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Liz Truss, a stressed radical goals for Downing Avenue

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Because the clock ticked all the way down to the beginning of Monday’s televised Tory management debate — a vital second within the race to grow to be Britain’s subsequent prime minister — music was heard pumping out of Liz Truss’s dressing room. “She was singing and dancing,” mentioned one witness. “It was the marketing campaign anthem: “Dancing within the Darkish” by Bruce Springsteen.” The Boss.

Britain’s international secretary is battling Rishi Sunak, former chancellor, to succeed Boris Johnson. After a woeful, robotic begin to the marketing campaign, Truss has hit her stride and now appears to be having fun with it. Bookmakers make her odds-on favorite to grow to be prime minister on September 5; a YouGov survey of occasion members this month put her on 49 per cent to Sunak’s 31.

If she succeeds, Truss would comply with Margaret Thatcher and Theresa Might to grow to be Britain’s third feminine occupant of Quantity 10, all Conservative. However her marketing campaign — and even a few of her garments — draw inspiration most closely from the Iron Woman: low taxes, standing as much as Brussels and baiting the Russian bear. In a celebration nonetheless dedicated to Thatcher-worship, this tactic appears to be working.

“She’s mild on her toes,” says Nadine Dorries, a cupboard minister and Truss supporter, referring to the international secretary’s capacity to bamboozle her opponent with coverage positions typically at odds with political orthodoxy and — every now and then — along with her personal file.

Truss presents herself as loyal to Johnson, who continues to be well-liked with grassroots members who will vote for the following chief. However she has been planning her management bid for months. Equally, she is now a convert to Brexit despite the fact that she campaigned for Stay within the 2016 referendum, warning of the financial risks of leaving the EU.

One ministerial colleague says: “The factor about Liz is that she’s primarily an anti-establishment determine, an outsider like Thatcher. The occasion membership likes that.” Sunak, to his apparent discomfort, has been portrayed by Truss’s staff as a stuffy “mansplainer”, clinging to failed Treasury tenets.

Mary Elizabeth Truss was born in 1975 in Oxford. Her mom was a nurse and trainer and her father a professor of arithmetic. Each have been firmly anti-Thatcher and staunchly leftwing. They raised her as a radical.

As she typically factors out, she went to a state faculty in Leeds — Sunak attended the elite, fee-paying Winchester School — however former college students say Roundhay was not the dead-end institution that her rhetoric suggests. She ended up at Oxford college the place she learn philosophy, politics and economics.

As a scholar she was a Liberal Democrat and was already displaying her anti-establishment edge, calling for the abolition of the monarchy at a celebration convention. Fellow activists from these years be aware she was all the time a traditional liberal on economics, notably on commerce — not far faraway from Thatcher’s personal views.

Pals say a visit Truss made to japanese Europe within the early Nineteen Nineties satisfied her that Thatcher was proper to face as much as the Soviet Union; it was not lengthy earlier than she joined the Tories. One in every of her two daughters can be named Liberty.

Truss certified as a administration accountant and labored for Shell and Cable & Wi-fi earlier than turning into the MP for South West Norfolk in 2010. She was rapidly placed on a ministerial fast-track by David Cameron: the brand new Tory prime minister admired her power, sense of enjoyable, irreverence and free market zeal.

To the broader public she was, nevertheless, greatest recognized for a 2014 Tory convention speech by which, as agriculture minister, she turned inexplicably indignant in regards to the UK’s excessive ranges of cheese imports — “a shame” — earlier than beaming on the prospect of “opening up new pork markets” in China. Delegates have been bemused; the clip went viral.

Truss is usually described by Tory MPs as partaking however “a bit bizarre”. Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser, mentioned Truss was “about as near correctly crackers as anybody I’ve met in parliament”. However her ascent has defied those that underestimated her.

Ministerial colleagues say she is tough working and diligent however she has a blended file. As justice secretary she was accused of failing to face up for judges in a Brexit row. Extra just lately as international secretary she helped to safe the discharge from Tehran of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British twin nationwide. One veteran ambassador mentioned of her efficiency on the International Workplace: “I’ve been impressed.”

She had beforehand come into her personal as worldwide commerce secretary, grabbing the “alternatives of Brexit” by hanging a sequence of bilateral commerce offers — often facsimiles of ones Britain loved via the EU — accompanied by Union flags and the promotion of “International Britain”.

MPs joke that Truss has grow to be “the Brexiters’ favorite Remainer”; her bid for Quantity 10 is endorsed by Eurosceptics who will anticipate her to pursue a tricky line with Brussels — particularly within the corrosive row over Northern Eire’s buying and selling preparations.

If she does grow to be prime minister, she’s going to face a set of a few of the most daunting issues inherited by any postwar UK chief, together with public sector strikes, an NHS on the sting of breakdown and a celebration displaying indicators of exhaustion after 12 years in workplace.

Truss’s instincts will likely be to comply with Thatcher: defy conference and check out one thing new. She desires to chop taxes in the course of an inflationary disaster, in opposition to the recommendation of many economists.

David Gauke, a former ministerial colleague, says the nation will likely be in for an attention-grabbing time if Truss, the stressed radical, prevails: “She’s going to wish to problem the obtained knowledge — even when the obtained knowledge is sort of definitely appropriate.”

george.parker@ft.com

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