Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

From the Turnip Taliban to Prime Minister: A look back at West Norfolk MP Liz Truss' career so far





After the new Prime Minister was announced yesterday, Lynn News reporter Chris Hornby looks back at the political career of Liz Truss...

In late October 2009, the political career of Liz Truss was at crisis point as she faced the wrath of the South West Norfolk Tories – nicknamed the 'Turnip Taliban' by the national press.

The chances of her ever getting the keys to No 10 were a million miles away.

November 2009: A media scrum surrounds Liz Truss as she arrives for the general meeting of Tory members at Swaffham Assembly Rooms.
November 2009: A media scrum surrounds Liz Truss as she arrives for the general meeting of Tory members at Swaffham Assembly Rooms.

Although she had been chosen to stand in the safe Conservative seat at the next General Election, members of the local association were unhappy that they had not been informed about her previous affair with a married MP.

Just hours after her moment of triumph on being selected from a short list of five candidates came the bombshell, when the Mail on Sunday published details of her 18-month affair during 2004-05 with Tory MP Mark Field, one of party leader David Cameron’s front benchers at the time.

Urgent meetings of local party chiefs, which could lead to her being de-selected, were called for and the SW Norfolk association was in turmoil.

October 2009: All smiles from Liz Truss after her selection as the prospective parliamentary candidate and congratulated by South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser, who had announced earlier in the year he would stand down at the next General Election.
October 2009: All smiles from Liz Truss after her selection as the prospective parliamentary candidate and congratulated by South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser, who had announced earlier in the year he would stand down at the next General Election.

But the 34-year-old married mother of two came out fighting for her political life and told the Lynn News that she had never tried to hide her affair and had made it known to Conservative party officials from the outset.

“When you go onto the approved Conservative candidates’ list they ask about any issues that might arise and I disclosed it at that point,” she said.

“I have been upfront about this issue (the affair) and it’s been in the public domain for more than three years. It’s an old story which the Mail has decided to revive.”

At the time when the affair became public knowledge, the fallout had been massive, with Mr Field losing his job as a culture spokesman and his marriage collapsing. But Ms Truss patched up her own marriage to husband Hugh O’Leary and their two daughters were born.

May 2015: Hoping for a return to Westminster for a second term, Liz Truss met 101-year-old Pat Voss at Swaffham Assembly Rooms on polling day. Pat, who first became eligible to vote when she turned 21 in 1935, said she had not missed a general election since.
May 2015: Hoping for a return to Westminster for a second term, Liz Truss met 101-year-old Pat Voss at Swaffham Assembly Rooms on polling day. Pat, who first became eligible to vote when she turned 21 in 1935, said she had not missed a general election since.

Ms Truss had been on David Cameron’s famous “A” list of preferred candidates for future elections and he was quick to give her his public support as the row developed.

But local Conservative association leaders openly defied Cameron during an executive committee meeting, when they refused to re-endorse her as their candidate. Instead, they chose to call for a special general meeting of the membership which would decide whether Ms Truss should stay or be kicked out.

She was not downhearted at that turn of events and told the Lynn News: “It’s my challenge now because I not only want to be the candidate for this constituency, but to represent it in Parliament.

How we reported on the Liz Truss scandal back in 2009
How we reported on the Liz Truss scandal back in 2009

"I’m absolutely committed and passionate about doing this job and I will be basing myself full time in the constituency to address the needs of the area.”

And a week later, association chairman David Hills, who had been away on holiday, issued a statement saying that he, SW Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser, the agent Ian Sherwood and other officials were supporting Ms Truss in continuing as candidate.

He said she should not be blamed for any discrepancy between the association and Tory HQ about information that she had declared when she became a candidate, adding: “This matter has been whipped up by the media.”

May 2010: South West Norfolk’s new MP, with husband Hugh O’Leary and her mother Priscilla, is pictured at Lynn Corn Exchange after the results had been declared.
May 2010: South West Norfolk’s new MP, with husband Hugh O’Leary and her mother Priscilla, is pictured at Lynn Corn Exchange after the results had been declared.

Having been unsuccessful when standing for Parliament in the Yorkshire constituencies of Hemsworth in 2001 and Calder Valley in 2005 – both Labour strongholds – Ms Truss was determined to hold on to her position as prospective parliamentary candidate for the SW Norfolk seat and she went on a charm offensive.

She rented a cottage in Swaffham, began to discuss local issues with party members, attended a coffee morning at Swaffham parish church, met local farmers and even went to a Rotary club art exhibition preview.

The stage was set for a fascinating finale with her fate to be decided at the general meeting of Tory members on Monday, November 16, at Swaffham Assembly Rooms. Outside the doors, a 50-strong national and local media entourage had descended on the Market Place.

May 2012: South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss meets volunteers at the Community Allotment in Swaffham which had been given a £10,000 Big Lottery Fund grant towards its project.
May 2012: South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss meets volunteers at the Community Allotment in Swaffham which had been given a £10,000 Big Lottery Fund grant towards its project.
May 2015: Re-elected MPs Elizabeth Truss and Henry Bellingham at the Lynnsport count.
May 2015: Re-elected MPs Elizabeth Truss and Henry Bellingham at the Lynnsport count.

When Ms Truss arrived, she gave no hint of any qualms she might have had and hurried inside with Mr Hills, neither of them making any response to the barrage of questions from Press, radio and TV reporters.

An estimated 170 members attended the closed-doors meeting, which was chaired by Conservative frontbencher Lord Taylor of Holbeach. And 90 minutes later it was all over, with the motion to deselect Ms Truss defeated by 132 votes to 37.

When she emerged from the meeting, Ms Truss made little comment other than to express her delight at a “very positive result”, before walking briskly through the Market Place and towards the local Tory offices.

January 2014: Norfolk County Council's plan for The Willows incinerator at King's Lynn was first given permission in 2012 – and promptly received widespread opposition from MPs, West Norfolk Council and residents. This picture was taken at an incinerator costings press conference, held by Henry Bellingham MP, Liz Truss MP and council leader Nick Daubney. In April It was confirmed that the £500m contract for the waste incinerator was to be terminated.
January 2014: Norfolk County Council's plan for The Willows incinerator at King's Lynn was first given permission in 2012 – and promptly received widespread opposition from MPs, West Norfolk Council and residents. This picture was taken at an incinerator costings press conference, held by Henry Bellingham MP, Liz Truss MP and council leader Nick Daubney. In April It was confirmed that the £500m contract for the waste incinerator was to be terminated.

Many of the scenes were filmed live for television and BBC 2 Newsnight interrogator Jeremy Paxman suggested it was “the most momentous thing to have happened in Swaffham since a cardboard box blew down the high street.”

Later in November, putting the trials and tribulations behind her, Ms Truss visited the Lynn News offices and told reporter Mike Last – who had been covering the events surrounding her – she was looking forward to the 2010 General Election.

“I enjoy campaigning,” she said. “It’s good to be able to get on with the job, we are all on the same side and moving forward. I am not taking anything for granted and want to work hard to prove to the people of SW Norfolk that I will stand up for them.”

Revealing that she had moved into rented accommodation in Downham, Ms Truss added: “I am spending a lot of time here, and my family is as well, and in due course we will buy a place in the constituency.”

December 2019: Liz Truss and election agent Ian Sherwood pictured at Lynnsport where the count for the South West Norfolk constituency was held.
December 2019: Liz Truss and election agent Ian Sherwood pictured at Lynnsport where the count for the South West Norfolk constituency was held.

Factfile

  • Among the shortlisted contenders for the South West Norfolk seat in October 2009 was Thérèse Coffey. After missing out to Liz Truss in Norfolk, Ms Coffey was selected as the Tory candidate for Suffolk Coastal and duly won the seat in the May 2010 election – and she was appointed Work and Pensions Secretary in the Boris Johnson government.
  • After studying politics, philosophy and economics at Merton College, Oxford, Liz Truss joined Shell as a graduate trainee. She was also the deputy director of Reform – a think tank which publishes its own research – she co-authored influential papers on education and economic policy.
  • One of the candidates standing against Liz Truss in May 2019 was Earl Elvis of Outwell (otherwise known as Ashley Inwood) of the Monster Raving Loony Party. His main policy, he told the electorate, was the introduction of a 99p coin – so that shoppers could avoid losing 1p coins when items were priced at 99p. He gained 836 votes.
  • For many years Ms Truss was an active member of the Liberal Democrats. She was president of Oxford University Lib Dems and a member of the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students national executive committee.
  • Conservatives have won the South West Norfolk constituency 14 times in succession. For many years previously there had been close results between the two main parties before Paul Hawkins gained the seat for the Tories from Labour’s sitting MP Albert Hilton by just 123 votes in 1966.
  • Hawkins was returned as MP in four elections through the 1970s and again in 1983. He was knighted in 1982 and finally retired in 1987.
  • Gillian Shephard was successful in the next four elections, but faced a big challenge from Labour’s Adrian Hefferman in 1997. That was the year when Labour swept to power under Tony Blair with a landslide victory over John Major. Shephard saw her majority cut from nearly 17,000 to 2,464.
  • Christopher Fraser fought just one campaign, winning the 2005 election with a 10,000 majority over Labour.

In the four General Elections she has fought for the South West Norfolk seat, Liz Truss has seen her majority increase each time.

June 2017: One of her first public duties after her re-election earlier in the month saw Liz Truss attend the turf-cutting ceremony to mark the start of building work on a new £1 million sports and community complex in Marshland St James. She was joined by, from left, project vice chairman Andy Stephens, chairman Lee Chapman, parish council chairman Sue Askew and West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long
June 2017: One of her first public duties after her re-election earlier in the month saw Liz Truss attend the turf-cutting ceremony to mark the start of building work on a new £1 million sports and community complex in Marshland St James. She was joined by, from left, project vice chairman Andy Stephens, chairman Lee Chapman, parish council chairman Sue Askew and West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long

2010: Liz Truss (Con) 23,753; Stephen Gordon (Lib Dem) 10,613; Peter Smith (Lab) 9,119; Kay Hipsey (UKIP) 3,061; Dennis Pearce (BNP) 1,774; Lori Allen (Green) 830. Conservative majority: 13,140.

2015: Liz Truss (Con) 25,515; Paul Smyth (UKIP) 11,654; Peter Smith (Lab) 8,649; Rupert Moss-Eccard (Lib Dem) 2,217; Sandra Walmsley (Green) 2,075. Conservative majority 13,861.

2017: Liz Truss (Con) 32,894; Peter Smith (Lab) 14,582; David Williams (UKIP) 2,575; Stephen Gordon (Lib Dem) 2,365. Conservative majority: 18,312.

August 2018: Liz Truss MP visiting the old Downham Market cinema, part of which had been transformed into a boutique-style gym, is pictured with personal trainer Terry Whitaker
August 2018: Liz Truss MP visiting the old Downham Market cinema, part of which had been transformed into a boutique-style gym, is pictured with personal trainer Terry Whitaker
May 2018: Liz Truss visiting the Swaffham Sheep Fair on the Market Place.
May 2018: Liz Truss visiting the Swaffham Sheep Fair on the Market Place.

2019: Liz Truss (Con) 35,507; Emily Blake (Lab) 9,312; Josie Ratcliffe (Lib Dem) 4,166; Pallavi Devulapalli (Green) 1,645; Earl Elvis of Outwell (Monster Raving Loony) 836. Conservative majority 26,195.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More