We secure first interview with Parliamentary candidate at the centre of political storm

SHE is the woman whose attempts to forge a political career in Norfolk have engulfed her in a row over what she did or did not disclose about her private life.But Elizabeth Truss is contrite and sorry about the furore sparked by her selection - yet deter

SHE is the woman whose attempts to forge a political career in Norfolk have engulfed her in a row over what she did or did not disclose about her private life.

But Elizabeth Truss is contrite and sorry about the furore sparked by her selection - yet determined to fight on and prove her critics wrong.

In her first major interview public affairs correspondent Shaun Lowthorpe spoke to her.

Elizabeth Truss has a lot to say on a range of issues about what can be done to help working parents, reforming government in the wake of the MPs scandal, and the European Union.

She is keen to talk about how to work to get the A11 dualled, getting access to Broadband in rural areas, how to help Norfolk farmers maintain their livelihoods, and the importance of preserving rural schools.

And she is sorry.

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Her problem is that her views have been drowned out by the row over her selection and the dredging up of details of an affair she had with Conservative MP Mark Field.

When activists learned shortly after her selection last month that the Mail On Sunday was to revisit it the following day the balloon went up.

The row has seen a bitter split between local activists in the constituency, and taunts on the internet and in the national press of people behaving like "Neanderthals" and operating like a "Turnip Taliban".

Conservative leader David Cameron leant his support to the under-fire candidate while activists went into meltdown and the local executive voted to reconsider its decision next week.

Suddenly the woman who wowed them one minute was seemingly not quite what they wanted the next. And judging by the talk coming out of South West Norfolk the unity of the Conservatives behind their leader seemed very fragile, indeed.

But the 34-year-old insisted she had been upfront about her past from the start of the selection where the initial applications are dealt with by Central Office - but those details were not passed on.

"I feel I was open and transparent in the process," she said. "When I submitted my CV, I made it very clear about the affair. My understanding was that would be part of the CV discussion when the six CVs were selected to go forward.

"When I went to the meeting my understanding was the local officers would know about that. If I had known that they didn't know, I would have rung them up.

"I have been open and transparent at what I thought was the right point in the process. With hindsight I would have taken out a billboard! But hindsight is a wonderful thing."

In fact ringing people up was also difficult from the outset as the local association advised candidates not to talk to anybody including the media - so much for openness and transparency there. They also opted against the kind of open primary selection process being carried out by Conservatives elsewhere.

Everybody seems to be in a curious lose/lose situation; if she stays the accusation of Notting Hill metropolitan Tory interference remains, if she goes it looks like a return to the nasty party.

I ask her if she is sorry for what has happened.

She starts to talk about the affair.

"I do regret it," she said. "I am sorry about it. I have learned from it and my family want to put it behind us."

We are sitting in John Lewis in Norwich having a coffee, I wonder if this is really any of my business.

"The issue about my past is that people want to know what I have learned from that," she explained. "I have spoken to many people about that," she said. "This is what I said to the executive. It was a mistake, it was something I regretted, and something I learned from.

"I've very much learned from the past. We are coming up to our 10th wedding anniversary. Since this happened we have become a lot stronger.

"I am sorry about the affair it was a mistake. The main person I am sorry to is my husband. We have now made that up and moved on from that."

I've been struck by the whole row, as I had Googled her name a week before the selection (when I was leaked details, from yes a Conservative).

I also mentioned it to some Conservative activists, who have close links with the constituency.

But the party apparently remained completely in the dark, the jungle drums did not beat, it seems.

And a routine selection question about whether she had any skeletons in her cupboard, was never put.

"I'm not sure the interweb has reached Downham Market," one local Tory joked to me at the time.

I wonder how much her private life has been used as an excuse to beat her over the head by those upset that the party has chosen someone who is not quite "one of us".

Or is she being meted out for special punishment because she is a woman?

The reaction I have had from non-politicos is that the Tories should just grow up. I'm under 40 and there is a part of me which wonders if this is a 'generational' thing.

Yet several Conservatives have told me that the issue has become one of trust. And even people who like her are wary that a 'non-Norfolk' candidate has won through again, particularly after the fuss over sitting MP Christopher Fraser and his Dorset farmhouse, which, it emerged during the expenses scandal, was registered as his main home.

Ms Truss said the other myth was that Central Office had interfered in the selection process to help the former 'A-lister' get selected.

"When the six CVs were selected, mine was one of the CVs put forward by the local association," she added. "It wasn't put forward by Central Office, I was selected from the 150 applicants, by the executive committee.

"It was the local officers in South-West Norfolk that wanted me to be interviewed. I said at the time, should they select me I will move to the seat. They voted for me on that basis.

"The idea I am some kind of stooge is misplaced."

So what does she make of it all?

"That's the situation I find myself in," she said. "We are where we are. But I want to reassure people that I am committed to the job, and I want to do the job.

"I think politics is a difficult business, somebody who goes into politics is opening themselves up to these kinds of issues," she said.

Since her selection she has been living in a rented cottage in Swaffham and has spent the time out and about trying to get to know the area and the voters.

"I met farmers last week and they were very concerned about the level of regulation and what we could do about that. These are the sorts of things I want to focus on."

As the row rumbled on other 'embarrassing' details (re)-emerged - she was once a Liberal Democrat, and held anti-monarchist views.

She herself admits she is hardly a typical Tory - a comprehensive school pupil from a left-wing family background, who has made the shift to the right.

"I am not from a Conservative background," she said. "My parents were left-wing. I became a Conservative when I was at university. I understand how to appeal to people who are outside of the Conservative Party and bring them on board.

"I can talk to all sorts of different people from all sorts of different backgrounds.

"I did join the Lib Dems, and I gradually moved to the right. I grew up in a political household and when you are thinking about your views and exploring things, some are right and some are wrong.

"I came to the conclusion that I was a Conservative because my core belief is that I believe in personal responsibility and I believe in hard work.

"Because I believe in personal responsibility, I believe in decisions being taken at a local level."

How did she get through it all?

"My family has been incredibly supportive," she added. "My mum is coming up at the weekend. My husband and children came up last weekend. My husband has said 'you must continue' and so have my family."

In fact, her father, a lecturer at Leeds University will also be in Norfolk later this month as an exam invigilator at the University of East Anglia.

"Everyone has said to me stick with it," she said. "There are people in the association who have been very supportive and I am already talking to prospective electors as these are the sorts of people we need to win over at the general election."

I wonder if the seat is the right one for her, after all it's hardly marginal, and there might be more of a risk that some of the core vote is put off by her.

But she insists that the fallout from the expenses scandal means that no party can afford to take voters for granted.

I also wonder whether she ever thought of walking away, given everything that's happened.

But she is adamant she will not.

"I am a fighter," she said. "It's in my nature. It's not a situation of my making. I am not saying I am blameless, but I am going to do my best to work with the people of South-West Norfolk.

"I will be prepared to speak up on their behalf. I have character and sticking power, and staying power.

I think that's what I hope I am demonstrating in the situation I find myself in. I am committed to carrying on with this."

"I think I will fit in with the people of South-West Norfolk quite well. They don't like being told what to do and I don't like being told what to do."

She is clearly able and full of ideas - she is deputy director of Reform, the centre-right Think Tank.

She talks in a language which is not simply politician's speak, like a real person, in fact, the sort given where Westminster is now the Commons could do with more of.

But she is not quite out of the woods, yet.

If she can survive the next week and a bit, then it strikes me she can get through anything, and my sense is people (and I don't mean politicians here) will warm to her for doing so.

I've seen enough to believe she deserves the chance to be an MP. But what I really wonder is, given what she has gone through, do the Tories of South-West Norfolk deserve her?