Liz Truss has a claim to be the most outspoken member of the cabinet. “I just took a decision a while ago that I was going to say what I like and wear what I like,” she says with a smile.
Positioning herself for a tilt at the Tory leadership, the chief secretary to the Treasury has taken to wearing primary colours. Her politics are similarly bold. That means using the “vast majority” of the £27bn Brexit war chest saved by the chancellor to fund big tax cuts for business and young people. Truss says: “We need to reshape the state and not just think the answer to our problems is spending more money. The most likely age group to agree with that are younger people. We have lowered business rates. Currently we spend £18bn on business support. I’d like to cut the taxes on business — not give them back their own money.”
Without radical reform of the housing market the Tories cannot prosper with younger voters, who she calls “the go-getting generation”.
“Another area we should look at is cutting stamp duty,” Truss says. “Housing is probably the No 1 thing we need to get right as a government. We need to get that home ownership dream back alive.” She says the only way to get to grips with the housing crisis is to tear up the planning rules. “We have to be prepared to take on vested interests,” Truss explains. “The No 1 example is the planning system.” She singles out the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which has opposed efforts to build on the green belt — a fight that Theresa May and other Tories have ducked.
“We’ve got to stop bottling it,” Truss says. “If we don’t succeed in making housing cheaper, if we don’t open up more land, if we don’t allow buildings to be built upwards quicker then we are in serious trouble.”
In case we do not get the message that things have been pedestrian under May, Truss adds: “Sometimes politics can be in danger of being managerial. The Conservative Party needs to remodernise. We need to be optimistic, aspirational. We need to participate in the battle of ideas. We haven’t been doing.”
Truss rails against identity politics but adds: “I like being a woman. You can get away with things as a woman.”
Such as? “I’m not going to tell you that!”
Her recent plain-speaking contrasts with some awkward speeches in which she extolled the virtues of “pork products” and denounced the fact that Britain imports two-thirds of its cheese with the words: “That. Is. A. Disgrace.”
Truss is a good sport: “I think my cheese speech is one of the most memed political things ever.”
She even admits voting in an online World Cup of Liz Truss Gifs which pitted videos of her worst moments against each other.
“I voted for cheese,” she says. The winner was pork products. “That was a disgrace!”
The recent refresh to her wardrobe was inspired by her 13-year-old daughter — she has another aged 10. “I don’t have a stylist. I do have a very fashion-conscious daughter who I go shopping with. She has a very good eye for clothes. If I go out in the morning wearing the wrong thing I’m just not allowed to leave the house. I like Cos, & Other Stories, Warehouse. Everybody goes to Zara.”
Truss thinks her male colleagues need to shape up. “Men in politics, I’d like to see a bit more personal style there. If you go into a business you will see men wearing a much wider variety of clothes than you do in parliament.”
Too many men in grey suits? “Quite.”
Truss says her political hero is Ronald Reagan for his “optimism”. Her favourite film? “I can’t decide between Pulp Fiction and Mean Girls.”
Was she a mean girl at school? “God no! I was a hard-working geeky computer girl.” By coming out of her shell, Truss is one of the most interesting dark horses for the leadership. As we finish, I ask what book she is reading.
“Something called The Division Bell Mystery — about how somebody is killed in one of the House of Commons dining rooms.”
Which of her leadership rivals would Truss like to see bumped off?
There are, after all, limits to what she is prepared to say.