From infighting to foreign secretary - Elizabeth Truss' rise to success

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss. Picture: Ian Burt

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss is now foreign secretary. - Credit: IAN BURT

"You don't go into politics for an easy life" - those were the words of Elizabeth Truss four years ago.

And while her rise to become the first Conservative woman to become foreign secretary may appear meteoric, the beginning of the 46-year-old's Westminster career was far from easy.

Newly-appointed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leaves Number 10 Downing Street, as Prime Minister Boris

Newly-appointed foreign secretary Elizabeth Truss. - Credit: PA

It was in 2010, when she succeeded Christopher Fraser as MP for South West Norfolk. But she had to emerge from a bitter fight among her own party members.

Battle raged within the South West Norfolk Conservative Association over her suitability, when members realised she had had an affair with the Tory MP Mark Field.

While details were on the internet, there was anger, after a national paper published the information, that Conservative HQ had not already informed the local association.

It led to calls from a group, dubbed the 'Turnip Taliban' by national commentators, for her de-selection.

Elizabeth Truss, Conservative MP for South West Norfolk. Photo: Sonya Duncan.

Elizabeth Truss pictured in 2009. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2009

But Ms Truss was backed by a considerable 132-37 margin.

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A year later, she was in Parliament, having won the seat with a majority of 13,140. By 2019, she had almost doubled it to 26,195.

Breckland councillor and Conservative party agent, Ian Sherwood, says divisive issues within parish

Ian Sherwood. - Credit: Breckland Council

Ian Sherwood, who has been Ms Truss' agent since that first election, said the selection fight was the first demonstration of the skills - and the "steel" - which have led her to becoming the longest serving cabinet member.

He said: "That was the first test and everyone saw the steel of Liz, her temperament and her ability.

"There were people who had spoken very plainly to her, but as far as she was concerned that was then all gone. She bears no grudges."

Ms Truss' ability to move forward from the past has served her well - be it her transition from Remainer to Brexit advocate in her role as international trade secretary, or her switch from the Liberal Democrats (she was president of Oxford University Lib Dems during her time at Merton College) to the Conservatives.

Born in Oxford, but educated in Scotland and Leeds, she returned to the city of her birth to study philosophy, politics and economics.

The mother-of-two became environment secretary in 2014, after a two-year stint as a junior minister for childcare and education.

During that period, she saw attempted reforms killed off by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, but celebrated success closer to home, when the Make It Marham campaign she helped lead meant the RAF base's future was secured.

Prime Minister David Cameron at RAF Marham with (L) Wing Cdr Nikki Thomas, Elizabeth Truss MP and Ai

Elizabeth Truss with prime minister David Cameron after the successful Make It Marham campaign. - Credit: Ian Burt

Ms Truss became justice secretary and lord chancellor in 2016, followed by chief secretary to the Treasury and then international trade secretary.

Prime minister Boris Johnson appointed her to the latter role in 2019. She had been the first cabinet member to back his leadership campaign, a month after she ruled herself out of the race to succeed Theresa May.

And Mr Sherwood said there is a reason why successive prime ministers appoint Ms Truss.

He said: "She is passionate about the jobs she does. All of the jobs she has had she has put her heart and soul into it.

"She has always enjoyed the jobs and it shows. She is intelligent, so can take on a brief and understand it and I never cease to be amazed by her knowledge of the briefs she's been responsible for."

Norfolk Day supporter, Baroness Gillian Shephard. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Baroness Shephard. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Baroness Shephard, former South West Norfolk MP, agreed.

She said: "She is a prodigiously hard worker, very well organised and focused. She has proved that all of the way through.

"She has got where she has got through, of course, her ability, but also because of her political courage.

"And throughout it all, she has retained her sense of humour and ability to deal with criticism.

"Foreign secretary is a huge job, but I am certain she is going to be a success at it."

Ms Truss' speech while environment secretary, where she said Britain importing two thirds of its cheese was 'a disgrace', saw her mocked in some quarters.

But she is very well-liked among Conservative members. A poll last year placed her as the most popular cabinet member among the Tory rank and file.

In 2014, when she became environment secretary, this newspaper asked Ms Truss if she had seen herself reaching the cabinet when she started out.

Her answer? "Not really. I was interested in politics. I have had a business career, but have found politics interesting. I have always focused on what I can do to make things happen and to change things."

Her new role gives her ample opportunity, with the world watching.

New mansion?

Prime minister Boris Johnson could come under pressure over whether to grant Ms Truss or her demoted predecessor Dominic Raab access to the grace-and-favour mansion of Chevening.

Downing Street suggested on Friday that no decision had been made over who to give access to the 115-room holiday home in Kent, with the final moves in the reshuffle still to come.

But The Times reported that both cabinet ministers have staked a claim to the country manor reserved for use by a senior minister.

Mr Raab was said to believe his new role of deputy prime minister, which formalised a title he effectively held, means he should be able to keep it.

The Chevening Estate Act of 1959 states the prime minister decides the "nominated person" to occupy the 17th century mansion.

No 10 said there is not "one single post" that is entitled to use the Grade I listed building, though by convention access is usually bestowed on the foreign secretary.
 

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