Recognition…Daniel Leal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Conservative Party announced on Monday that its members had chosen Liz Truss to replace Boris Johnson as leader, turning to a country’s hawkish diplomat, party loyalist and free market advocate government facing the worst economic crisis in a generation.
Ms Truss, 47, prevailed over Rishi Sunak, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer whose resignation in July set in motion Mr Johnson’s messy ouster. Her victory, by a margin of 57.4 percent to 42.6 percent, was widely expected in recent weeks after taking a comfortable lead in the polls.
She is Britain’s fourth female prime minister in six years, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, and the third female leader. Like her, she is greeted by a terrifying array of problems.
Double-digit inflation, a looming recession, labor unrest, rising household energy bills and possible fuel shortages this winter – all of which will face Ms Truss when she moves to 10 Downing Street. She must also mend a party deeply divided after Mr Johnson’s turbulent three-year tenure, which culminated in a landslide victory in the general election in 2019 but then descended into unrelenting scandals.
In a matter-of-fact speech to a party meeting after announcing her victory, Ms Truss pledged a “bold plan” to cut taxes and boost the economy, adding: “We will deliver, we will deliver and we will deliver.”
Ms Truss, who served in Mr Johnson’s cabinet and was not part of the Tory rebellion that led to his departure, will take up the title of Prime Minister on Tuesday at a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where the Queen will officially is accept vacation. Mr. Johnson will say goodbye to the monarch shortly before and end his career as a front-line politician, at least for the time being.
Ms Truss, most recently foreign secretary, emerged from a crowded field of eight candidates by appealing to party members with a single-minded message of tax cuts and a smaller government. These are reliable touchstones from the Tory party, but some economists said their proposals would do little to solve Britain’s problems and could actually make them worse.
After the field narrowed to two candidates, Ms. Truss never gave up her lead over Mr. Sunak. He would have made his own history if he had won and become the first non-white Prime Minister in British history.
But Mr Sunak’s message – that the government should not cut taxes until it has tamed inflation – was less appealing to the roughly 160,000 party members who took part in the vote. Nor had many forgiven his role in Mr Johnson’s downfall; he was one of two prominent Conservative figures, along with Sajid Javid, to resign from the Cabinet, sparking a wave of resignations that made Mr Johnson’s position untenable.
Ms. Truss won 81,326 votes over Mr. Sunak’s 60,399 votes, a margin that, while comfortable, was not as overwhelming as some polls suggested. Analysts noted that Mr. Sunak, not Ms. Truss, was the Conservative lawmakers’ first choice in the first round of the leadership contest.
Nonetheless, Ms Truss has made a remarkable political journey to the top of the Conservative Party. Raised in a left-wing family, with a father who was a mathematician and a mother who was a nurse and teacher, as a student at Oxford University she was an active member of Britain’s center Liberal Democrats and once called for a vote for the abolition of the monarchy.
After graduating, Ms Truss joined the Tories, going through six ministerial posts under three Conservative Prime Ministers: Mr Johnson, Mrs May and David Cameron. Like Mr Cameron, she campaigned against Britain leaving the European Union in the 2016 referendum battle, only to become a full-bodied Brexiteer after the vote.
Ms Truss is likely to be judged on her handling of the UK’s coming economic storm. With household energy bills rising 80 percent and some economists predicting inflation will top 20 percent by early next year, many believe Ms Truss must announce sweeping measures to protect vulnerable families.
She declined to give details of possible state aid, ruling out measures such as fuel rationing or a new windfall profits tax for energy companies. At her recent campaign rally in London last week, Ms Truss pledged not to levy additional taxes, a pledge some experts said was difficult to keep.