With her reputation battered, can 49-day prime minister Liz Truss win another term as MP?

The former PM could face a battle to retain her South West Norfolk seat in a traditionally safe Conservative area

Liz Truss canvassing in her constituency in Norfolk in 2010. Getty Images
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With a healthy majority in her South West Norfolk parliamentary constituency at the last general election, Liz Truss should – in theory – be set for an easy win when the UK goes to the polls on July 4.

Yet with the turbulence of her 49-day spell as prime minister in late 2022 still fresh in the memory, and with a right-leaning independent candidate running against her, Ms Truss may be facing a fight to simply remain as an MP. The Conservative party she still wishes to represent is on course for defeat and her successor Rishi Sunak's early campaigning has fallen flat.

She even faces calls to be deselected as a candidate over her appearance on a platform founded by a “far-right” commentator who holds “despicable views about violence against women”.

Jess Phillips, the former shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, has written to the Prime Minister to criticise the interview, which was to promote Ms Truss's book, Ten Years To Save The West.

In Downham Market, a picturesque small town in the constituency, on the edge of the flat, low-lying Fens agricultural region, even some residents who would normally happily vote for the Conservatives are adamant that they will not mark an X next to Ms Truss's name on polling day.

Max Wiseman, a 34-year-old chartered surveyor from the village of Northwold, describes himself as “Tory for sure”, yet even he said it was “game over” for the 48-year-old MP, who has represented South West Norfolk since 2010.

“I reckon she should call it a day, to be honest,” he said. “I just think all of her policies, they weren’t well received and I think seeing her in the media since her tenure, she’s so naive. I don’t think she genuinely thinks she did anything wrong.”

Mr Wiseman said he would probably vote for the independent running against Ms Truss, a 71-year-old retired barrister and solicitor called James Bagge.

Mr Bagge branded Ms Truss’s time in 10 Downing Street as “catastrophic” and said that she “shows no genuine interest in the affairs of this constituency” and instead continues “to have political ambitions here in the UK and abroad”.

“I’m best placed, frankly, to usurp Liz Truss,” he said. “Most people vote Conservative here, but they don’t want to vote for Liz Truss. I’m sufficiently confident there are enough of them who will vote for me given the antipathy towards her and party politics generally.”

Despite her battered reputation, and the fact that the Conservative Party are down around 20 percentage points to the Labour Party in national polls, Ms Truss might prove tough to dislodge.

In the 2019 election, she secured 69 per cent of the vote in South West Norfolk, while the second-placed candidate, representing Labour, attracted just 18 per cent.

Also, while it is not unusual for independent candidates to achieve success in UK local elections, it has often been tougher for them to secure parliamentary seats.

Writing on Facebook after the election was announced, Ms Truss insisted that she had a “proven history of delivering results for South West Norfolk”, citing the establishment of a banking hub in Downham Market and the securing of £20 million (Dh93.36 million) in regeneration funds for a nearby town, Thetford, as among her achievements.

“I am running on my record of standing up for the residents of South West Norfolk over the past 14 years,” she wrote.

Since resigning as prime minister, Ms Truss has published her book and has hit the international lecture circuit.

Dr Matt Beech, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull, said Ms Truss was “still relatively young” and may hope to retain influence with the Conservative Party.

“When the Conservatives get back into government, she would be seen as an elder stateswoman,” he said. “At the moment, it’s still quite fresh, when she was in office for a very short time.”

While Ms Truss is looking to remain in politics, the chancellor who she sacked after a mere 38 days in office, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced in February that he would be standing down from parliament. More than 75 other Conservative MPs are doing the same.

It was Mr Kwarteng’s badly received September 2022 “mini-budget”, often described as containing £45 billion (Dh210.05 million) of unfunded tax cuts, that ultimately precipitated Ms Truss’s downfall.

After such a disastrous spell in office, in the UK she is now “something of a figure of fun”, according to Prof Alan Finlayson, professor of political and social theory at the University of East Anglia in the nearby city of Norwich.

She’s not really proven herself as an international heavyweight
Prof Alan Finlayson

“She’s not really proven herself as an international heavyweight. She’s not a great speaker,” he said. “Maybe she does hold a hope to return to frontline politics or be a kingmaker.”

If Ms Truss continues to harbour political ambitions, she can probably only achieve them if she wins South West Norfolk again in July. Will her local record be enough to secure her another term as an MP?

Prof Finlayson said that if her campaign goes smoothly, her chances of re-election are fairly good, at 70:30 in her favour.

But if Mr Bagge succeeds in attracting voters who would normally support the Conservatives, “the anti-Truss vote could align against her”.

Liz Truss through the years – in pictures

“If there’s an organised on and offline vote against Truss, her chances drop dramatically,” Prof Finlayson said.

While not tending to be a Conservative voter in the past, one person still prepared to listen to what Truss has to say is Julie Barrow, 45, a town planner from Wimbotsham, just north of Downham Market.

“I think she deserves the chance to demonstrate to us she can truly represent us and make a change,” she said.

Another South West Norfolk resident, Lawrence Matthews, 60, a recently retired manufacturing supervisor from Downham Market who normally votes Labour, said he thought Ms Truss was “quite popular” locally.

“She does put her face in occasionally, to be fair,” he said. “There’s probably still enough [Conservatives] to put her back in.”

Updated: May 30, 2024, 9:13 AM