25 Jul 2016
Her nickname at the Department of Education was the 'human hand-grenade', while as Environment Secretary, she was noted for her strong opinion on British cheeses. But what are the issues Liz Truss really cares about, and what do these tell us about her potential approach to prison education as Justice Secretary?
Name: Elizabeth Truss
Role: Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor; MP for South West Norfolk
Family: Born 26 July 1975 in Oxford. Mother a teacher and nurse; father a mathematics professor. Married to Hugh O'Leary, a finance director, and has two daughters
Education: Comprehensive schools in Paisley and Leeds. Read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University
Career (pre-politics): Management accountant, deputy director of Reform think-tank (political): MP for South West Norfolk (2010 – present); Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in Department of Education (2012 – 2014), Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2014 – 2016)
Political Leanings: Truss was born into a left-wing household – her mother was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and Truss herself campaigned against Margaret Thatcher as a teenager. At Oxford University she was President of the Liberal Democrats at Oxford, in which capacity she advocated for the abolition of the monarchy.
Truss joined the Conservative Party in 1996, since when she has been a fierce advocate of a free-market economy. She is the founder of the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs, which seeks to restore the public’s faith in markets as a “source of liberation” and improve Britain’s global competitiveness. The group’s 2012 publication - Britannia Unchained – sparked controversy with its assertion that the British were “among the worst idlers in the world” and that “whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music”.
In Parliament, Truss has consistently voted in line with her party in all major areas apart from on the issue of hereditary peers, who she wants to see removed from the House of Lords. Despite her well-publicised horror at the amount of cheese being imported into the UK, Truss was a supporter of the single market and fought for Britain to stay in the EU during the referendum campaign.
On Justice: After being appointed Justice Secretary, Truss was quick to confirm she accepted the need for Gove’s prison reforms and would continue to pursue them. Anxieties that she might not, may have stemmed from sentiments expressed in After the Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain, which Truss co-authored in 2011. The book argues for the need to “reverse the tide of soft justice”, says prisons should be “tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places”, and calls for their universal privatisation.
Truss sat on the Justice Select Committee from 2010 to 2012. During this time, her Hansard record shows her as someone keen to identify and tackle ‘waste’ in the system. Speaking in 2012, she claimed the UK had “one of the most expensive justice systems in the world per head”. She lobbied (successfully) for the abolition of the Legal Services Commission, which used to administer legal aid, called for greater transparency in the prison system “so that justice can be seen to be done”, and urged a more joined-up approach between the prison and probation services.
In her previous roles, Truss has shown enthusiasm for employment in prisons . In 2012 she tweeted that prison work allows “prisons and prisoners [to] earn an income stream and [a] work ethic”. She described a 2012 visit to HMP Wayland, where a local company had moved a component assembly line from China to inside the prison, as “eye-opening”.
As Environment Secretary, Truss ensured that milk provided to prisoners was 100% British.
On Education: Truss worked under Gove at the Department for Education, who apparently referred to her as his “hand grenade”. She had a wide remit, including early-years learning, qualifications and curriculum reform. Perhaps inspired by her father, a mathematics professor, Truss was keen to promote the importance of numeracy, travelling to Asia to research how to improve British children’s maths skills, and calling for maths to be compulsory for all of those in full-time education. She campaigned to improve teaching of more “rigorous” school subjects and argued that comprehensive school pupils were being “mis-sold" easy, low-value subjects to boost school results.
Claims to fame: First female Lord Chancellor in the ten-thousand year history of the role; youngest female cabinet minister upon her appointment as Environment Secretary