If the radical political thinker Thomas Paine had been around today, Liz Truss would have been his MP, but he would not have been one of her supporters. Thetford’s most famous son believed in taxing the rich, overthrowing governments and thought all Tories were “cowards”.
Beside Paine’s statue in the Norfolk market town, some of Truss’s constituents are equally firing.
“I think we just need a massive change, so bring back the philosophy of Thomas Paine,” says retired legal administrator Karen Porter.
Truss has been MP for South West Norfolk, since 2010, and Porter is scathing of her record.
On the day of penultimate leadership hustings, 30 miles up the A11 in Norwich, Porter says: “Liz Truss doesn’t care about the constituents. Whenever you write to her, you just don’t get the right response. She’s only interested in her own career.”
At the last election Truss won 69% of the vote with a 26,195 majority. But in Thetford, the biggest town in the constituency, it is difficult to find any Truss supporters.
Even lifelong Tories, such as butcher Ian Hilton, would prefer Boris Johnson to either Truss or Rishi Sunak. “They shouldn’t have thrown Boris out. He might have told a few porkies but don’t they all,” he says.
And Michael Carriage, a mains worker for Anglian Water, says: “I think Boris will come back. He’s going to be like Trump in America. Boris stood up for Britain. Look at how much money he paid out for the pandemic.”
He adds: “I don’t think Liz Truss should be dropping taxes – we need as much money putting into Britain as possible.”
As debt manager at Citizens Advice in Thetford, Michelle Marchesi is not allowed to discuss party politics. But she says tax cuts will not help her growing client list.
She says: “People here are panicking, and there are no answers being given, which isn’t helping people’s mental health. There needs to be something more for people because tax cuts just aren’t going to support the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Ben Dimmock, who is unemployed, says his family of four will not be able to afford to heat their home this winter. “There’ll be extra layers on so we can eat. The £400 they gave us isn’t even going to be a dent in my bill.”
He added: “I don’t think much of Liz Truss. There’s really nothing here apart from charity shops and the only jobs are factory shifts at £10 an hour. This is her home turf her and she can’t see all the problems?”
Robert Davies, who works at the mental health charity Mind, agrees: “She should just walk around the town for the day and see what people think.”
“I’ve only had a 3% pay raise and everything’s gone up by 10%. I can only pay what I can afford and I won’t be able to afford my energy bill. I can’t see myself voting for Liz Truss.”
Truss’s possible constituency opponent at the next election is Terry Jermy, a 37-year-old Labor county, district and town councillor, who has lived in Thetford all his life.
Jermy admits that standing against Truss would be a “thankless” task in such a rural Tory stronghold. But he thinks the size of Truss’s majority last time was flattered by Brexit.
Jermy said: “People think of south-west Norfolk as a picture postcard, and it’s really not. We have a lot of deprivation. My caseload is all about the cost of living crisis, food bank referrals and the housing situation.”
He rattles off mounting problems in the constituency: “We have the worst rated adult social care in the UK; we have the only mental health trust in special measures; we’ve got a hospital in King’s Lynn that is falling down, and we are the fifth worst for access to dentistry in the UK. In a place that reliably votes Conservative, people here have been consistently let down by them.”
On Thursday, Truss promised to “turbocharge” the East Anglian economy with tax cuts, a crackdown on strikes and regulations.
It may impress the Tory party members but her constituents don’t seem convinced.
Frank Dowling, a retired historic buildings consultant, said: “Most economists think reducing tax and having a smaller government is going to make matters much worse.”
He added: “Liz Truss came into our garden once as part of an open garden thing, she was very pleasant, but her policies are scary. She doesn’t seem to be prepared to tackle head on the emerging crisis over utilities. There has been a 5,000% increase in the discharge of sewage over the last five years.”
Dowling added: “Tom Paine certainly would not vote Conservative and neither will I, ever.”