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Liz Truss: From anti-Thatcher demos to heir to Iron Lady’s throne

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Liz Truss is no stranger to political transformations.

Having marched in her youth side-by-side with left-wingers to demand the ousting of Margaret Thatcher, she is now seen by supporters as the heir to the Iron Lady’s throne.

The highest office in the land is now within grasping distance for Ms Truss, who will face former Cabinet colleague Rishi Sunak in a ballot of party members after overcoming the stiff challenge of rival Penny Mordaunt.

The avid Brexiteer, never far from a clash with the European Union, campaigned to Remain, and Ms Truss joined the Conservatives after a brush with the Liberal Democrats.

Now the fierce free-marketeer who became only the UK’s second female foreign secretary last year at the age of 46 is aiming to convince party members to giver her the top job.

Born in Oxford in 1975 to parents she describes as “left-wing”, her mother, a nurse and a teacher, took a young Ms Truss to marches for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s and to “peace camp”.

Aged four, she moved to Paisley in Scotland, where she has recalled yelling a slogan that perhaps no other Tory Cabinet minister has ever yelled before.

“It was in Scottish so it was ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, oot, oot, oot,” she has told the BBC.

But Ms Truss also had an early “fascination” with Mrs Thatcher, saying that she was around eight when she agreed to play her during a mock school election. “I got no votes,” she conceded.

Ms Truss says her father, a mathematics professor, has long struggled to comprehend her move to conservatism, believing, perhaps wishfully, she is a “sleeper working from inside to overthrow the regime”.

Conservative Party leadership contender Liz Truss before a live television debate
Conservative Party leadership contender Liz Truss before a live television debate (Victoria Jones/PA)

The family upped sticks to Leeds, where Ms Truss attended the Roundhay state secondary school before studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University.

There she became active in student politics, first with the Liberal Democrats, even once espousing an anti-monarchist sentiment.

“I think it was fair to say that, when I was in my youth, I was a professional controversialist and I liked exploring ideas and stirring things up,” she told the BBC’s Political Thinking With Nick Robinson.

At the 1997 Conservative Party conference, she met future husband Hugh O’Leary. She has two teenage daughters.

Ms Truss worked as an accountant for Shell and Cable & Wireless but her heart was in politics, though she suffered the setbacks of two failed electoral bids.

After the unsuccessful runs for the Tories in Hemsworth in 2001 and Calder Valley in 2005, she was elected as a councillor in Greenwich in 2006 before becoming deputy director of the right-of-centre Reform think tank two years later.

But she was selected as the candidate for the Tory safe seat of South West Norfolk after making it on to David Cameron’s A-list of priority candidates.

2010 General Election campaign Apr 29th
Liz Truss, canvassing in the village of West Walton, Norfolk (Chris Radburn/PA)

She entered Parliament after winning in the 2010 general election by a comfortable majority of more than 13,000 votes.

Her candidacy narrowly survived an attempt by traditionalist members of her local Tory association – nicknamed the “Turnip Taliban” over their conservative views and their local agricultural product – to deselect her after it emerged she had an affair with married Conservative MP Mark Field.

During her early days in Parliament she co-authored the Britannia Unchained book alongside Thatcherite future Cabinet colleagues Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab.

It set out proposals to strip back regulation and encourage innovation, but caused controversy with a claim that British workers are “among the worst idlers in the world”.

Two years after entering Parliament, Ms Truss was part of the Government, being made an education minister in the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

After clashes with Lib Dem deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg, she was promoted to environment secretary in 2014.

But while her fortunes were rising in Westminster, her reputation as a speechmaker faltered.

It was in the environment brief that she gave an often-ridiculed address to the Tory conference where she discussed her left-to-right conversion in a pantomime manner.

Conservative Party annual conference 2015
Then-environment secretary Liz Truss addressing the Conservative Party conference in Manchester (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Her tone switched to a serious one when decrying the state of play that saw the UK importing two thirds of its cheese. “That is a disgrace,” she insisted, deadpan.

Ms Truss’s star kept rising, however, and she did a year as justice secretary before heading to the Treasury as chief secretary and then leading the Department for International Trade.

It was during this period that her prolific and carefully curated social media output saw the department nicknamed the “Department for Instagramming Truss”.

Another political conversion was under way, and she shifted from arguing to stay in the EU at the 2016 referendum to become a strong defender of the decision to leave.

She inherited the role of Foreign Secretary in September after Mr Raab was moved aside in the wake of his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.

Here, she would take a tough stance in talks and anger the EU with legislation threatening to potentially break international law over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Brexit
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meeting European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic for talks in central London on the Northern Ireland Protocol (Rob Pinney/PA)

She would also oversee the successful release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori from Iranian detention where other ministers had failed.

The Foreign Office gave her a much higher profile and she seized on it with numerous eye-catching photo ops that bore a resemblance to Mrs Thatcher’s escapades.

Though the frequent comparisons with the Tory grandee are at times derided as lazy and sexist, they are comparisons that Ms Truss has clearly sought to encourage.

Ms Truss donned military gear and perched in a tank for pictures during a visit to Estonia, echoing an image of Mrs Thatcher in a tank in West Germany in 1986.

Her choice of Russian hat on a visit to Moscow in February emulated that of Mrs Thatcher’s three decades earlier, while a leadership debate outfit also bore uncanny similarities.

And she has sought to portray herself as her tax-cutting heir during the fight for No 10, though Mr Sunak has sought to claim the same mantle with his very different approach.

Ms Truss has set the stage, but it is now in the hands of party members to decide whether she will tread the boards as prime minister.

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