over people and invading people’s personal space. Boris Johnson’s former chief strategist Dominic Cummings once said she was “as close to properly crackers as anybody I have met in parliament”.

Speaking of crackers she was once mocked for a speech she did about cheese. At the 2014 Tory party conference she declared in a dramatic tone: “We import two-thirds of our cheese. That. Is. A. Disgrace” before grinning wildly after telling the audience she’d be “opening up pork markets” in Beijing in December. The clip went viral but Truss has a thick skin. “I didn’t think it was that bad actually, it was just other people’s reaction,” she told You Magazine. “It was probably too much practice and trying to deliberately ham it up.”

Had an affair

Liz Truss is married to Hugh O’Leary, an accountant she met at the 1997 Tory Party Conference. They got married three years later in 2000.

In 2006 it was revealed she’d had an affair with Tory MP Mark Field. His marriage broke down but hers survived and the couple, who have two children together, have remained silent when asked about the issue.

In a recent interview she said she is ‘really happily married’ and on Valentine’s Day 2019 she posted a couple’s pic on Instagram and wrote: “Love of my life.”

Love of ‘freedom’ and other political views

Truss’s championing of free-trade has curried her favour with Brexiteers and according to one Tory MP ‘freedom’ is one of her favourite words.

When asked in an interview what her vision for Britain was she replied: “Free – that means doing what you want, having control over life, not being told what to do. And it’s got to be just. People have got to feel that barriers aren’t being put in their way because they are a woman or because they’re from a low-income background.”

Elsewhere Truss has consistently voted in favour of same sex marriage and equality for gay rights, against heightened gambling restrictions, against climate change acts, to privatise the Royal Mail and for higher taxes on alcohol.

The ‘Department for Instagramming Truss’

Not shy of a photo-op Truss has posed in military gear on a tank in Estonia, on an aircraft carrier and riding a bike carrying a Union Jack umbrella, but it’s also said she’s a huge fan of Instagram - so much so that employees at the Department for International Trade supposedly joked that they worked at the Department for Instagramming Truss. “Ironically she did all the Instagram herself,” one said. “She is obsessed with comms.”

She then hired Robert Midgley, formerly Johnson’s chief videographer, as her digital communications adviser.

She loves Line of Duty, Taylor Swift and baking her own croissants

When not working Truss likes to kick back in front of dramas such as Line of Duty and The Bridge.

She’s also a huge Taylor Swift fan, frequently making reference to the pop star in her speeches and also listens to “feisty” Little Mix. “I think they’re quite exciting role models for young women,” she said. “They are the Spice Girls of this generation.”

She’s a dab-hand at making, regularly making croissants from scratch and cinnamon buns.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (PA Wire)

She’s a double espresso and burrito addict

“I’ve never seen a human being drink more espressos in a day,” an adviser once said of Truss. She also apparently has a penchant for burritos and meatball subs. “I never ceased to be amazed at how many carbs she could eat without putting on a pound. She must have the metabolic rate of a Tasmanian devil,” added the adviser.

What’s she promising if she becomes leader?

Truss has pledged to immediately cut taxes if she becomes PM. This is the same as every other contender, except Rishi Sunak.

She said: “Under my leadership, I would start cutting taxes from day one to take immediate action to help people deal with the cost of living.

“We immediately need to start putting money back into people’s pockets, we know families are struggling to make ends meet at the moment. I would reverse the national insurance rise; I opposed it in cabinet at the time because I thought it was a mistake, I think it’s even more of a mistake now when we’re facing such strong economic headwinds.

“I would also have a temporary moratorium on the green energy level to cut £153 from people’s energy bills. And I would also not do the corporation tax hikes because I think it’s vitally important that we’re attracting investment into our country.”

She’s also promised to raise defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030. She said: “We live in an increasingly dangerous world where the threat level is higher than a decade ago, and we need a stronger deterrent to face down those threats and ensure Britain leads on the global stage. Ultimately that requires more resources. My number one priority is keeping this country safe and people can trust me to do that.”

She also wants to ditch green levies on energy bills and abolish “Stalinist” housing targets and is against self identification for transgender people. “I believe in women’s rights I also believe that transgender should be treated with respect, so I changed the outcome so we made the programme simpler and kinder, but not move ahead with self-ID,” she said in one of the leadership debates. Her stance backs up what she told the Telegraph last year, “I have full respect for transgender people,” she said. “But that “it wouldn’t be right to have self identification with no checks and balances in the system”.

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