On the tree-lined avenues and spacious boulevards of Roundhay in Leeds, one can find many things: coffee roasters, yoga studios and independent bookshops. One can find one of England’s biggest city parks and detached houses that sell for an average of £572,000 a pop.
One, however, might struggle to find a single soul here who agrees with Liz Truss’s suggestion that this area – where she spent her adolescence – is a place with “low expectations and… lack of opportunity”.
“She’s talking out of her arse,” said Kevin Clamp, outside the Thomas Osborne, one of the area’s craft beer pubs, last week. “There’s so much money round here it’s embarrassing. It’s clean, green, affluent. Most people would give their right arm to live in a place like this.”
The 57-year-old decorator was originally from South Africa. “I lived all over the world before I settled here [six years ago], so I know a dive when I see one,” he said. “I doubt she could say the same.”
Roundhay has unexpectedly found itself at the heart of the race between Ms Truss and Rishi Sunak to be the new Conservative leader and the UK’s next prime minister.
Questions about the integrity of the former have been raised after she described the neighbourhood – one of the most desirable in this West Yorkshire city – as at the “heart of the red wall”.
In an apparent attempt to create a narrative of commonality with the North and the less well off, this daughter of a university professor also suggested that Roundhay School – which she attended before going to Oxford University – had repeatedly let children down with its “low expectations, poor educational standards and lack of opportunity”. Too much talent, she declared, “went to waste”.
Now observers have been pointing out that the well-to-do suburb – home to a handful of professional footballers – has few of the characteristics usually associated with the so-called red wall. It is not post-industrial, not deprived (families in the western part of Roundhay earn an average £55,700 a year) and is part of a constituency – Leeds North East – that, until 1997, had voted Conservative for almost half a century.
Roundhay School, meanwhile, is set in 22 acres of grounds and currently has an “outstanding” rating from Ofsted. It boasts a roster of former pupils that includes a university vice-chancellor, judges and a former editor of The Sunday Telegraph. Then there’s Truss’s fellow Tory MP Nick Gibb, a man currently not responding to requests for comment but said to be apoplectic about the slur.
“Her comments are blatant lies,” Labour ward councillor Zara Hussain told The Independent. “It’s shameful that she has attempted to use these as part of her campaign.”
The area’s former Conservative MP, Timothy – now Lord – Kirkhope has been politer but no less scathing. “I think she was suggesting she was the only person who went to any sort of university and all the others were poor, inner-city kids, which was certainly not the case,” he said.
Indeed, in Roundhay at large, the denigration of the area and the school – much-loved in these parts – appeared to have gone down about as well as one would expect.
In Philip Howard Books, owner Phil Caplan (Howard is his middle name) was especially baffled. He grew up in the area and opened his store here, in the central Street Lane, 23 years ago.
“She’s trashing us all, and the school especially, for the sole reason of giving this false impression that she has a common touch, all for political gain. It’s unedifying and insulting,” the 61-year-old said. “But it’s also damaging. People who don’t know Roundhay will now have this very erroneous idea of what it’s like and that could impact on businesses here. She’s risking damaging people’s livelihoods for her own self-interest.”
What would he think of someone who does that becoming prime minister?
“Well, the idea [of the leadership race] was supposedly to get away from that lack of integrity,” the father of two replied. “It makes you wonder if that’s happening.”
Wife Ros considered this. Her father and brother both went to Roundhay School, as it happens. “They became GPs,” she said. “So it didn’t do them any harm.”
A newer generation were no less unimpressed by Truss’s comments.
In the shadow of 13 new luxury flats being built off nearby Roman Terrace, Simran Caur said she had been dismayed to hear the neighbourhood being spoken about negatively by such a high-profile political figure.
“As a teenager growing up here, it’s such a lovely place,” the 25-year-old fashion worker said. “It’s clean and safe, and the city’s right there on your doorstep. My parents, they worked hard to give us a really good childhood here. So to hear her say that? It makes her sound like she thinks she’s better than us.”