The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party has voted for Liz Truss to become its new leader, replacing Boris Johnson and making her Britain’s next prime minister. Truss served as foreign secretary under Johnson and has a record of “extreme neoliberal policies,” says British journalist George Monbiot. These include supporting tax cuts and deregulation of the fossil fuel industry, as well as supporting agricultural pollution regulation. Monbiot also warns Truss will undermine the country’s model public health system and labor rights for organizing workers.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.
AMY GOODMAN: We start in Britain, where the Conservative Party has elected Liz Truss to become Britain’s next prime minister, replacing Boris Johnson, who stepped down following a number of scandals. Just before our broadcast, Queen Elizabeth officially proclaimed Truss to be the prime minister. Truss, who had served as Boris Johnson’s foreign secretary, defeated Rishi Panak, the Finance Minister, in a party election on Monday.
Liz Truss, a college student, once called for the end of the British monarchy. She has since changed her mind on this and other topics. Truss, a former liberal democratic, was initially against Brexit but later supported the European Union’s exit after the 2016 referendum. On Monday, she pledged to govern as a Conservative.
LIZ TRUSS:During the leadership campaign, I ran as a Conservative and will continue to govern as such. We must also show that we can deliver over the next two year, my friends. I will propose a bold plan that will cut taxes and increase our economy. I will deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people’s energy bills but also dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply. … And we will deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024. Thank you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss.
We’re joined now by George Monbiot. He is an author. Guardian columnist, environmental activist. One of his recent pieces is headlined “Britain faces crisis upon crisis, and our leaders are absent. This is how a country falls apart.”
George, you are welcome back! Democracy Now! Why don’t you start off by telling us who Liz Truss is? Then talk about where she will be heading.
GEORGE MONBIOT:Amy, many thanks!
Well, that’s a good question. I’ve never seen anyone so uncomfortable in her own skin, so apparently ill at ease with herself. Everything she does, every gesture, and everything she says is staged and planned. So, the real Liz Truss, yeah, it’s very hard to discern that person behind the person who’s clearly practiced her every move in the mirror. This is also true for her policies. She seems to adopt whatever policy she thinks is going to find favor with the audience she’s speaking to.
Now, the terrifying thing about what passes for Britain’s democracy is that when the Conservatives are in power and they lose their prime minister, the new prime minister is chosen only by members of the Conservative Party. We estimate that there are about 170,000 of them. We can’t be sure, because it’s a closely guarded secret. They are not representative of the nation as an entire. They are mostly white men, almost exclusively male, wealthy, comfortable, complacent, and live in very limited areas of the country. And that’s the audience that she has been appealing to. And so the policies that she’s been putting forward, which she seems to have some enthusiasm for, are extreme neoliberal policies — cutting the state, cutting taxes for the rich, even more austerity, even more privatization, if she can — just at the time when we need the complete opposite policies.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ:George Monbiot, what are you expecting from her in terms of policies? Given the fact that Britain has seen a resurgence labor activism in recent months. What do you expect her to accomplish in her early days as prime minister of the United Kingdom?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Thanks, Juan. Well, she’s adamantly opposed to organized labor. She loathes trade unions. She would like to end their ability to strike and take other forms collective action. She has also strongly suggested that she would like to abolish the regulations protecting workers from being forced to work too much, protecting their terms, conditions, and their wages.
So, that’s a great threat to people, especially at a time of — well, we’re facing a serious economic recession. We’re facing a massive cost-of-living crisis as people find these enormous energy bills coming on top of very high rents in this country and many other ways in which their ability to survive is being severely squeezed. And she wants to destroy workers’ bargaining power, destroy their ability to set reasonable wages, and that will make the life of people in this country even harder than it is already, and it’s getting very hard indeed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask you about the situation with the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, especially after — as we’ve been through now two-and-a-half years of COVID pandemic. What do you see with the National Health Service under Liz Truss?
GEORGE MONBIOT:Our National Health Service is Britain’s pride and joy. And in fact, it’s seen around the world as an exemplar of how a health service should be run — free at the point of use, with a great deal of goodwill holding it together by very dedicated staff. Doctors, nurses, and all other staff from the NHSFamous for putting in 110%.
Liz Truss seems again to hate the NHS. The Conservatives actually hate the NHSBecause they are a small percentage of the country’s population, 170,000, they have private healthcare. They pay for their healthcare, so they don’t see why they should be paying taxes for the rest of the 67 million people in this country who use public healthcare. The Conservatives have tried to dismantle the NHS for a long time. NHSOur wonderful public health system should be privatized.
And as a result of that, with the gross underfunding even as people’s needs are rising severely because of the aging population but also because of COVID and the backlog that that has caused, and we have a massive recruitment crisis — there are far too few doctors and nurses at the moment — already it’s struggling, and Truss seems destined only to make things worse. She wants to cut, reduce, and cut more so she can deliver tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens of the country. And when she was challenged on that, when she was asked, “Isn’t it unfair to be giving those who already have so much money even more money whilst strangling the public services on which the great majority of people in this country rely?” she said, “No, I don’t think that’s unfair at all.”
AMY GOODMAN:George, what about climate? This is a very important issue.
GEORGE MONBIOT:In this case, however, we have direct evidence because she was once the environment secretary in a Conservative government. And it’s a tough competition, because environment secretary is a punishment posting in this country, and so you generally get extremely poor-quality environment secretaries. But she could have been one of the worst. She reduced regulations. She cut funding for regulators so they could not do their jobs.
Liz Truss was the reason I became vegan. I was shocked to discover that a dairy farm had deliberately destroyed a section of river and had caused severe agricultural pollution. It had built a pipeline going out of the slurry pits straight into the river — could not have been a more clear-cut case. The Environment Agency, the regulator here, refused to enforce against the dairy farm. And when I wrote about this, astonished, two whistleblowers came forward from the Environment Agency, said, “We have been told from the top, by Liz Truss, not to enforce against dairy farmers.” So, that was the point at which I thought, “Right, that, for me, is the final straw. If there’s no regulation of this industry, I’m not eating its products anymore.”
And so, that’s a measure of the sort of person we have as prime minister. And already she’s signaled that she wants to reopen new oil and gas drilling and fracking in this country, just as we’re in the midst of a climate emergency, which we have felt to a very great degree this summer with an unprecedented, deadly heat wave and a massive drought. She wants to make matters worse.
AMY GOODMAN:I wanted to go to the U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who was part of a rally of striking British rail workers, said that workers must stand together against corporate greed, and billionaires amassing greater wealth. It’s the latest in a series of strikes impacting Britain’s transport network over the summer, with workers demanding better pay and working conditions in response to high inflation. This is Senator Sanders.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:We have seen a huge distribution of wealth in the wrong direction. The middle class is shrinking while those at the top of wealth are growing. Our job is to fight these oligarchs. Our job is to envision a world of justice. It is not radical. It is not radical for anyone to say that every worker in the U.K. or in the United States has the right to a decent standard living. That’s not a radical idea.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Bernie Sanders standing with the rail workers. Sam Tarry, a shadow minister for the Labour Party, was another person who stood alongside them. The Labour Party. And the Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, fired him as a result, even though when he was walking that picket line, he was talking about how important Starmer’s leadership has been. He was the — he sacked him as shadow minister. George Monbiot, the significance of this, and where Truss —
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — would also stand on all of this?
GEORGE MONBIOT:Billionaire media is the huge weight we all carry around in this country. I know you’re very familiar with that in the U.S. with Fox News and the rest. Well, we’ve got Rupert Murdoch operating full throttle here, mostly through the newspapers. Billionaires or billionaires own the vast majority of our newspapers. They are a threat to democracy. And Keir Starmer is trying to appeal to them, is trying to appease them, because our history shows that if they don’t back you, you’re very unlikely to become prime minister, to form the new government.
And, now, I think he’s wrong about this. I believe he can get past the heads of this media. I believe people are ready to see massive changes. But he’s timid. And I think, actually, he’s cowardly. And his strategy seems to be — right? — “If I just sit here and not be a Conservative, people are going to be so disgusted and horrified by the Conservatives that they’ll have to vote for me. They’ll have to vote for Labour.” Now, that might happen, but I think that’s a very dangerous strategy, because if people perceive that politics doesn’t deliver for them, that if there is no real choice, that no one is going to stand up for workers, no one is going to stand up for the living world, no one is going to stand up for hard-pressed families who are desperately struggling to pay the rent and to pay the bills, then they don’t turn to one of two bad choices. They seek out an anti-politics. And that’s why neoliberalism and fascism go hand in glove. Neoliberalism, as practiced in Starmer and Truss, shuts down political choice. People then look elsewhere for an alternative and find fascism attractive. Starmer is clearly playing a very dangerous card. He’s doing tactics, but he’s not doing strategy. He’s not seeing the bigger picture.
AMY GOODMAN:George Monbiot: We want to thank for being here, activist, author. Guardian columnist. We’ll link to your pieces, “Britain faces crisis upon crisis, and our leaders are absent. This is how a country falls apart,” your latest.
Next, we travel to Chile where voters have rejected a new constitution that would have made Chile one of the most progressive countries in the world. Stay with us.