Elizabeth Truss

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The Right Honourable
Elizabeth Truss
Elizabeth Truss 2016.jpg
Secretary of State for Justice
Lord Chancellor
Assumed office
14 July 2016
Prime Minister Theresa May
Preceded by Michael Gove
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
In office
15 July 2014 – 14 July 2016
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Owen Paterson
Succeeded by Andrea Leadsom
Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare
In office
4 September 2012 – 15 July 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Sarah Teather (Minister of State for Schools and Families)
Succeeded by Nick Gibb
Member of Parliament
for South West Norfolk
Assumed office
6 May 2010
Preceded by Christopher Fraser
Majority 13,861 (27.7%)
Personal details
Born Mary Elizabeth Truss[1]
(1975-07-26) 26 July 1975 (age 41)
Oxford, England, UK
Political party Liberal Democrats (before 1996)
Conservative (1996–present)
Spouse(s) Hugh O'Leary
Children 2 daughters
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Website Official website

Mary Elizabeth Truss[2] PC (born 26 July 1975), often known as Liz Truss, is a British Conservative Party politician who was appointed Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor in 2016. She is the first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the role (if not counting Eleanor of Provence in 1253).[3] She has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for South West Norfolk since 2010.

After graduating from the University of Oxford in 1996, Truss worked in sales, as an economist, and was deputy director at the think-tank Reform, before becoming a member of parliament at the 2010 general election. As a backbencher, she called for reform in a number of policy areas, including childcare, maths education, and the economy.[4] She founded the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs, and authored or co-authored a number of papers and books, including After the Coalition (2011) and Britannia Unchained (2012).

Truss was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from 2012 to 2014, with responsibility for education and childcare in the Department for Education.[5] She was the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2014 to 2016. On 14 July 2016, she was appointed Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor by Theresa May, succeeding Michael Gove.[6][7]

Early and personal life[edit]

Truss was born in Oxford, England. She was raised in a northern, left-wing household; her father, John Truss, is a professor of pure mathematics at the University of Leeds; her mother was a nurse, teacher, and member of the CND.[8] Truss has described both as being "to the left of Labour".[4] When Truss later ran for election to Parliament, her mother agreed to campaign for her and her father declined to do so.[4][9]

Truss attended a state primary school in Paisley, in Scotland,[4] followed by Roundhay School, a comprehensive school in north-east Leeds. She lived in Canada for a year, and contrasts the competitive attitude in schooling there with the "trendy" education she received in Leeds.[4] She read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Merton College, Oxford.

In 2000, she married an accountant, Hugh O'Leary. The couple have two daughters.[10]

Career[edit]

After graduating in 1996, Truss worked for Shell as a commercial manager and Cable & Wireless as economics director, and became a qualified management accountant.[11]

After losing her first two elections, Truss became the full-time deputy director of Reform in January 2008,[12] where she advocated more rigorous academic standards in schools, a greater focus on tackling serious and organised crime, and urgent action to deal with Britain's falling competitiveness. She co-authored The Value of Mathematics[13] and A New Level[14] amongst other reports.

Political career[edit]

Truss was President of Oxford University Liberal Democrats and a member of the national executive committee of its youth and student wing. She also expressed republican sentiments at the 1994 Liberal Democrats conference.[15][16] Truss joined the Conservative Party in 1996.[17] She served as the chairman of the Lewisham Deptford Conservative Association from 1998 to 2000.[17] She was elected as a councillor in the London Borough of Greenwich in 2006, standing down in 2010, shortly before the end of her term of office.

Parliamentary candidacy[edit]

Truss contested election for the Labour constituency of Hemsworth in 2001, swinging the vote by 4%.[10] This brought her to the attention of Conservative Central Office, who assigned her a political mentor in Conservative MP Mark Field - the same MP with whom she later had an extramarital affair.[10] Prior to the 2005 general election parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley Sue Catling was pressured to resign by the local Conservative Association,[18] whereupon Truss was selected to fight the seat. A locally divided Conservative party resulted in a hold for Labour.[19]

Under David Cameron as Conservative leader, Truss was added to the party's controversial 'A List'.[10] In 2006, she was tipped to fight the by-election in the strong Conservative seat of Bromley and Chislehurst, where a by-election was pending after the death of the then sitting MP Eric Forth. The Daily Mail broke the story of her extra-marital affair with Mark Field.[20][21] The selection contest was won by Bob Neill, the leader of the Conservative group on the London Assembly.[10]

In October 2009, she was selected for the South West Norfolk seat by members of the constituency Conservative Association. She won over 50% of the vote in the first round of the final against five other candidates.[22][23] Shortly after her selection, some members of the constituency Association objected to Truss's selection, claiming that information about her infidelity with Field had been withheld from the members.[20][24] A motion was proposed to terminate Truss's candidature, but this was defeated by 132 votes to 37 at a general meeting of the Association's members three weeks later.[25]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Following her election to the House of Commons on 6 May 2010, Truss campaigned for issues including the retention of the RAF Tornado base at RAF Marham in her constituency;[26] over seven months she asked 13 questions in the Commons about RAF Marham, secured a special debate on the subject, wrote dozens of letters to ministers and collected signatures on a petition which was delivered to Downing Street.[27] She also successfully lobbied for the dualling of the A11 west of Thetford.[28] With an eye on the Thetford Forest, in her constituency, she spoke out against the proposal to sell off forests[29] and played a leading role in preventing a waste incinerator being built in West Norfolk.[27] Her work to campaign for design improvements to road junctions in her constituency, notably the A47, led to her being named Road Safety Parliamentarian of the Month by road safety charity Brake in January 2013.[30]

In March 2011, she wrote a paper for the liberal think-tank CentreForum in which she argued for an end to bias against serious academic subjects in the education system so that social mobility can be improved.[31] Truss wrote a further paper for the same think-tank in May 2012, in which she argued for change in the structure of the childcare market in Britain.[32]

In October 2011, she founded the Free Enterprise Group, which has been supported by over 40 other Conservative MPs.[33] In September 2011, together with four other members of the Free Enterprise Group, she had co-authored After the Coalition, a book which sought to challenge the consensus that Britain's economic decline is inevitable by arguing for the return of a more entrepreneurial and meritocratic culture.[34] A further volume by the same authors, Britannia Unchained, billed as "an insightful and critical assessment of Britain's challenges in the face of future uncertainty", was published in September 2012.[35] As part of a serialisation in The Daily Telegraph, Truss wrote an article previewing her chapter on the importance of science in education.[36] The piece was praised by the physicist Brian Cox as an "excellent article".[37]

Truss has championed Britain following Germany's lead in allowing people to have tax-free and less-heavily regulated "mini-jobs".[38] Since Truss published a paper on the policy for the Free Enterprise Group in February 2012, the policy has been examined by the Treasury as a policy to promote growth.[39][40]

Truss has campaigned for improved teaching of more rigorous school subjects, especially mathematics. She has publicised that only 20% of British students study maths to 18,[41] and called for maths classes to be compulsory for all those in full-time education.[42] Truss herself studied double A-level maths.[41] She has argued that comprehensive school pupils are being "mis-sold" easy, low-value subjects to boost school results: comprehensive school pupils are six times as likely to take media studies at A-level as privately educated pupils.[43] Truss has also criticised the over-reliance on calculators to the detriment of mental arithmetic.[44]

From March 2011, she was a Member of the Justice Select Committee,[45] remaining on the committee until her appointment as a government minister.

Junior Minister in the Department for Education[edit]

Truss at the think-tank Policy Exchange in 2013

On 4 September 2012, Truss was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education, with responsibility for childcare and early learning, assessment, qualifications and curriculum reform, behaviour and attendance, and school food review.[46] In this role, she developed some of the policy areas that she had pursued as a backbencher.

In January 2013, she announced proposals to reform A-Levels, by concentrating examinations at the end of two-year courses.[47] She sought to improve British standards in maths for fear that children are falling behind those in Asian countries,[48] and led a fact-finding visit to schools and teacher-training centres in Shanghai in February 2014 to see how children there have become the best in the world at maths.[49]

Truss also outlined plans to reform childcare, intended to overhaul childcare qualifications, and provide more choice of quality education and care for parents.[50] The proposed reforms were broadly welcomed by some organisations such as the charity 4Children,[51] the Confederation of British Industry[52] and the College of West Anglia.[53] However, the proposals met opposition from others. The TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady and the then Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg were among those criticising the reforms,[54] echoed by some parents and childcare bodies, such as the charity National Day Nurseries Association.[55]

The columnist Polly Toynbee was highly critical of the minister's plans,[56] and challenged Truss to demonstrate how to care for two babies alongside four toddlers on her own. Truss responded to Toynbee's challenge by saying that being an early educator was a very demanding job, requiring great and specialist expertise, for which she was not trained.[57] In the event, aspects of the reforms relating to relaxation of childcare ratios were blocked by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.[58]

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs[edit]

In a 15 July 2014 cabinet reshuffle, Truss was appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, replacing Owen Paterson, and becoming the youngest female cabinet minister in British history.[59][60] In apparent contrast to her predecessor,[61] Truss declared that she fully believed that climate change is happening,[62] and that "human beings have contributed to that".[63]

In November 2014, Truss launched a new 10-year bee and pollinator strategy to try and reverse the trend of falling bee populations,[64] including a strategy to revive traditional meadows which provide the most fertile habitat for pollinators. In July 2015, she approved the limited temporary lifting of an EU ban on the use of two neonicotinoid pesticides, enabling their use for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop to ward off the cabbage stem flea beetle;[65] campaigners have warned that pesticides have been shown to harm bees by damaging their renowned ability to navigate home.[66]

Truss cut taxpayer subsidies for solar panels on agricultural land, as her view was that the land could be better used to grow crops, food and vegetables.[67] She described farming and food as "hotbeds of innovation"[68] and promoted the production and export of British food, including cheese, pork pies and apples.[69] Her 2014 remarks that "we import two-thirds of our cheese: that is a disgrace", and "opening up new pork markets" in Beijing were widely mocked on social media and on the satirical current affairs programme Have I Got News For You?[70][71][72]

In March 2015 she was one of only two Cabinet Ministers to vote against the government's proposals to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, in what was technically a free vote.[73]

Criticism[edit]

Critics who have attempted to engage with her, according to George Monbiot in The Guardian,[74] have said that she is "indissolubly wedded to a set of theories about how the world should be, that are impervious to argument, facts or experience. She was among the first ministers to put her own department on the block in the latest spending review, volunteering massive cuts. She seems determined to dismantle the protections that secure our quality of life: the rules and agencies defending the places and wildlife we love."[74]

Secretary of State for Justice[edit]

On 14 July 2016, Truss was appointed as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor in Theresa May's first ministry. Truss is the first woman to hold either position. The decision to appoint her was criticised by the then Minister of State for Justice Edward Faulks, Baron Faulks, who resigned from the government, questioning whether she was going to have the clout to be able to stand up to the Prime Minister when necessary, on behalf of the judges.[75] Truss herself said that he did not contact her before going public with his criticism, and she had never met or spoken to him.[76]

Truss was heavily criticised, including by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve and the Criminal Bar Association, for failing to support more robustly the judiciary and the principle of judicial independence, after three judges of the Divisional Court came under ferocious attack from politicians and sections of the press for ruling against the government in the article 50 Brexit case.[77] Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, who had previously suggested that, like her immediate predecessors Chris Grayling and Michael Gove, she lacked the essential legal expertise that the constitution requires, called for her to be sacked as Justice Secretary as her perceived inadequate response "signals to the judges that they have lost their constitutional protector."[78]

Truss denied she had failed to defend the judges. "An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law, vital to our constitution and freedoms," she wrote. "It is my duty as Lord Chancellor to defend that independence. I swore to do so under my oath of office. I take that very seriously and I will always do so."[79] She also said that the independent judiciary was robust enough to withstand attack by the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.[80] However in March 2017, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd told the House of Lords constitution select committee [that] Truss was "completely and utterly wrong" to say she could not criticise the media adding that "I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong - The circuit judges were very concerned. They wrote to the Lord Chancellor because litigants in person were coming and saying 'you're an enemy of the people' - I don't think it is understood either how absolutely essential it is that we [the judges] are protected because we have to act as our oath requires us without fear or favour."[81]

Following a significant rise in prison violence incidents in 2015 and 2016,[82] Truss announced in November 2016 a £1.3 billion investment programme in the prison service and the recruitment of 2,500 additional prison officers, partly reversing the cuts made under the previous coalition government.[83][84]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
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Member of Parliament
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