How Liz Truss emulated Margaret Thatcher as an Education Minister

David Laws’ Coalition memoirs tell  how Liz Truss’s stubbornness as a  junior minister became part of the Tory-Lib Dem mudslinging fest by Michael Gove

I would like to point especially new Lib Dem members to the memoirs of David Laws on his experiences at the heart of the 2010-2015 Tory-Lib Dem Coalition government. Laws  tells us about Liz’s first steps as a junior Education minister, and her characteristics and policymaking attitudes  which shone through.

On Saturday, Andy Boddington reported on a Times article in which Neil Fawcett, now a Federal Board member and  Oxfordshire County councillor, said that Liz in her LDYS days was on the radical wing of our party, promoting both abolishing the monarchy and legalising cannabis. On that last point she made the first of a whole series of Damascene conversions  after joining the Tories in 1996.  During her 2001 Hemsworth parliamentary campaign she said that she now opposed it.

From 1998-2010 she was active in Tory local politics in Greater London and Greenwich, before entering parliament in 2010 from David Cameron’s A-list. So she knew about local politics, in which Education and Childcare (at least in  Dutch local politics) are always a big issue. For all Social Liberals, good childcare and good education from the earliest stages has been a major issue for the past 140 years.

Laws tells how Truss became,Parliamentary Undersecretary for Childcare and Early Learning at the Education department in 2012. He describes how Michael Gove backed up by Cameron and Osborne, did his best to  keep LibDems with a commitment to education like Laws himself and Deputy PM Clegg at arm’s length as much as possible.

Laws describes Truss’s behaviour during her push to reform childcare, including allowing more children per staff member, a move opposed by the Day Nurseries Association. Challenged by Polly Toynbee, Truss admitted it took special skills to care for (for example) two babies and four toddlers on your own. But Truss persevered.  Laws says he recognised the stubbornness and over-confidence of Thatcher in her and that she took that as a big compliment. Laws also writes that if the expert’s policy documentation by her civil servants on an issue contained aspects that didn’t fit in Truss’s narrative, she ignored those bits. In this case, Laws doubted if less staff really would help cut costs and improve quality as Truss said.

Clegg and Laws supported most of what Truss wanted on childcare, but Clegg personally asked her to review this point. She didn’t react at that meeting, but later point blank refused and tried to push on. This dispute was leaked to the media framed as an attack on Nick Clegg for being untrustworthy.  Gove implied to Andrew Marr that Clegg’s opposition was motivated by internal Lib Dem politics. That was the final straw breaking the already strained cooperation between Gove and Clegg.

Neil Fawcett’s remark that Truss couldn’t always back up her radical, limelight grabbing opinions with evidence echoes Laws’ account of her handling of expert documentation. 

  

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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3 Comments

  • I never imagined seeing a label attached to a Tory minister as being unfair to Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps stubbornness rings a bell. However over-confidence, ignoring civil service advice and limelight grabbing opinions owing little to evidence suggest an authentic Boris Johnson tribute act.

  • Nick Collins 26th Jul '22 - 4:42pm

    “Laws also writes that if the expert’s policy documentation by her civil servants on an issue contained aspects that didn’t fit in Truss’s narrative, she ignored those bits.”

    She does not seem to have changed. When challenged , in a tv interview today, with the fact that only a minority or economists agree with what she calls her economic plan, she responded that it did not matter how many economists agreed, what mattered was “being right”. Apparently the only views that count are those of the individuals who agree with her: a very dangerous attitude from someone who aspires to lead.

  • Nick Collins 26th Jul '22 - 4:49pm

    @ Geoff Reid. That was exactly Andrew Rwnsley’s point in his ” Observer” column on Sunday, but you put it much more succinctly

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