How political fighter Liz Truss battled her way to a Cabinet post

Newly appointed environment secretary Liz Truss outside the Department for Education, London, as Prime Minister David Cameron starting putting his new ministerial team in place. Newly appointed environment secretary Liz Truss outside the Department for Education, London, as Prime Minister David Cameron starting putting his new ministerial team in place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
6:58 AM

Liz Truss is a political fighter.

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A warning

The champagne corks had hardly stopped popping for new environment secretary Liz Truss when she got a stern warning shot across the bows.

The South-West Norfolk MP has been told to ensure our coastline is saved, our rural economy is boosted and our farming and fishing industries are protected.

A dramatic reshuffle also saw promotions for fellow East Anglian MPs George Freeman, Matthew Hancock and Therese Coffey. Happisburgh-based campaigner Malcolm Kerby said successive governments had “looked the other way” when it came to flood and coastal erosion protection, and invited the new minister to meet him. “December was a wake-up call but it will happen again,” he said.

Liz Truss is a political fighter.

Just five years ago she saw off the “Turnip Taliban” in her bid to win her safe West Norfolk seat, and in just four short years as an MP has sped into the Cabinet.

Comparisons to the first, and so far only female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, are never far from any profile of the South West Norfolk MP, whose ambition has seen civil servants in the Department for Education dub her the “human hand grenade” in recognition of her apparent ability to blow obstacles out of her way,

Her arrival on the political scene, and in the Westminster consciousness, really came when she and Norfolk were thrust into the spotlight amid a very public row over whether she was the right person to stand for the Conservatives in South-West Norfolk.

Her supporters have taken a certain delight in pointing out the irony of her first Cabinet post being agriculture related, having been embroiled in the row with landowner and former high sheriff Sir Jeremy Bagge – who attempted to oust her after a past affair hit the headlines.

But that is not to say she does not have huge support in her Norfolk constituency, not least from her mentor, Baroness Shephard, a former Norfolk MP herself, who sung her praises at an association dinner on Saturday.

In what Baroness Shephard described as an “absurd deja-vu”, Ms Truss has won her seat at the Cabinet table as environment secretary almost exactly 21 years after she herself was made secretary of state for agriculture, fisheries and food. “She will be a great success in the job as she is so obviously hard working. I am just so thrilled,” Baroness Shephard said yesterday.

South West Norfolk Conservative agent Ian Sherwood was also in buoyant mood after the appointment, claiming that agriculture was “such a key to the economy in this area”, and that her hard work at a local level meant she was very aware of the issues.

But it will be a big job. And while she is viewed as an able and intelligent parliamentarian, it is a department fraught with difficulty. One insider suggested that it was a “high risk” strategy elevating her from a junior minister in the Department for Education, to head of a department where things can go wrong very quickly.

Ms Truss said: “I am delighted to be appointed environment secretary. I look forward to tackling the important issues facing our rural communities, including championing British food, protecting people from flooding and improving the environment.”

WHAT SHE WILL BE IN CHARGE OF

Let’s hope Liz Truss has a sturdy pair of wellies. Her predecessor turned up to the deluged Somerset Levels in January in a suit and smart shoes. Most pressing in her in-tray will be the issue of flood defences. But she will also have to tackle the prickly problem of what to do next after a pilot of badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Among other issues in her mandate will be the protection of the food supply chain in the wake of the horse meat scandal, ensuring that plant disease such as ash dieback does not spread, protecting the interests of our fishermen, and she will also be in charge of growing the rural economy.

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