Watched by police and smiling nervously for the camera, the teenage student holds on to one end of a banner as she leads a march against a new Tory law to clamp down on protests and raves.
The year was 1994 and for this Oxford undergraduate it was just the latest in a long line of liberal causes to which she had lent her vociferous support.
First up had been a coach trip to London to confront skinheads and racist thugs campaigning for the British National Party.
‘Albert Square, pie and mash, rhyming slang, racist attacks, Canary Wharf and the BNP are the East End to an outsider,’ she would write in a breathless dispatch from the front line.
‘I myself had little idea of what to expect as I prepared to campaign in the now notorious Millwall Council by-election.’
While her youthful involvement with the Lib Dems is no secret, the full extent of her days as a ‘woke warrior’ can be revealed here for the first time — and will doubtless come as something of a surprise to those who have followed her flourishing career
Safely back in Oxford, next in her cross hairs was the university’s Conservative Association. Taking to the Press again, she branded her political rivals ‘sad’.
Their crime? To issue a series of excruciatingly cheesy flyers at the Freshers’ Fair featuring an image of a glamorous woman in a low-cut dress and the slogan: ‘You’ve Never Had It So Good.’
But it was in the autumn of that year that this energetic activist reached her widest audience.
Taking to the stage in Brighton at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference, the 19-year-old delivered an impassioned speech against another Left-wing totem — this time demanding the abolition of the monarchy.
‘I agree with Paddy Ashdown when he said: ‘Everybody in Britain should have the chance to be a somebody,’ ‘ she told the packed hall.
‘But only one family can provide the head of the state. We Liberal Democrats believe in opportunity for all. We do not believe people are born to rule.’
While the motion would ultimately be voted down, it certainly caused the desired storm.
But who, pray, was the mouse-haired ‘revolutionary’ at the centre of this and all those other protests?
Step forward Elizabeth Truss, the then-leader of Oxford University’s Liberal Democrats — and today the woman tipped to succeed Boris Johnson in No 10.
While her youthful involvement with the Lib Dems is no secret, the full extent of her days as a ‘woke warrior’ can be revealed here for the first time — and will doubtless come as something of a surprise to those who have followed her flourishing career.
Having been elected as a Tory MP in 2010, at the age of 46 she is now Foreign Secretary.
Should Johnson be forced out of the top job, she is favourite among party members to take over the leadership of the Conservatives and so also become the next Prime Minister.
Watched by police and smiling nervously for the camera, the teenage student holds on to one end of a banner as she leads a march against a new Tory law to clamp down on protests and raves
Doubtless with that in mind, this fiercely ambitious politician has been doing her bit to curry favour with the grassroots.
Truss has struck an admirably forthright tone as she leads the diplomatic efforts to avert war in Ukraine.
Paying homage to her political hero, Margaret Thatcher, she was even photographed with her head popping out of the turret of a Challenger 2 tank, a pose forever linked to the party’s first female leader. Hardly surprising, then, that some have dubbed her Thatcher 2.0. Which represents quite a journey from her student days.
Because back then she was known as ‘Liz ‘PC’ Truss’.
Of course, given her upbringing, it was perhaps unsurprising that she initially gravitated towards such causes. Plus, it is often said that if you’re not a liberal at 25 you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at 35 you have no brain.
Raised for the most part in Leeds, Truss — who has three younger brothers — came from a middle-class, Guardian-reading, academic background.
Her father John is a maths professor at Leeds University while her mother, Priscilla, has a doctorate in Victorian social history.
A keen campaigner, Truss was taken by her mother to the anti-nuclear protests outside the Greenham Common RAF camp in Berkshire where American cruise missiles were sited in the early 1980s.
‘We spent a lot of time talking about politics at home,’ she has said. ‘We went to the camp at Greenham Common. Nuclear disarmament was her big thing.
‘We did a number of things like marches, protests. On one occasion when we went down to London in a bus, we had made some ‘nuclear bombs’ made out of carpet rolls — ours didn’t quite work because it had floral wallpaper on it.
Proud of the fact that she attended a ‘genuine comprehensive’, Truss has claimed that her decision to go to Oxford was in fact an act of rebellion.
She said: ‘I went because people told me it was a snobby thing to do.
‘I don’t like being told [what to do] and the minute everybody said it’s a bit hoity-toity at that university, I wanted to go there.’
And go there she did, studying politics, philosophy and economics (PPE), the Westminster elite’s favourite degree course. She went up to Merton College, one of Oxford’s oldest, in 1993 and quickly involved herself in student politics.
Fellow students recall her as being distinctly ‘uncool’ — all long skirts and scarves, a far cry from her glamorous image today.
‘She was terribly serious,’ a contemporary recalls. ‘She was always talking about ‘policy’.’
Within weeks of starting at Oxford, Truss had an article published in the Oxford Student newspaper.
‘Elizabeth Truss campaigned against the BNP at Tower Hamlets,’ read the sub-heading. ‘In anti-racism week, she sees apathy and confusion heralding further racist victories.’
The article began: ‘Although the Liberal Democrats, the party I was campaigning for, control the borough, the Labour Party control the neighbourhood of the Isle of Dogs. Most of our campaigners had arrived expecting the usual skirmish with socialists. Normal election rules did not apply, however.
‘BNP thugs guarded polling stations to prevent Bangladeshis voting, skinheads paraded the streets and Labour members rushed towards us with cries of: ‘Finally! A friendly face!’ ‘
The lengthy piece concluded: ‘We live in an odd political environment where nobody knows what anybody stands for, where slanging matches win elections and where councils have so little power nobody gives a damn anyway . . . it is vital that the politically apathetic population make an effort.
Ambitious: Truss (pictured centre) at Merton College, Oxford, in 1993. Proud of the fact that she attended a ‘genuine comprehensive’, Truss has claimed that her decision to go to Oxford was in fact an act of rebellion. She said: ‘I went because people told me it was a snobby thing to do. ‘I don’t like being told [what to do] and the minute everybody said it’s a bit hoity-toity at that university, I wanted to go there’
‘I urge anyone who is reading this to do something, even if it only involves writing a letter. General non-involvement got us into this mess. Participation gets us out of it.’
By the following year, Truss had been chosen as the leader of the Liberal Democrats at Oxford, using her position to criticise the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) for their ‘raunchy’ campaign literature. ‘It is very sad that OUCA had to resort to such tactics to recruit new members,’ she said. ‘They obviously had no real policies to promote.’
While clearly dedicated to her studies — one tutor describes her as a ‘memorable student’ who was ‘full of original ideas and energy’ —Truss was well enough known in university social circles to appear in the infamously waspish (and occasionally defamatory) John Evelyn gossip column in the Cherwell student newspaper.
In one discussion of a forthcoming party, the columnist claimed that no one ‘at all sensible’ would want to sit ‘within a hundred feet’ of ‘Liz ‘PC’s her middle name’ Truss.’
In another entry some months later she appeared in a story about an OUCA garden party.
The columnist claimed: ‘Malcolm Hutty and Liz Truss were ejected for not paying, and there was much rejoicing.’
In an article entitled Ugly Couplings, the column had previously appeared to intimate that Mr Hutty, a fellow student at Merton, was more than just Truss’s friend.
‘Evelyn couldn’t fail but notice some of the more unpleasant combinations which Cupid has pricked his prophylactic arrows,’ he wrote. ‘Merton College is in danger of dying laughing at the sight of Talculm Smutty and Liz ‘popular’ Truss whining and deigning [sic].’
Contacted by the Mail, Mr Hutty declined to comment on his student days or his friendship with Truss, saying: ‘I haven’t seen her in many, many years and I don’t really have anything to say. I have nothing to discuss — no comment.’
Quite what Mr Hutty’s political leanings were back then is unknown.
But in the 2019 General Election, he is understood to have briefly stood as the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party in Epsom, Surrey.
Truss has previously revealed that, alongside the study of economics, it was her exposure to real-life Tories at Oxford that hastened her conversion to Conservatism.
‘I had been a great believer in having the freedom to do what you want,’ she said. ‘I realised that to have control of your own life, you needed control of your own money. Also, I met Tories and [found] these people don’t have two heads and they don’t eat babies. I had never met anyone of my own age that was a Tory, so going to university and seeing people who were Tories and who believed in what I believed in was an eye-opener.’
Truss is understood to have joined the Conservative Party in 1996, the last year of her time at university.
‘It was a ballsy thing to do,’ said a former acquaintance from her Lib Dem days. ‘But it was clear she was going places.’
Having qualified as an accountant, Truss worked for Shell and then Cable & Wireless.
She married accountant Hugh O’Leary after they met at the 1997 Tory Party conference and she invited him to go ice-skating. They have two daughters.
Aged 25, Truss first stood for Parliament on behalf of the Conservatives. She would eventually be elected as MP for South West Norfolk in 2010 but it was not without controversy.
Several members of her constituency association claimed she had withheld information about her 18-month affair with Tory MP Mark Field between 2003 and 2005, which led to the end of Field’s marriage.
A group of local activists, dubbed the ‘Turnip Taliban’ by national commentators, called for her deselection as a candidate — but she was backed by a considerable 132-37 margin and took the seat.
Her marriage survived the affair and the fallout from it.
In the past decade she has worked her way up the parliamentary ladder, managing to negotiate a tricky period around Brexit. Two days before the 2016 EU referendum she publicly backed Remain, saying the Leave camp ‘cannot name one country we would get a better trade deal with’.
But a year after the referendum Truss said that she would back Brexit if another vote took place.
‘I voted to remain because I was concerned about the economy but what we’ve seen since the Brexit vote is our economy has done well,’ she said.
In 2019 she was duly promoted from Chief Secretary to the Treasury to International Trade Secretary — energetically securing the sort of trade deals she had previously said were unachievable.
But then, as we have seen, when it comes to switching allegiances, Truss has previous. Which may not bode well for under-fire Boris — to whom she has given her unequivocal support.