Foreign secretary Liz Truss formally launched her bid to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister and Tory leader on Thursday morning, pledging to set the economy on an “upward trajectory” by the time of the next general election in 2024.
“We have to level with the British public that our economy will not get back on track overnight,” she said frankly. “Times are going to be tough, but I know that I can get us on an upward trajectory by 2024.”
Positioning herself as an economic libertarian, she outlined plans to cancel ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak’s rises in corporation tax and National Insurance, pledged to increase defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade and endorsed home secretary Priti Patel’s widely loathed Rwanda deportation scheme for asylum seekers.
Interestingly, she explained away her refusal to join the mass resignations in protest at Mr Johnson’s premiership by saying she was “a loyal person”, a clear dig at Mr Sunak, whose decision to quit alongside health secretary Sajid Javid triggered the deluge of resignations that ultimately led to his downfall.
She has certainly been a prominent backer of Mr Johnson in the past and her campaign has already attracted the support of dogged Johnsonites Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
That said, Ms Truss has previously made no secret of her ambitions, holding “fizz with Liz” socials for her colleagues and Monday surgeries in the House of Commons tea room open to MPs with grievances to air, making it clear she sees herself as leadership material.
While Mr Sunak faces awkward questions about precisely when he set up his campaign website and comes under fire for propping up Mr Johnson throughout the Partygate furore only to then turn on him, he nevertheless still leads the race ahead of both junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt and Ms Truss, who clearly has her work cut out if she hopes to beat them to Downing Street.
Mary Elizabeth Truss was born in Oxford on 26 July 1975, her left-wing father John Kenneth Truss a professor of pure mathematics at the University of Leeds and her mother Priscilla Mary a nurse, teacher and member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
The family moved to Scotland when Ms Truss was four years old and she attended West Primary School in Paisley, Renfrewshire, and then Roundhay School, a comprehensive in Leeds.
At 18, she studied politics, philosophy and economics at Merton College, Oxford, where she was, surprisingly, president of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats.
She switched sides and joined the Conservative Party in 1996, the same year she graduated and became a commercial manager at Shell, later serving as economic director of Cable & Wireless and becoming a qualified management accountant.
Ms Truss married another accountant, Hugh O’Leary, in 2000 and the couple has two daughters.
She entered politics professionally when she ran as the Tory candidate for South West Norfolk in the 2010 general election, winning the seat and holding it ever since.
In Westminster, she has held a string of jobs: parliamentary under-secretary of state for childcare and education; secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs; secretary of state for justice; lord chancellor; chief secretary to the treasury (in which she was succeeded by Mr Sunak); secretary of state for international trade and president of the board of trade.
Earning the nickname “the human hand grenade” among Whitehall insiders for her habit of blowing things up, before 2022 she was best known for a widely ridiculed rant about British cheese imports during the Conservative Party Conference in 2014 and for her bungled response to the right-wing press’s vicious post-Brexit attacks on High Court judges, whom The Daily Mail had branded “Enemies of the People” on one November 2016 frontpage.
Silly pronouncements like describing the country as “a nation of Uber-riding, Deliveroo-eating, Airbnb-ing freedom fighters” during a speech on the gig economy likewise derailed her mission to be taken seriously, as did a blunder earlier this year in which she confused the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea.
Following such setbacks – and in the interest of gaining a greater degree of control over her public image – Ms Truss has become increasingly active on social media, exhaustively documenting her jet-setting diplomatic trips around the world and posting endless pictures of herself signing agreements and glad-handing officials, even posing in an Army tank in a direct nod to Margaret Thatcher, evidently a role model.
She found herself facing a genuine military crisis in February as Russia’s war in Ukraine became a brutal reality and travelled to Moscow to meet with her Kremlin counterpart Sergei Lavrov, hoping in vain to convince him to pull back from the brink and walking away with nothing more than some plummy photographs of herself in Red Square sporting a fur hat (ideal for Instagram, at least).
Her ongoing condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s actions – which even saw Russian officials explicitly cite comments she made in a BBC interview as the reason for its decision to place the country’s military on high alert – has seen her enjoy a bump in popularity among Conservatives akin to that of no-nonsense defence secretary Ben Wallace, who declined to run for the party leadership.
Ms Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat have likewise drawn on their own military credentials in the present contest, although the economy appears to be the defining issue of the moment, rather than the ongoing bloodshed in Eastern Europe.
Despite her background in mathematics, a subject on which she has published several books, this reformed Remainer faces a difficult task in convincing her party that she is the only person who can steer Britain through its economic slump and finally make a success of Brexit – and not just the Johnsonite continuity candidate.