The Daily Telegraph
The woman behind the new Tory leader: why old friend Coffey will be pivotal to Truss’s premiership
They might seem like a political odd couple, but colleagues say they form an unbreakable alliance
To the outside world it appears an unlikely political friendship: one a Thatcherite “loner” with a colourful personal life, the other, a staunchly Catholic “team player” known to be on the Left of the Conservative party.
Yet in her right-hand woman Thérèse Coffey, Liz Truss appears to have found the ballast she needs to shore up a Downing Street ship sailing in choppy waters.
Described by one MP colleague as “yin and yang”, they have a friendship dating back to their post-student politics days, and Ms Truss, 47, has formed a formidable alliance with the woman tipped for a central role in her new administration.
As well as being touted as the next health secretary, there is even talk of unmarried Ms Coffey, 50, being appointed to the second most powerful position in government: the new Prime Minister’s deputy.
It would be quite a promotion for Coffey, who only attended her first Cabinet meeting in September 2019 after being appointed work and pensions secretary by Boris Johnson.
She tweeted at the time: “I was delighted to attend my first Cabinet meeting with my mate @trussliz showing me the ropes”. The tweet was accompanied by a picture of the pair outside Downing Street.
In truth, Ms Truss owes yesterday’s Tory leadership win to Ms Coffey in more ways than one. As well as spearheading her campaign, it was Ms Coffey who persuaded Ms Truss not to stand against Boris Johnson in 2019, effectively paving the way for her to become his successor.
So just how did this somewhat surprising double act come about?
The pair, who both went to Oxford but several years apart, are believed to have first met as young Conservatives in the late 1990s and early 2000s, campaigning together and attending Tory events before both were elected as MPS under David Cameron in 2010. Ms Truss’s South West Norfolk patch nearly borders Ms Coffey’s Suffolk Coastal constituency, giving them a local, as well as a rural, affinity – as evidenced by an amusing image of the pair holding piglets.
But according to someone who has served in Cabinet with both, the bond goes much deeper than mere geography. “A lot is made of Liz once being a Liberal Democrat but when she became a Tory, she met Thérèse pretty early on and they campaigned together. Thérèse is three years older, but they’ve always got on very well.
“It is an odd partnership because Thérèse is very Catholic and a ‘wet’ in the old sense of the word – very much a moderate. She’s a team player whereas the only team Liz is on is Team Liz. She’s much more of a loner whereas Thérèse is the social glue in the party – she brings people together. She’s famous for loving karaoke and hosting nights for MPS and staff. But that’s why it works. Liz needs her for her social skills. They are a good yin and yang.”
Described as “super bright”, Ms Coffey – who grew up in the North and attended a state school like Truss – graduated from Somerville College, Oxford before taking a PHD in chemistry at University College London. Her first foray into politics was standing in the European Parliament elections in June 2004, at which point Ms Truss was already involved in local politics in Greenwich, south London, where she lives with her husband Hugh and their daughters Frances, 16, and Liberty, 13.
The former Cabinet minister added: “Thérèse is a very good administrator. She’s been at DWP for three years and no one’s heard a squeak, which is a good sign. She’s a very good foil for Liz.” Another MP who knows both women well suggested that Ms Coffey provided Ms Truss with much needed “moral” support after she hit the headlines for having an affair with the MP Mark Field in 2006. Although they have largely kept their friendship under wraps, their closeness was evident as they laughed and joked together at the women’s Euros final at Wembley in August.
“I’ve always thought it was a very interesting friendship, which until now they have both kept quite under wraps,” said the colleague.
“On one hand they are both jolly women who enjoy a drink, but there is also a seriousness to Thérèse that Liz perhaps lacks. Thérèse is very serious and very Catholic, a calm head on wise shoulders. Liz is more of a disruptor whereas Thérèse is very much a details person. She’s a scientist so she is very forensic and can pull a brief apart. It’s quite a heady combination.”
Although Team Truss is refusing to confirm any Cabinet appointments until she “kisses hands” with the Queen at Balmoral today, Ms Coffey has indicated that she stands ready to serve.
Speaking about Ms Truss’s victory as she left the campaign headquarters yesterday, she said: “I’m really excited and looking forward to taking office tomorrow and get on delivering (our) manifesto and getting growth and I’m really thrilled.”
Asked if she’s expecting to keep her post in the Cabinet, she added: “That is up to the leader of the party, and soon-to-be prime minister.”
It seems the former chemistry student has come up with the perfect formula for being the lynchpin in Ms Truss’s team.
‘I’ve always thought it was a very interesting friendship, which until now they have both kept under wraps’