London (CNN)Liz Truss will be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom after winning most votes in the Conservative Party leadership contest, succeeding Boris Johnson who resigned in July after a series of scandals.
Truss defeated rival Rishi Sunak with 81,326 votes to 60,399 among party members and will take over as leader on Tuesday, as Britons face mounting economic and social crisis.
She pledged action to tackle the crisis in a short victory speech at a conference center in London on Monday.
Without offering details, Truss promised a “bold plan” to cut taxes and build economic growth, and “deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people’s energy bills but also dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply.”
Monday’s announcement ends weeks of bitter campaigning during which Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), accused the Foreign Secretary of risking a prolonged recession if she goes ahead with her promised tax cuts.
Once Johnson formally resigns his post to the Queen on Tuesday, Truss will also visit the monarch at her Scottish residence Balmoral, where, as leader of the largest party in parliament, she will be invited to form a government.
Truss had been the frontrunner for weeks, and the 47-year-old will now follow Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May to become Britain’s third female premier. Despite voting to remain in the European Union back in 2016, she has found herself to be the preferred candidate of the vast majority of Brexiteers in her party.
Her victory was smaller than expected, Conservatives who supported both candidates are privately admitting. It had been predicted by many that her margin of victory would be larger than the 18 percentage points announced on Monday afternoon.
In terms of her premiership, this could mean that she cannot run roughshod over her MPs, who voted in greater numbers for Sunak than Truss in the parliamentary part of this leadership contest.
And Truss could find that she has to accommodate a wider range of views from her party, which could mean embracing Sunak’s ideas for helping Britons with the cost-of-living crisis and a less aggressive approach to tax cuts — especially corporation tax.
Many Conservative MPs are privately worried that Truss’s modern-day Thatcherism could cost them the next election and will be leaping on the surprisingly low margin of victory to encourage the next PM to soften her economic stance.
The opposition Labour Party immediately dismissed her arguments, saying in a statement, “after years serving in Tory cabinets, nodding through the decisions that got us into this mess, Liz Truss simply doesn’t have the answers to this crisis.”
Long political journey
In the leadership campaign, Truss’s platform had featured plenty of red meat for the Conservative membership, from a hard line against the EU on Brexit to tax cuts as her main solution to the cost-of-living crisis. This tactic clearly proved decisive in winning over ordinary members, who had the final say in electing the leader of the ruling party, who consequently becomes prime minister.
But critics have accused her new-found hardline Brexit stance of being a cynical ploy. They have pointed to the fact that throughout her adult life Truss has evolved, from being an anti-monarchist Liberal Democrat in favor of legalizing drugs in her youth to the embodiment of the Conservative right today.
Throughout her political career, especially during the leadership contest, Truss has been compared to Thatcher, who, for many on the right, remains the benchmark for Conservative leaders. She was a tax-cutting, hard-nosed leader who took on the unions and played a large role in ending the Cold War. Like Thatcher, Truss has come from relatively humble beginnings to dominate a world inhabited largely by men.
Since becoming an MP, Truss has gone from being the darling of the liberal Conservative leader David Cameron, who took a personal interest in her career, to the Euroskeptic right’s figurehead.
Before the Brexit referendum, Truss said that she was “backing remain as I believe it is in Britain’s economic interest and means we can focus on vital economic and social reform at home.”
Cabinet colleagues at the time say that she never voiced any issue about supporting staying in the EU, despite having ample opportunities to express her own Euroskepticism.
These days, Truss is more than happy to pick fights with Brussels and to claim that it was the EU all along that held the British economy back.
A country in turmoil
Truss will take over a Conservative government that is facing multiple crises in the country. With steep rises in energy and food prices, long waiting lists for hospital treatment, and public sector workers, dock workers and even lawyers going on strike, making the case that the party deserves to win a historic fifth term at the next general election — due to be called by December 2024 at the latest — will be an uphill battle.
Inflation rose above 10% in July for the first time in 40 years, driven largely by the rising cost of energy, food and fuel. According to a forecast by the Bank of England, inflation will soar to 13% by the end of the year. The central bank also predicted that the UK would enter into recession before the end of the year. And on Monday, in a signal of these serious challenges ahead, the British pound dropped 0.3% to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985.
Analysts are skeptical that Truss’s tax-cutting policies will do much help citizens, especially after a decade of austerity policies. The Institute for Fiscal studies, an independent research group focusing on public finances, said last month that the leadership contestants, who were both promising tax cuts and smaller government spending, “need to recognise this even greater-than-usual uncertainty in the public finances.”
10 Quick Facts About New UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss
A Conservative Party member, Liz Truss, has emerged as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after winning the Conservative Party Leadership contest on Monday.
Liz Truss polled a total vote of 81,326 to defeat her opponent, Rishi Sunak, who polled 60,399 votes in the Conservative Party’s election.
Truss’s victory in the Conservative Party election means she will be officially taking over as the country’s leader on Tuesday, succeeding the immediate former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, who resigned from office in July after months of scandals.
In a brief victory speech at the announcement in a Central London convention hall, Truss said it was an honour to be elected the new party leader after undergoing what she described as “one of the longest job interviews in history.”
Truss was a student at Oxford University where she studied politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) and was president of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats, having been raised by left-leaning parents.
At the time, Truss was opposed to the U.K. having a monarchy, explaining at a 1994 conference in Brighton that she and her peers “do not believe people are born to rule.”
She has since gone more rightward in her politics and, following her college years, has considered the royals “essential” to the country, explaining to the BBC that, in her younger years, “I was a professional controversialist and I liked exploring ideas and stirring things up.”
“People may know about me that I have a bit of a dubious past,” she told a group of Tories earlier this year, as reported by The Washington Post.
“We all make mistakes, we all had teenage misadventures, and that was mine. Some people have sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, I was in the Liberal Democrats. I’m sorry.”
Past government experience
Truss has an extensive political background, going at least as far back as 2006, when she was elected one of the councillors for Greenwich, according to an official Conservatives webpage.
In 2010, she became a member of Parliament representing South West Norfolk. She has also served as an education minister, secretary of state for the environment, justice secretary, chief secretary to the Treasury, secretary of state for international trade and president of the board of trade, as well as minister for women and equalities.
In September of last year, Truss became secretary of state for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.
Truss has been married to an accountant named Hugh O’Leary since 2000, having met him in 1997 at a Conservative Party Conference. The couple have two teenage daughters.
In the early 2000s, Truss had an affair with a former member of Parliament named Mark Field over a period of 18 months, which was made public in 2006, The U.K. Times reports.
“News of the scandal broke in the Daily Mail in 2006 at which Mr. Field’s 12-year marriage broke down and ended in divorce. However, Ms. Truss and Mr. O’Leary’s relationship survived,” reported the Express.
“When asked about the affair by the Daily Mail Mr. O’Leary said: ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ In a 2019 interview with You Magazine, Mrs. Truss was also coy when asked about the tempestuous time her affair became public, however she did stress: ‘I am really happily married.’”
Initially opposed Brexit
In 2016, while Truss was secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, she opposed Brexit, which sought to have the U.K. leave the European Union for various reasons.
Weeks before the referendum on Brexit was held, Truss gave a speech before the Food and Drink Federation’s annual dinner in which she touted the benefits of staying in the EU.
“I think the British people are sensible people. They understand fundamentally that economically Britain would be better off staying in a reformed EU,” she stated at the time.
“I’m very grateful for the Food and Drink Federation publicly coming out and saying that. Of course, the National Farmers Union have also come out and said that. I think getting that message across is really important in the next few weeks.”
In an interview with the BBC last December, however, Truss explained that she had since changed her mind and “would have voted for Brexit” in “retrospect.”
“Because I think it has given us huge freedom and flexibility as a country we didn’t have before,” she said. “And in particular on foreign policy, we now have the ability to coordinate our development policy or trade policy, our defense policy and our diplomacy together.”
Regarding the issue of abortion, Truss voted in favor of liberalizing the abortion laws in Northern Ireland, which previously had greater restrictions than England or Wales.
“We are a United Kingdom, and we need all of our laws to apply right across the United Kingdom. That is what being a union is,” she said regarding the vote, as reported by Christian Concern.
However, she abstained from votes to create “censorship zones” around abortion clinics to curb pro-life demonstrations and an amendment to permanently allow “DIY abortions” in England in which women are sent home to terminate a pregnancy and dispose of the remains without medical supervision or care.
Additionally, she abstained from proposed legislation that would ban sex-selective abortions.
Truss has a mixed record on LGBT issues. In the past, she had voted to legalize same-sex marriage and expressed support for a national ban on sexual orientation conversion therapy.
However, she has also denounced the idea that people can self-identify their genders, saying that “medical checks are important” and that “only women have a cervix.”
“No — a woman is a woman. I believe in treating trans people with respect — I believe that is important — but we should not confuse that with being clear in our language,” said Truss, as reported by Christian Concern.
Additionally, regarding the conversion therapy ban, Truss believes that such a ban must “protect freedom of speech, and the ability of adults to consent and the freedom to express the teachings of [religious groups].”
The U.K. LGBT publication Pink News claimed that Truss “has repeatedly failed to advance LGBTQ+ rights in any meaningful way since she joined the equalities office in 2019.”
“Truss may have voted in favor of same-sex marriage, but she has done little to curry favor with LGBTQ+ people since then,” they claimed in a July piece.
When recently asked about her religious beliefs, according to The Evening Standard, Truss said she considered herself Christian but not particularly practicing.
“I share the values of the Christian faith and the Church of England, but I’m not a regular practicing religious person,” Truss answered.
In June, then Foreign Secretary Truss ran afoul of Church of England officials when the government decided to deport people who entered the country illegally by flying them to Rwanda.
“The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries,” stated a letter signed by several bishops.
In response to the criticism, Truss told Sky News presenter Niall Paterson that the deportation policy was “completely legal” and “completely moral.”
“What I’m saying to the critics of the policy who don’t have an alternative about how we deal with this illegal migration, is they don’t have an alternative, they are criticizing our policy which is effective and does work,” Truss replied.