liz truss

How Similar Is Liz Truss To Margaret Thatcher, Really?

today21 July 2022 1

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Liz Truss has been repeatedly accused of embodying Margaret Thatcher in her bid to become the next occupant of No.10 – but is there much truth in these claims?

Thatcher, the divisive prime minister between 1979 and 1990, is still idolised by certain factions of the Conservative Party, even though she was forced to resign by her own government.

Truss is not the only leadership hopeful who has attempted to emulate the Iron Lady, especially since Boris Johnson’s resignation – Rishi Sunak has also marketed himself as a Thatcherite in his campaign.

However, it seems to be the foreign secretary’s transformation from attending anti-Thatcher protests as a young child in the 1980s and anti-monarchist, to the darling of the Tory right, and supposed Thatcher heir, which has raised an eyebrow from her critics.

So, just how much is Truss like Thatcher?

Photo ops – coincidence or deliberate?

It’s not all about the optics, but Truss has been accused of cultivating Thatcher during photo opportunities repeatedly throughout her time in cabinet.

During the Channel 4 debate last Friday, the foreign secretary wore a black blazer over a bow tie white blouse – social media users were quick to spot that Thatcher wore a very similar outfit during a 1979 election broadcast.

Then, in February, she wore a black round fur hat with a matching coat to visit Russia. Thatcher wore a similar brown coat with a fur trim and brown fur hat when visiting the country back in 1987.

When visiting UK troops in Estonia in November last year, Truss also donned military attire and posed in an army tank – an image which people immediately compared to Thatcher attending a Nato training camp in Germany in 1986.

OK, but what about her actual policies?

Appearances aside, Truss is not a typical Thatcherite.

She has been criticised for flip-flopping on policies throughout her career, starting as a keen Liberal Democrat when she was a student before swapping to the Conservatives, whereas Thatcher was a devoted Tory since her time at university (although both studied at Oxford University).

Truss also sided with the Remain campaign in the EU referendum, but is now known as an ardent Brexiteer, tough on Brussels.

This is actually quite similar to Thatcher – she backed staying in the European Economic Community back in the 1975 referendum, only to become more hostile towards it throughout her time in office as she opposed the single market.

Her euroscepticism had become so strong by 1990 that it accelerated her party’s decision to oust her from office. Like Thatcher, Truss has become a keen advocate of the free market (although she campaigned for the single market with Remain back in 2016).

Thatcher was tough on her European counterparts towards the end of her premiership – and Truss has arguably tried to emulate that by backing changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol in recent months.

Thatcher campaigning in favour of the EEC
Thatcher campaigning in favour of the EEC

P. Floyd via Getty Images

Truss also sided with other Thatcherite MPs, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab, to co-author the Britannia Unchained book in 2012, which takes aim at British “idlers”. Thatcher was a keen advocate for individualism, after all – and significantly less interested in the welfare state.

Truss has promised to “start cutting taxes from day one”, cutting back on April’s rise in national insurance and vowing to keep “corporation tax competitive” as the UK faces an alarming inflation rate.

When she was first elected, Thatcher had to grapple with double-digit inflation. She subsequently reduced income tax, deregulated the financial industry and privatised state owned assets.

Truss is therefore more in line with Thatcher’s policies in this area than her opponent, Sunak, who wants to avoid cutting taxes until inflation is under control.

The cabinet minister also wants to drop “Stalinist” housing targets in favour of tax cuts and deregulation – Thatcher was similarly opposed to social housing, and encouraged home ownership.

Truss supports the controversial Rwanda asylum policy, too. Thatcher was opposed to immigration in the UK before her time in No.10 too, saying in 1978 that it must end.

However, Truss wants to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030, and strengthen intelligence service, while Thatcher wanted to reduce defence spending and focus on Nato.

Truss has vowed to stick by the net zero emission pledge by 2050, but wants to pause green levies on domestic energy bills.

Thatcher actually brought “green” policies to the mainstream in the 80s, although it was her successor John Major who signed up to key climate agreements.

But does Truss consider herself Thatcher’s heir?

No – at least, not publicly.

Truss told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that she did not “accept” claims she modelled herself on Thatcher, adding: “I am my own person. I’m from a very different background, I grew up in Yorkshire, I went to a comprehensive school.

“I’m someone who has worked all my life to get things done, and that’s what I want to do in the job.”

For comparison, Thatcher went to a grammar school on a scholarship and came from Lincolnshire.

Thatcher did go on to study Chemistry, although both Truss and Sunak studied PPE – although all three went to Oxford University.

“It is quite frustrating that female politicians always get compared to Margaret Thatcher while male politicians don’t get compared to Ted Heath,” Truss told GB News.

Sunak on the other hand has tried to deliberate draw comparisons with the Iron Lady. He said he would “govern as a Thatcherite” and has repeatedly referenced the former Tory leader in his campaign.

Keen Sunak supporter Robert Jenrick even tried to cut down on the comparisons between Truss and Thatcher on Thursday, telling the Today programme: “It is antithesis of Thatcherism to be going around making unfunded tax pledges merely to win a leadership contest.”

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