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When Liz Truss was nearly deselected by ‘Turnip Taliban’ Tories for having an affair

Likely next prime minister’s career was nearly nipped in the bud by local activists

Jon Stone
Saturday 20 August 2022 15:27 BST
'This isn't the BBC': Truss jokes with GB News host over journalistic standards

Liz Truss looks almost certain to become prime minister in just over two weeks' time: but in 2009 her rise to the top was nearly prematurely halted by a few dozen Tory members.

Angry local activists tried to de-select Ms Truss as candidate for South West Norfolk after it was revealed that she had had an affair with a married Conservative MP.

The local members – who Westminster insiders sneeringly referred to as the 'Turnip Taliban' – were already angry at a perception that Ms Truss had been imposed on them by the party hierarchy.

But it was the revelation that she had a secret relationship with Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, which lit a touchpaper that turned her selection into the political story of the day.

Ms Truss's supporters claimed that the affair with Mr Field, who stepped down as an MP in 2019, was already in the public domain – but others said they only read about it in a Sunday newspaper a day after they made the decision to support her.

As BBC Look East's correspondent reported on the eve of the vote: "Many associations are getting angry because they feel that Conservative central office is imposing outside candidates on them as we get close to an election – often at the expense of local candidates. This is why so many people have got so cross about this whole Elizabeth Truss affair.

"Of course, if Elizabeth Truss is thrown out tonight, there'll be implications for David Cameron, and his standing within the party."

Ahead of the vote Mr Cameron, who was then leader of the Tories, told reporters: "She's an absolutely excellent candidate, and I very much hope she'll be the candidate."

Ultimately, efforts by Ms Truss to woo local activists were successful: she won the 16 November 2009 vote by 132-37 in a secret ballot.

But not everyone was happy. At the time the Guardian newspaper quoted local rebel ringleader Sir Jeremy Bagge, who said: "I'm not proud to be a Conservative at this particular moment. Conservative Central Office deceived us and they betrayed us. They are very strong words and that's how I feel."

Following her confirmation, Truss, who was then 34 years old, said: "It has been at times challenging. At times very interesting. Of course there is an element of hurt. I want to work with everybody in the local party. All the people who supported me and those who didn't."

Today, polls suggest Truss will easily beat rival Rishi Sunak to become leader of the Conservative party – and succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister.

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