As of Tuesday, Britain’s new prime minister is Liz Truss.
Forty-seven-year-old Truss served as Boris Johnson’s foreign secretary, establishing a reputation for speaking off the cuff and for being uber-hawkish vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine. In the first week, she publicly supported British citizens deciding to go and fight for Ukraine. After months of scandals, Johnson was forced out of office in July. His foreign Secretary immediately entered the Conservative Party leader contest. It consisted of a series vote by MPs that aimed to reduce the number of candidates to two. Then, a six week contest among the two winners to win the support a majority (160,000) of Conservative Party members.
Although Truss came second in the Parliamentary contest to Rishi Sunak, it was clear from late July onward that she was the more popular of the two among the party’s voters. She advocated a traditional conservative agenda that would reduce regulations. slashing taxes — despite the precarious state of the U.K.’s economy, the pressures on the pound, and despite the clear need for massive public expenditures to stave off wholesale misery resulting from double-digit inflation, soaring energy prices and the accelerating climate crisis. She made no apologies. policies that favored the wealthy.
Truss went out of her way to help. channel Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who remains as iconic among the Tory Party base as Ronald Reagan is for Republicans in the U.S. Truss has studied Thatcher’s body language, has adopted her dress style — as Twitter users were quick to point out — and has reached for many of the same rhetorical tools. However, her style is not as consistent or as strong ideologically as Thatcher.
Truss was once a Liberal Democrat — she was president of the Oxford student Lib Dems while studying for a degree in politics, philosophy and economics at Merton College in the mid-1990s. (The Liberal Democrats are the third party of the U.K. They are progressive on issues such the environment, but it was their decision to join forces with the Conservatives in 2010, which brought us more than a decade in Conservative Party rule. She was also an opponent of Brexit. Her parents were left-wing anti-nuclear protesters.As a student she gave speeches against the monarchy.
Perhaps to prove her point? bona fides She is a conservative with a hard-right base. During the leadership election campaign this year she promoted herself as being more open to building bridges with Europe than Johnson (if that’s possible). In an effort to increase her support among Conservatives, which is about as representative as the U.S. primary voters are, she voted for a wholesale approach. legislative dismantling of Britain’s remaining EU-era regulationsBy 2023. She also said, sanctimoniously: “jury is still out”Whether French President Emmanuel Macron is a friend of the British or foe; as if the French had exiled Britain from Europe and not Britain inflicting a grievous injury on itself through the completely unnecessary Brexit process.
It was clear that Truss had won by Tuesday’s close of the voting and the verdict was delivered. Out of the nearly 140,000 party members that returned their ballots, Truss was the winner. 81,326 threw their support to the erstwhile foreign secretary.
It’s possible that Truss will confound her critics and become as formidable a party leader and prime minister as was Thatcher. It’s possible that, like Thatcher, she will buck predictions and end up using the looming economic crisis and the escalating industrial action initiated by trade unions to her advantage, crafting a new electoral coalition capable of transforming the country and winning a series of elections over the next decade-plus.
Possible, but not likely.
Truss inherits a terrible mess. Not from a Labour or Lib Dem Government, but from her own party and from a discredited prime Minister who abused his power shamelessly during his time at 10 Downing Street. On Tuesday, a day before the monarch’s health dramatically deteriorated, she visited an already ailing Queen Elizabeth in Balmoral to be formally invited by the head of state to form the next government. After returning to London as the prime minister, she set about inviting MPs to her new cabinet. It appears that she will be heavily dependent on many of them. Johnson’s ministersPeople who are hard-right members of the party should not be allowed to vote. Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, appears set to be elected chancellor of government; James Cleverly, the Education Secretary, will become foreign secretary; and Suella Braverman the Attorney General, who tried her best to channel Donald Trump during the leadership election campaign, will be the new home Secretary. As the Times of IndiaIt should be noted that none of the top Cabinet positions will be held by white men. This symbolises a symbolic changing in the guard, even though the policy content remains as radical-right.
Truss and her team will quickly find ways to control inflation and to subsidize millions of families who are at risk of becoming homeless due to high heating bills.
In one of her first official acts the new prime minister imposed a sweeping price freeze on energy, a move long supported by the opposition Labour Party. It’s a vital concession to the realities of Europe’s economic war with Russia; yet her economic team seems to believe they can pay the tens of billions of dollars that this will cost the Treasury by borrowing rather than by raising taxes or even maintaining taxes for the wealthy and for corporations at their current levels — this despite the pound’s swoon in recent weeksThe U.S. dollar is not being accepted. She also announced plans of increasing drilling for oil and for natural gasin the North Sea, as well as to increase fracking inside the U.K.
Unlike the German plan announced this week to spend 65 billion euros to curb energy prices and mitigate cost of living increases for pensioners and other vulnerable sectors of the population, Truss’s plan isn’t an across-the-board effort to rein in the profits of energy corporations and to redistribute wealth to poorer residents; rather, it looks to be a one-off intervention — essentially a subsidy to consumers — that won’t address the fundamental problems at play during this inflationary crisis.
The day Truss was declared the winner in the Conservative Party members’ popularity contest, polls showed her party was trailing the Labour Party by close to 9 percent.
It will take all of Truss’s shape-shifting talents, and then some, to turn around the election ship for the Conservatives over the coming two years, which is the time span that Truss has before the next general election must be called. In the meantime, as the U.K. grapples with a deepening economic crisis, all of the new prime minister’s public statements suggest that the country is going to be dragged ever-further rightward into a deregulated, anti-union, Brexit-hued future.