Pshoelaces so often come to define political leaders. Tony Blair’s constituency may have been Sedgefield in County Durham, but there was no doubt that his real constituency was Islington, north London. David Cameron emerged from the Notting Hill plateau with George Osborne and Michael Gove, before finding his heart in the Cotswolds with a Chipping Norton team that included a One Nation dream of Succession-light media barons, TV bloggers and artisan cheesemakers.
Liz Truss, Britain’s prime minister in waiting, is harder to pin down geographically: she grew up in Oxford, Scotland and Canada, and eventually won her parliamentary seat in south-west Norfolk. So where is the spiritual home of Trussism? The answer, increasingly, seems to be a series of pleasant, affluent but not very Richard-Curtis streets to the west of Royal Park in Greenwich, southeast London.
Truss has lived in the area for more than 15 years and his close neighbors include some of the key players in the post-Johnson Conservative party: Kwasi Kwarteng, tipped to be the next Chancellor, lives on the same street as Truss; Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister and potential future foreign secretary, is a two-minute walk away. James Cleverly, the education secretary, lives less than a mile up the road in Blackheath.
This group lends him much more than a cup of sugar: all are vocal supporters of Truss for the leader of the Conservative Party. Kwarteng, the business secretary, presented her campaign and the couple go back more than a decade, having been co-authors (along with Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and Chris Skidmore) of the controversial 2012 political leaflet Britannia Unchained. His most notorious passage included the phrase: “The British are among the worst idlers in the world”.
“The book is basically about the fact that Britain needs to move to a much smaller state,” says Professor Tim Bale, author of The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron. “It’s really a throwback to neoliberal Thatcherite Toryism. So there is certainly an ideological affinity between Truss and Kwarteng.
Lord Frost published a lengthy essay for the Policy Exchange think tank last week, and Bale is convinced that when Frost writes that the new Prime Minister must be ‘turbulent and disruptive’, invoking the spirit of Thatcher in 1979, he think of Truss. “Frost clearly wants to play a role,” Bale says. “If you look at this pamphlet, you could tell it’s basically Truss’s manifesto.”
The existence of the Greenwich gang, and its new place at the heart of British political discourse, surprises no one more than the inhabitants of the district. They live in a small enclave of Georgian townhouses with Ocado vans outside, but the borough is a staunch Labor stronghold: in May’s mayoral elections Labor won 52 seats to the Conservatives’ just three.
“As a borough, Greenwich is really very diverse,” says Darryl Chamberlain, founder of 853, a local news website. “The part they’re in, west of Greenwich towards Blackheath, is a bit removed from anywhere else. Most people are quite perplexed that they have these prominent, very, very right-wing conservatives living here.
Puzzled is perhaps polite. At a bookshop in elegant Royal Hill, I ask owner Anthony Simmonds if Truss or the others are ever coming in. “Can she read? he asks. “I do not know.” At their local pub, the Ashburnham Arms, owner Pepina says one of the curators once went there. “But I don’t care if they come in or not,” she adds. “All of our customers are treated the same.”
Truss was a councilor in Greenwich from 2006 to 2010, having lost local elections in 1998 and 2002. Alex Grant, a Labor councilor who beat her in those contests, struggles to understand the high position she holds now. “If you had told someone in Greenwich in 1998 or 2002 that Liz Truss was going to be the leader of the Conservative Party in 2022, and automatically become Prime Minister, we would all have fallen off our chairs in laughter and surprise,” a- he declared. said. “You often meet young politicians, and you immediately sense that the person has star quality and is going to go far. But with Liz Truss, it just wasn’t apparent.
The question now is: does it matter that Truss and the key figures around him have this connection to Greenwich? That may not be the case, but it could shed some light on the perception of her leadership, should she win. The term ‘Notting Hill set’ was originally coined – by Tory MP Derek Conway – to disparage Cameron and his modernizing upstarts. The Chipping Norton ensemble, says Bale, “suggested an elite isolated and disconnected from ordinary people.”
Dr Kevin Fewster, president of the Greenwich Society, would like to imagine that Truss, Kwarteng and Frost’s rootedness in the region – and their exposure to the issues many locals face – will make them sympathetic to a country facing a rising cost of- living crisis.
“Many neighborhoods in Greenwich suffer from great deprivation and need to be supported,” he says. “So in that sense, hopefully their local experiences can help them understand the nation’s broader agendas.”