Liz Truss's Ill-Fated Leadership Reached “Pivot Point” At Chevening Meetings
Liz Truss used her Chevening grace and favour mansion to prepare for her time as Prime Minister last year (Alamy)
A close ally of former Prime Minister Liz Truss has said that the seeds of her downfall were likely to have been sown before she even entered Downing Street, during meetings preparing for government in the final stages of last summer's Conservative leadership contest.
Conservative MP for North East Hampshire Ranil Jayawardena, who served as Environment Secretary in Truss's short-lived administration between September and October 2022, viewed the August meetings at the grace-and-favour house Chevening, which Truss at the time had access to as a result of her position as foreign secretary, as a “pivot point” on forming her agenda.
He said having canvassed the views within her party Truss in the early part of the summer as Boris Johnson’s time as Prime Minister came to an end, she then spent weekends away at Chevening in Kent working out how to implement those ideas in government.
Speaking to PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown, Jayawardena said he suspected historians "will want to look at what was discussed at that time" when working out what led to the spectacular collapse of Truss's government after just 49 days.
The 36-year-old MP, who was also a junior minister under Truss for two years in the trade department, said after polling showed she was odds-on to defeat her main leadership rival Rishi Sunak, her team shifted to preparation for No 10, and the “pivot point in mid-August” is key to understanding what went wrong.
“There was a sense of trying to bring a lot of people's ideas together, and listening very carefully to a number of different wings of the party who had backed her, and that was very encouraging," he said.
“There were then a number of meetings at Chevening – I wasn't party to those – but there were a number of meetings in Chevening that then decided how these sorts of things might be implemented, or indeed not."
It was first reported by The Sunday Times last year that Truss was taking aides to Chevening to finesse her final policies and decide on who would be in her top team.
One of those was Simon Clarke – who served as her Levelling Up Secretary – and he wrote about spending time with Truss at Chevening in The Critic magazine at the start of this year.
“Walking the grounds of the Foreign Secretary’s home with her on one of the last days of a leadership contest she had already won, listening as she outlined her vision for government, stalking ahead impatiently through the yellowing grass,” he said.
Clarke said that “so much of what happened” in her premiership “was decided at Chevening in the dog days of August”, adding there was “a conscious and spectacular change in her policy from mid-July to the end of August”.
The Chevening meetings have become controversial for another reason, after it was revealed Truss is contesting a £12,000 bill relating to her use of the 15-bedroom mansion while she was running to be the leader of the Conservative Party.
Truss maintains the majority of the invoice, which includes the cost of missing bathrobes, relates to using the house for government business, meaning she should not be liable for the cost.
"Liz always paid for the costs of her personal guests at Chevening," a spokesperson for Truss said in April.
"The latest invoice contains a mixture of costs for her personally and costs for official government business with civil servants including [Cabinet Secretary] Simon Case and senior officials from other departments who met at Chevening during the transition preparations.
"The latter constitutes the majority of the bill. It would be inappropriate for her to pay the costs for officials as it would have breached the Civil Service Code for civil servants to accept hospitality during the leadership campaign. She has therefore asked for this to be billed separately."
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