The news that Elizabeth Truss has kept her selection is a positive result for women’s rights and common sense. Why the South West Norfolk Conservative Party felt that Truss should have disclosed such a personal matter as an affair in a selection process is quite outstanding. Why is it that Mark Field, the MP she had the affair with, has not been criticised in these debates? Well it links to the Conservative grass route traditional beliefs regarding women and men. The Conservatives still have central to their discourse the belief that men and women are fundamentally different, and that men ‘naturally’ have a higher sex drive, whereas women who have a high sex drive are ‘peverse’. This type of discourse seems to be apparent in the attitude of the local party association, despite Conservative HQ backing of the ‘A-list’ candidate.
A clear example of this discourse is shown by the classical Tory newspaper, the Daily Mail:
“Liz Truss had an 18-month relationship with married front bencher Mark Field, the Tories’ 41-year-old culture spokesman
Yesterday, as she pushed a pram carrying her two-month-old baby, 30-year-old Miss Truss refused to comment on the affair, which ended last June.
But Mr Field has told friends that the liaison with the married Miss Truss has cost him his own marriage. He and his wife are divorcing.”
I have highlighted the key words above. Look at how the first sentence makes out that it is the woman to blame by saying Liz Truss had the affair, not Mark Field. Look at how in the second sentence they play on how she has a child, oh what a bad mother she is. And look in how the last sentence they juxtapose her situation with his, making out that he has been hard done by, presumably because he has been meeting his own sexual ‘needs’.
It is amazing how little Cameron said about the incident. Whilst he provided her his backing, he didn’t state how fundamentally wrong the situation was in terms of women’s rights. Whilst i do not support affairs, it is important that Conservatives wake up from their back to basics dream, as they had to do in the 1990s when John Major the man who started the campaign was found to have an affair, and wake up to reality. Cameron may appear to have backed her, however, if you look at the Conservatives they are a party riddled in contradiction. The Conservatives seem to offer everything but the kitchen sink. Within this comes the central problem – a disjunctive between individual rights and their emphasis on the negative effects of indivdualisation causing the so-called ‘broken society’. Truss’s affair highlights how the Tories, including Cameron, have this backward looking view of society, where anything that happens that does not fit their nuclear family model is perverse and an exemplar of the ‘broken society’. Where this conflicts with individual rights is that one of the main causes they outline for this is increased individualisation, as we have seen a fragmentation around the family ideal. However, in order to have individual rights, you must have increase individualisation, thus, the contradiction occurs.
Truss, to many of them seems to have somehow defied the party by not telling them intimate details of her affair (on an aside, it was in the local press when it happened, thus, she wont have felt it upon her to tell them, nor should she anyway. They should have done their research like Malcom Tucker!). Her apparent defiance thus links to the contradiction outlined above. Her individual rights of privacy are constrained due to their views around the ‘broken society’. Further contradictions can be highlighted, as for example, John Major’s affairs shows that within their discourse around the ‘broken society’, they themselves, as a party, do not live up to this ‘ideal’.
Thankfully she has been selected, however it is worrying to see some of the ways that the affair has been talked about, making out that it is only Truss’ fault. The story also highlights the innate contradiction of individual rights and the ‘broken society’ rhetoric that the Conservatives preach…