Last Friday at an event hosted by 1828, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss came to the University of Leeds to speak about how she feels the Conservatives can improve on their standing about young people and win the next General Election. Speaking to an audience of around thirty, most of whom were members of the LUU Conservative Society that was co-hosting the event, Truss spoke on issues of taxation, economic liberalism and the cult of personality that surrounds Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Truss, whose father is a Professor at Leeds, received a state education before studying PPE at Oxford University. Initially a member of the Liberal Democrats, she moved to the Conservatives in 1996. Since then, she has climbed up the political ladder running for MP in South West Norfolk successfully in 2010. She has been Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Childcare and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She went viral for a speech where she lamented the significant imports of cheese to the UK . When Theresa May became Prime Minister, Truss became the first female High Chancellor in the history of the post.
As a student who voted Remain and Lib Dem in the Brexit vote and the last General Election respectively, I was probably not Truss’ target demographic in her speech that seemed more squarely aimed at those who lean towards the Tory cause. Nevertheless, going off just a few notes on the table beside her, her speech argued that the attitudes of conservatives need to change in order to make inroads among young people and engage with youth activists across the country the same way Corbyn has been able to do with groups like Momentum. She discussed the issues caused by Brexit in that any policies to address social issues have found it significantly harder to gain traction in the media due to the dominance of the Brexit debate.
After the speech, I sat down for a brief interview where I asked her about what drove her to get into politics, being a high-profile women in Westminster, and Brexit.
Q: So to start off, what made you decide to get into politics?
LIZ TRUSS: My mum was very involved in politics as a member of the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) so I was quite interested. And then I became a Tory because I believed I should be able to control my own destiny and not have other people tell me what to do.
Q: As one of the most high profile women in British politics, do you still think there are significant barriers women have to face? Especially given only 32% of women are MPs, 26% of the Cabinet are female, and #MeToo and bullying allegations in Parliament.
LIZ TRUSS: I definitely think there are still barriers to women but I really strongly encourage women to get involved in politics and stand for Parliament because the upsides are really much better than the downsides.
Q: 45% of Conservative MPs are privately educated with the likes of David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and Jacob Rees-Mogg all going to Eton. You, on the other hand, received a state education, including in Leeds. Given only 7% of the population are privately educated, do you think the Conservative party needs to do better with regards to being representative?
LIZ TRUSS: Yes, I really want to see more young people enter into politics. I think it would be good if we had more.
Q: Do you think this could be one of the biggest barriers the Conservatives have outreaching to young people, that this gives them an elite reputation?
LIZ TRUSS: I don’t think there is anything wrong with private school education but more I think we need to attract a wider variety of people into the Conservative party. That’s why I’m here at Leeds University to encourage people.
Q: The meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to global warming and we are only 12 years away from “climate change catastrophe” according to a UN report in October. You criticised a proposed meat tax in your speech as “moralising through the tax system”. Do you not think that policies like this are effective and should politicians set an example by reducing meat consumption?
LIZ TRUSS: Absolutely not. Get your hands off my bacon! I disagree. I think that meat is being wrongly demonised along with dairy products. I also support eating vegetables as well but I definitely don’t support a tax on meat.
Q: Do you think the government should rule out a No Deal Brexit, particularly in light of the historic defeat of May’s deal?
LIZ TRUSS: Not at all. I think that we should definitely keep no-deal on the table.
Q: Even when according to CBI based off a recent study by the government, it was shown that if No Deal Brexit were to occur, the economy in Yorkshire and the Humber would lose an estimated £12 billion annually by 2034?
LIZ TRUSS: I’m here today talking about how many young people here are setting up small businesses. I think the future is bright and I don’t believe the naysayers and the doom-mongers.
Q: In the Independent, you were reported to have said the Prime Minister was a ‘pacifist’ and a bad manager of people. Why then did you vote for May’s deal and for her to stay in the no-confidence vote tabled by Jeremy Corbyn?
LIZ TRUSS: I’m not going to comment on that, but can I just say, I think that she is doing a fantastic job as Prime Minister. I believe we will get a deal through, but we will change the backstop.
Liz’s speech was advertised as being ‘on how to liberate the economy and win the next election’. Truss certainly highlighted the former quoting figures of taxation, further advocating against the current railway system arguing that it should be fully privatised. She presented an optimistic future for millennials where “since 2015, there has been an 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18-24-year-olds” – more, as she highlighted, than France or Germany. However, what she failed to provide was a convincing strategy that would enable the Conservatives to make up serious ground amongst the 18-24-year-old demographic.
In the 2017 General Election, only 19% of 18-19 and 22% of 20-24-year-olds voted Conservative whilst 66% and 62% respectively voted for Labour. While Truss quoted statistics in her speech that suggests more young people align with Conservative thinking and support the free market than these voting figures might show, she failed to explain why the Tories had failed to capture these votes they should have in the bag. In her speech, she lamented the growth of safe space policies at University but, given two-thirds of students believe the NUS (National Union of Students) should have a no-platforming policy, this puts doubt over whether this is an effective strategy. While support in Corbyn is dropping amongst young people, Truss quoting a figure of 12%, Tories still have a significant hurdle to jump over.
The full transcript of MP Liz Truss’ speech can be found here on 1828’s website.
Image: Oscar Stewart.