Move over ‘Dishi Rishi’, the Tory faithful have a new pin-up – ‘Busy Lizzie’.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has achieved the seemingly impossible: a few weeks ago she overtook Chancellor Rishi Sunak in a Cabinet popularity poll conducted by the influential ConservativeHome website.
It marks an astonishing turnaround in her political fortunes.
Much mocked for a cringe-making 2014 Tory party conference speech about cheese imports – so bad that the clip went viral on social media – she was humiliatingly demoted from the position of Lord Chancellor by Theresa May in 2017 for failing to defend judges after a controversial Brexit ruling.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has achieved the seemingly impossible: a few weeks ago she overtook Chancellor Rishi Sunak in a Cabinet popularity poll
And as a Remainer, her Cabinet future looked bleak when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister last year.
Eight months earlier, in an interview with me, she had ridiculed him as lazy, saying that while Mrs May ‘worked like a Trojan’, classics scholar Johnson merely ‘studied the Trojans’.
When Mr Johnson forgave her and handed her the high-profile task of negotiating non-EU post-Brexit trade deals, many Tory MPs said he was a fool.
She was out of her depth and got the job only because he needed more women in the Cabinet – not because she was talented, they muttered.
In recent months, however, she has been busy making them eat their words by signing trade deals with 58 non-EU countries.
Barely a week goes past without a photograph of Miss Truss’s beaming face, framed by the Union flag, shaking hands with the trade minister of yet another nation.
In the last week alone she’s clinched deals with Vietnam, Singapore and Mexico; a month ago Japan signed on the dotted line.
Miss Truss, 45, boasted of that success during an episode of The Great British Bake Off when she tweeted that contestants ‘used a lot of soy sauce’ and it was ‘ a good thing it will be made cheaper’ by the deal she had negotiated with Tokyo.
But beneath the cheeky self-promotion on social media, there is a robust and radical Tory thinker.
Take her comments yesterday in her other Cabinet role as women and equalities minister.
Much mocked for a cringe-making 2014 Tory party conference speech about cheese imports she was humiliatingly demoted from the position of Lord Chancellor by Theresa May
Successive administrations had concentrated on ‘fashionable’ race, gender and sexuality issues at the expense of more important ‘equality’ issues such as poverty or the North/South divide, she said.
In a speech titled The New Fight For Fairness, she criticised the dominance of ‘identity politics and loud lobby groups’.
Less attention should be given to ‘quotas, targets, unconscious bias training and diversity statements’, she argued, and more to giving people greater control over their own lives.
There are few people better placed to lead the growing backlash against trendy ‘woke’ attitudes.
Left-wingers cannot dismiss Miss Truss as a ‘privileged Tory’ who knows nothing about real life.
She went to primary school in Paisley, Scotland, one of the most deprived areas in Britain, followed by a Leeds comprehensive where she did double maths A-levels.
Her father, a professor of mathematics, was so Left-wing he refused to campaign for her when she stood for the Tories.
At Oxford, she was a Lib Dem and called for the monarchy to be scrapped.
Within two years of becoming an MP in 2010, Truss was education minister and launching a campaign to revive learning times tables by rote in schools.
When she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury she infuriated stuffy officials by asking them to do complex sums – 46×33 for example – off the top of their heads.
When Mr Johnson (pictured) forgave her and handed her the high-profile task of negotiating non-EU post-Brexit trade deals, many Tory MPs said he was a fool
(They should have turned the tables on her. I once asked her what 7×8 was. She replied: ’54’ and burst out laughing when she realised her howler.)
Truss, who has two children with finance director husband Hugh, has never shied away from speaking out. In 2012 she co-authored a book which said British workers were among ‘the worst idlers in the world’.
And she makes the average rhino look thin-skinned even when high- profile speeches – that ‘cheese’ speech for example – fall flat.
One of her friends said to me at the time: ‘Liz is great, but she can’t be leader when her speeches are like cold porridge.’
But she has rebuilt her reputation as International Trade Secretary with trade deals worth more than £200billion, equal to most of Britain’s non-EU trade.
Some are so-called ‘rollover’ agreements and replicate agreements the UK already had by virtue of being an EU member. But not all.
Many Remain campaigners warned it would be years before we got deals of any kind.
There were reports yesterday that the US might sign a ‘mini trade deal’ with the UK before Donald Trump steps down as President in January.
If so, it will be another feather of the cap of ‘Busy Lizzie’, the ultimate Tory comeback kid.
Truss: Focus on trendy issues means poor children suffer
By Claire Ellicott Political Correspondent
Liz Truss yesterday condemned the focus on race, gender and sexuality which has left white working-class children neglected.
The women and equalities minister said Whitehall had focused too much on these ‘fashionable’ issues and not enough on geography and class.
She dismissed quotas, targets and unconscious bias training as ‘tools of the Left’ that ‘do nothing to fix systems’.
And she vowed that in future, ministers will promote opportunity by tackling poverty and the North-South divide as part of Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Her remarks were labelled ‘gratuitous provocation’ by Labour and she was accused of offering a ‘false choice’ by unions.
They come after a number of ministers voiced fears over the Black Lives Matter movement, saying it has become politicised and does not aid racial harmony.
In her speech yesterday, Miss Truss – who is also International Trade Secretary – called for the equality issue to be ‘led by facts, not by fashion’ as she said the debate had been ‘narrowed’.
While she conceded that people of certain races, genders and sexualities suffered discrimination, she said these were not the only forms of bias.
She said that the focus on protected characteristics, laid out in the 2010 Equality Act, ‘has led to a narrowing of the equality debate that overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality’.
‘This means some issues – particularly those facing white working-class children – have been neglected,’ she said. Her speech to the Right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, called The New Fight For Fairness, outlined an approach rejecting ‘identity politics and loud lobby groups’.
‘It will focus fiercely on fixing geographic inequality, addressing the real problems people face, using evidence and data,’ she said.
‘If you were born in Wolverhampton or Darlington, you have been underserved by successive governments. No more. Things must change and things will change.’
‘This new approach to equality will run through the DNA of this Government.’
She said that the Equality Hub, an arm of the Cabinet Office which will be moved to the North of England, will ’embark on the Government’s biggest, broadest and most comprehensive equality data project yet’.
Asked about the comments focusing on class over race and sex, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘I don’t believe there’s a suggestion that we will stop focusing on those issues.’
Labour’s women and equalities spokesman Marsha de Cordova said: ‘When Liz Truss dismisses ‘fashionable’ causes she actually dismisses the devastating impact of discrimination and unfairness in people’s day-to-day lives.’
Frances O’Grady, of the Trades Union Congress, said Miss Truss was ‘presenting a false choice’.
‘Ministers must both tackle the barriers facing today’s diverse working class, and act to end the additional discrimination and disadvantage affecting BME, women and disabled workers,’ she added.