Liz Truss’s two weeks in the Socialist Worker Student Society

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A number of friends from university have been sharing their memories of Liz Truss, who was in the year after me at Oxford. This was a time of huge, almost weekly student protests, and those few figures who joined the Conservatives at the time – Iain Corby, Sheridan Westlake, were often the targets of derision.

But, of course, Truss wasn’t a Conservative then. She was a Liberal Democrat and elected to various roles as a representative of her party.

What I do remember is, in autumn 1993, before she had even formally joined the university, insinuating herself onto the mailing list of our student Socialist Worker Student Society.

I was the person who signed her up after a long conversation in University’s Examination Schools. Truss impressed on me that she was a socialist, from a comprehensive school, a regular attendee on CND protests (that part may have been true, her parents were left-wing) and keen not just to join but to get involved in the group, assuming we had any vacancies in a leading role.

I may well have expressed an interest in her offer: our Society had around 300 “members” on our mailing list, and a core of around half-a-dozen people who were expected to do all the work of booking speakers, editing our newsletter, etc.

I then met her again two weeks later, leafletting my own college St John’s for the Liberal Democrats. I pointed out that she’d lied to me about who she was. She, or perhaps one of her friends, said something awful and hackneyed about how she was a “radical,” just not my sort of radical.

What conclusions do I draw – was she just lying perhaps in order to spy on us?

I don’t think she was *simply* lying. The left-wing parents were genuine. Within days of my encounter with her, she was speaking at the Lib Dem conference and calling for the abolition of the monarchy.

What I did get to see in that short period was a yawning ambition, a complete carelessness about which side she was on or what she needed to tell people she believed. Oxford was a leftwing place then, our student society was on a roll then with high profile speakers (Foot, Eagleton…), regular meeting of over 100 students at a time, and Britain was plainly heading towards a Conservative election defeat. It wasn’t entirely daft to think that being around SWSS we could have boosted her career. Well, actually it was – we were among the most militantly anti-careerist folks anywhere in Oxford politics. She worked that out. And if we hadn’t struck her off our membership lists (which we did), she would no doubt have vacated herself.

Along with the dishonesty, the other thing that struck me was a profound mediocrity. I’ve had all sorts of Conservative opponents, and even friends, over the years – I’ve known right-wingers capable of saying something interesting or amusing, or even being in their own ways steadfast, principled, etc. Johnson’s successful career you could see a mile off. Stewart’s recent reinvention. Kwarteng was making his way through school and university politics not far behind, making friends along the way.

Not Truss, though. Soon after I spoke to her she was elected as her college rep on the student union council – as I was too. She was a yellow blur at the back of meetings which debated how to protect student mental health, what sort of examination system would break the public schools’ dominance of Oxford entrance, etc. I don’t recall her saying anything there, and certainly nothing of interest, in 2 years.

2 responses »

  1. Good article. Not entirely sure we could characterise Oxford as a left wing place then. I was there 1988-1992, OUCA was strong and contemporaries including people like Rees-Mogg and George Osborne. There were strong protests against the Poll Tax, but much of that was driven by a lack of desire to pay rather than strong ideological opposition.

  2. I was listening to the Alistair Campbell/ Rory Stewart podcast (The Rest is Politics) and they made the point that Truss’s politics lack conviction and intellectual rigour. Yeah, I know, that’s rich coming from Campbell but still. Essentially they say she’s never moved beyond the adolescent stage of taking up the most extreme positions that she knows will annoy her parents. Hard to disagree really.

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