Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak
Artillery Row

A bright star in the east

Liz Truss doesn’t lack courage

The International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, who also holds the equalities brief, announced what amounted to a war on woke today. In a heavily trailed speech Truss declared that the government was scrapping “unconscious bias” training in public institutions and said they would “move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics”. The bold and well-timed speech, coming on top of the success Truss has made of her Trade brief, indicates that rare thing – a cabinet minister whose political operation is actually working.

The Norfolk MP focussed on a commitment to deliver “equality of opportunity” rather than “equality of outcome” and criticised the Left for its failures of positive discrimination, singling out Tony Blair’s all-women shortlists as a prime example, and something that after 23 years failed to deliver a female leader of the Labour Party.

But does this mean the tide is turning against identity politics that has long been criticised as the blind spot of the Johnson government, not least during the prime minister’s studied silences during the Black Lives Matter protests? Noticeably, if understandably, Truss did not offer up any critique of how it was that a ten-year Tory government had come to be the one which had introduced and presided over so many of the policies she lambasted at the Centre for Policy Studies today.

What does this mean for her position in the cabinet?

Ben Bradley MP has made no secret of his frustration with the Government’s approach to “woke” issues but says the speech today made him feel optimistic: “Ditching UBT [unconscious bias training] this week is a really positive trajectory. Obviously it’s a speech so we need to see it delivered, but the new Equality Hub focusing on left behind communities and economic disadvantage could really help to undo all this identity politics box-ticking – or at least shift the focus on to those who have been excluded by the old ‘Equality’ agenda.”

It’s interesting that No.10 have let Truss make this speech which attempts in some sense to reconcile the job of “Equalities Minister”, another Blair-era creation which hasn’t been done away with in a decade of nominal Tory rule, with where her party’s heart plainly is on issues such as trans policy. It was notable that she attacked the left’s “failing to defend single-sex spaces” when it was Theresa May who announced a consultation on letting people to change their legal sex in 2017 without the need to “live as” the opposite sex for a period before making a formal application, and no necessity to undergo any medical interventions. By making the point about single-sex spaces, Truss is showing she is unafraid to take a stand on the trans debate, and not the easy stand.

What does this mean for her position in the cabinet? Her speech-writer is a top hire, being the Telegraph’s former Brexit editor, Asa Bennett, who came to work for the Department for International Trade in September. Perhaps he spotted her stock was rising? After signing 58 trade deals in recent months, Conservative Home’s recent members poll showed her leapfrogging Rishi Sunak as Tory member’s most popular minister. With rumours of a reshuffle looming, perhaps it’s time to short the Sunak bubble and go long on Truss. After all, one has delivered, and on the trickiest of issues, while the other has skilfully incorporated some personal branding.

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