Dr Carys Moseley looks at the record of the new Prime Minister on some key moral issues
Liz Truss was announced as the new Prime Minister on Monday, having won a slim majority of 57.4% of the votes to become Conservative party leader. The important question now is, what does this mean in Christian terms?
During the leadership election she said “I share the values of the Christian faith and the Church of England, but I’m not a regular practising religious person.” A closer look at her voting record will reveal whether and to what extent this is true.
Imposing abortion on Northern Ireland
Liz Truss has mostly abstained or been absent from parliamentary votes on abortion. However, she voted to impose abortion on Northern Ireland. This shows a reckless regard for the sanctity of life, the will of the people of Northern Ireland and the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.
This stance in favour of abortion is very bad for lots of reasons. One of many is that it bolsters the normalisation of abortion in the RSE and RSHP curricula in secondary schools across the UK, including Northern Ireland.
On the topic of assisted suicide, Liz Truss has only either abstained or been absent from the chamber. This was in relation to Labour MP Rob Marris’ private member’s bill in 2015 seeking to legalise assisted suicide. Evading the issue does not give out a strong and clear message of intent to protect the lives of the most vulnerable in society.
We should however remember that many MPs do not make much of an effort to turn up to vote on private member’s bills, as most stand little chance of going far enough to become law. This means we do not know to what extent Liz Truss can be persuaded of the importance of stemming the tide of campaigning for assisted suicide.
Supporting same-sex marriage – and pushing it on Northern Ireland
Liz Truss voted for same-sex marriage. This is unsurprising for someone who is something of a libertarian. She later voted for imposing same-sex marriage on Northern Ireland. This latter vote crosses the line from viewing the issue as one of personal choice to viewing it as a new moral value to be imposed on society. From a Christian standpoint this is completely unacceptable as it goes against the revealed plan of God about marriage being between one man and one woman. Even some non-Christians will be uncomfortable with the undemocratic imposition of same-sex marriage on Northern Ireland.
Ban on ‘conversion therapy’
One of the ministerial portfolios that Liz Truss held under Boris Johnson was Minister for Equalities. In this capacity, she was responsible for the government’s proposals to criminalise ‘LGBT conversion therapy’. Overall, it has been unclear from the press what her views on this policy are. The ITV News leak on the policy categorically stated that she was not ‘ideologically committed’ to the ban.
During the summer a recording surfaced of Iain Duncan Smith speaking instead of her at the Conservative Christian Fellowship. Smith claimed that neither Truss nor himself liked the policy, hinting that she would do a U-turn on the ban. However, within 24 hours he told a Sky News interviewer that he would support the parliamentary bill on this matter.
Liz Truss’ alleged dislike of the conversion therapy policy, coupled with her public silence on it, suggests she is very much aware of the free speech minefield that a ban would create. It is therefore relevant that last October, Liz Truss responded to a gender dispute at the Labour Party conference by saying this:
“As Conservatives we will stand up for free speech … We will stand up for a free press, and we will give everyone across the Britain the opportunity to succeed, regardless of background. We reject the zero sum game of identity politics, we reject the illiberalism of cancel culture and we reject the soft bigotry of low expectations that holds so many people back.”
These are fine words and vital principles for a free society. However, what does her practical track record amount to in this area?
She has generally voted for mass surveillance of people’s online communications via the Investigatory Powers Bill. This bodes ill for the debates around the Online Safety Bill, which has been accused of eroding online privacy by internet experts. To be fair this is a criticism that can be raised more widely at this government, which is talking loudly about free speech whilst seriously endangering it through the provisions of the Online Safety Bill.
Islam in prisons
Truss held the post of Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor for just under a year, between July 2016 and June 2017, despite not being a lawyer.
Soon after her appointment Truss published an internal report on how the prison system handles Islamist extremist preachers. Such prisoners would be isolated within the system. The report was authored by Ian Acheson, a former civil servant and prison governor. She did not however accept all of Acheson’s recommendations. Little was heard of this policy after the initial flurry of press interest. Since then Truss has been mostly silent on issues around the Counter-Extremism Strategy. These are bound to return as the Independent Review of Prevent by William Shawcross is due for publication by the new Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Refusing to implement gender identity law
One policy that does stand out as virtuous in Liz Truss’ track record is that of steering the government two years ago to reject liberalisation of the Gender Recognition Act in England and Wales. It seems that she was engaged in a long and protracted battle over this alongside her colleague Kemi Badenoch. Truss took a lot of flak for refusing to make changing gender easier. Fellow Conservative MP Crispin Blunt was particularly hostile to her; the reply given to him by many was that Truss was doing her job properly as minister for women and equalities.
She is now reported as having sought legal advice on how to stop the proposed liberalisation of the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland. She is said to be concerned that people could then travel to Scotland from the rest of the UK to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate more easily without so-called ‘medical checks’. This would have negative implications for the protection of single-sex spaces and services across the UK.
In relation to all this Truss has called for all government departments to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme. Whilst this sounds brave, it needs to be seen alongside a less worthy action. In 2021 she was one of the sponsors of the Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Bill which caused a furore at the last minute due to not referring to ‘pregnant women’ or ‘mothers’, but only to ‘persons’. This was after declining to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act. It seems that Liz Truss wanted to have her cake and eat it in terms of the dispute over sex and gender identity.
Not appointing a minister for women
It emerged this week that Liz Truss has not appointed a minister for women in her new cabinet. The portfolio for women will come under the new Minister for Equalities, Nadim Zahawi. This move has been strongly criticized by members of the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons. They complained that Truss in her capacity as Minister for Women had not always appeared before that committee when asked.
This suggests that Truss’ refusal to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act stems less from a sense of solidarity with allegedly downtrodden groups, and more from an attempt at balancing individual rights within the existing human rights and equalities legislation. It is also possible that her decision was linked to trying to lessen the influence of Stonewall within the civil service and Parliament, as the Women and Equalities Committee was strongly committed to a gender identity law.
Individualism is not enough
As we can see, it is rather difficult to see any serious commitment to Christian values about elementary issues in the voting and ministerial record of Liz Truss. This is not surprising, indeed it reflects most of the political class. What I think we can see is a strong individualist streak under the surface, albeit skewed in a secular liberal direction.
Securing individual freedom is an important task for government in a democracy, but it is hardly sufficient. Truss’ ambivalence and at times double-mindedness are morally problematic. Again, they are signs of the times in which we live. Just like all other prime ministers and political leaders, she will need the intercession of the faithful for good government and civility to prevail.
Liz Truss will need prayer for all the issues outlined above and many more, such as the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and its impact on the welcoming of refugees into the UK, and the cost of living crisis which has resulted in her borrowing money to fix the energy price cap. Framing all of this are the sensitivities around handling the aftermath of the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III to the throne. The monarch makes an oath to God at the coronation regarding the enactment of good government. In practice however, this is the duty of the Prime Minister and her government. For this intercession needs to be made regularly.