Liz Truss set to become new UK Conservative prime minister

LONDON– Britain’s Conservative Party announced on Monday that Liz Truss, currently the country’s Foreign Secretary, has been elected the party’s new leader and thus Britain’s new Prime Minister.

The 47-year-old Truss beat former CFO Rishi Sunak after a leadership contest that allowed only about 170,000 due-paying Conservative Party members to vote. Truss received 81,326 votes compared to Sunak’s 60,399.

It is under immediate pressure to deliver on its promises to deal with a cost of living crisis plaguing the UK and an economy on the verge of a potentially protracted recession.

Queen Elizabeth II is due to formally appoint Truss as British Prime Minister on Tuesday. The ceremony will take place at the Queen’s Balmoral estate in Scotland, where the monarch is spending her summer, rather than at Buckingham Palace in London.

The two-month leadership contest left a power vacuum in Britain at a time of growing discontent across the country amid rising energy and food costs. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not made any major policy decisions since announcing his resignation on July 7, and officials have insisted action to deal with the energy cost crisis would be postponed until his successor took office.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of workers have gone on strike to demand better pay to keep up with soaring costs. Inflation is above 10% for the first time since the 1980s and the Bank of England forecasts it will hit a 42-year high of 13.3% in October. That’s largely due to rising energy bills, which are set to increase by 80% for the average household from next month.

“I will come up with a bold plan to cut taxes and boost our economy. I will handle the energy crisis, I will take care of people’s energy bills, but also the long-term problems we have with energy supply,” Truss told party members after she was elected.

“I know our beliefs resonate with the British people: our belief in liberty, in the ability to control one’s life, in low taxes, in personal responsibility,” she added. “I know that’s why people voted for us in such large numbers in 2019, and as your party leader, I intend to deliver what we promised to those voters in our great country.”

Truss has won the support of many conservatives with her Thatcher zeal to curb government intervention and lower taxes. Both she and her rival Sunak have spoken of their admiration for Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, and for her free-market, small-state economy.

It’s not clear how Truss’ right-wing conservatism, which has resonated so well with party members, will resonate with the broader British public – particularly those most in need of government support to heat their homes this winter.

“This is someone who has a radical belief in the market, someone who believes that the goal of government is to get to a much smaller state sooner rather than later. She takes it very seriously,” said Steven Fielding, professor of political history at Nottingham University.

While the economy will certainly dominate the first few months of the new prime minister’s term, Johnson’s successor will also need to steer the UK on the international stage amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, an increasingly assertive China and ongoing tensions with the European Union over the aftermath of the Brexits – particularly in Northern Ireland.

Truss will be Britain’s fourth Conservative Prime Minister in six years, stepping down to Downing Street after Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron.

Johnson was forced to resign after a series of ethics scandals, which culminated in July when dozens of cabinet ministers and junior officials resigned in protest at his handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by a senior member of his government.

Both Truss and Sunak were key figures in Johnson’s cabinet, although Sunak stepped down from Johnson’s tenure in recent days.

A truss government may not go down well with many because it reminds voters too much of Johnson’s misdeeds, Fielding said.

“She was basically voted Boris Johnson 2.0 by Conservative members – she has made it very clear that she is a staunch supporter of Boris Johnson,” Fielding said. “I think she’s going to find it very difficult to break away from the whole Johnson shadow.”

Truss and Sunak were the last two candidates cut from an initial field of 11 hopeful leaders.

Under Britain’s parliamentary system of government, the centre-right Conservative Party was allowed to hold an internal election to elect a new party leader and prime minister without reaching out to the wider electorate. A new election is not required until December 2024.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Liz Truss set to become new UK Conservative prime minister

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