BIRMINGHAM, UK – When a British journalist asked Liz Truss to name the flawed character she most wanted to correct, she confessed, “I think some of my friends will say I’m a bit clumsy.”
Her answer elicited giggles from a gathering of Conservative Party members; After all, that question is often an invitation a politician uses with modest bragging. This time, however, it resonated with the truth, coming after a campaign in which Ms. Truss, the British foreign secretary, had a lot of big-name endorsements, upbeat media coverage and seemed unstoppable. moved to the top of party members’ opinion polls.
With less than two weeks left in the race to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, her march to Downing Street looks nothing short of relentless. After an uneventful start, Ms Truss, 47, has cemented her status as the favorite to become Britain’s third female leader, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.
The results of the Tory leadership contest will not be announced until September 5, after the votes of the party’s 160,000 paying members are counted. Ms Truss’ underdog rival, Rishi Sunak, put on a strong and well-received performance at the event in Birmingham, a reminder that fortunes can change quickly in politics.
“You act like this is over – and it’s not,” Mr. Sunak apparently told the moderator, John Pienaar.
The static campaign took place against a backdrop of rapidly deepening economic uncertainty. Household energy bills are soaring, inflation is soaring to double digits and the Bank of England warns of a protracted recession. But none of that dimmed the aura of certainty around Mrs. Truss.
The British press is currently busy speculating about who she will name in her cabinet and when she will pass the “emergency budget”. The first question is easier to answer than the second. Despite spending a month on the campaign trail, Ms. Truss has offered few clues as to how she will cope with the economic crisis, which many experts consider the most gratifying thing in a generation. .
Instead, she has vowed to cut taxes, scrap the rest of the European Union regulations and downsize the UK government – crowd-pleasing measures, tailor-made for small businesses. members of the Conservative Party, who tend to be older, richer and more righteous. – not just party voters, let alone the broader British electorate.
Ms Truss has sided with Mr Johnson and continues to serve in his lame government. But she has wrapped herself in the mantle of Thatcher, an anti-Communist fighter, free-market evangelist and conservative icon who entered Downing Street at a time of equally difficult economic times. in 1979.
Boris Johnson’s downfall, explained
“The principles she believes in are the right principles,” Ms. Truss said. “Corporate, personal responsibility, giving people control of their money, putting money back in people’s pockets.”
When the topic turned to national security, Ms. Truss was asked how she would react if faced with the decision to release Britain’s nuclear arsenal to protect the country. “It is the prime minister’s important duty,” she said. “I’m ready to do it.”
Such firmness appeals to party loyalists, even if she has yet to convince many party members that she is the second-in-command known as the “Iron Lady.”
Tony Clark, a member who lives outside of Birmingham, said: “She is a Maggie pound shop, using a colloquial allusion to a discounted version of a great figure. Mr Clark said he still plans to vote for her because he believes she is a true conservative. Mr. Sunak, while “intelligently brilliant”, he vaguely said was “mean”.
Jacqueline Naylor, 79, a retired nurse, said she would also likely support Ms Truss, although Mr Sunak’s strong performance made the decision harder for her. She blamed him for bringing Mr Johnson down by resigning as chancellor of the Exchequer after scandals engulfed the government. Ms. Truss, she noted, is trapped by the chancellor, who remains popular with her rank and profile.
“Liz is ticking all the boxes for team members,” said Edward Tolcher, 62, school finance director from Solihull, a nearby suburb. He is backing Mr. Sunak but thinks the race is essentially over.
Ms. Truss’ laser focus on Tory mainstream positions worked better than Mr. Sunak’s statement, which was built on telling voters tough, like-the-facts facts. like Britain having to tame inflation before cutting taxes. She has also steadily improved as a campaigner, displaying confidence and a sense of humour.
Gavin Barwell, Mrs May’s former chief of staff, said: “Many people thought she would be very wooden, and she performed better than expected.
But he and others say Ms Truss may be pushing matters down the road by refusing to be more public about her plans. They added that her call for a narrow constituency could make it difficult to sustain the coalition Mr. Johnson built in 2019. His election victory that year was built built by attracting disillusioned Labor voters from the industrial midlands and north, who were drawn. with his promise to “get Brexit done.”
Lowering taxes, reducing regulations, and shrinking the state are policies that are less attractive to working-class voters in these so-called “red wall” areas. Many people are comfortable with the widespread social safety net and see the government as a bulwark against what they believe is a system set up against them.
Political situation in the UK
After being embroiled in various scandals, Boris Johnson has said he will step down as British prime minister, clearing the way for a new leadership race within the Conservative Party.
Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, said: “Liz Truss is introducing policies that not only risk fueling the current economic crisis, but are also contrary to the values of Party voters. This new defender.
Ms Truss, who was commerce secretary before becoming foreign minister, prides herself on signing post-Brexit trade deals with Japan, Australia and other countries. However, her free-trade instincts may also be a mixed blessing with recent Tory converts, who want the state to protect British industry from foreign competitors. outside.
“She is a more liberal trader than I am,” said Robert E. Lighthizer, who served as US Trade Representative under President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Lighthizer has met with Ms. Truss several times to negotiate a transatlantic trade deal, which has been a priority for President Biden.
However, Mr Lighthizer said he was impressed with Ms Truss, noting that she had strongly opposed her views and appeared to be a “true conservative”.
Her first mission was to unify a party that had been influenced by the drama of the Johnson years and was gaining support among voters. A poll last week by the firm YouGov showed the Conservatives were trailing Labor by 15 percentage points, the biggest deficit in nearly a decade.
Critics worry that Britain’s relations with the European Union will deteriorate further under Ms Truss, as she is supported by the party’s most ardent pro-Brexit faction. She introduced legislation canceling trade deals in Northern Ireland, passed just three years ago as part of Brexit, and has vowed to pass that bill.
Peter Ricketts, a former British ambassador to Paris, said: “She is clearly well versed in the old game of blaming the French and Europeans in general in favor of her party base. “Reconnecting with Europe will be very important after this competition, and Truss is the last to address that.”
For all those concerns, some say it’s hard to predict how Ms Truss might act once in Downing Street. They say she has demonstrated a lifelong capacity to adapt politically, most notably on Brexit, which she vehemently opposed prior to the 2016 referendum and was also enthusiastically supported. love afterwards.
Marc Stears, who tutored her when she was a student at Oxford University, said: ‘She has a handful of deep commitments that she won’t give up. “She will then look for what gives her the best political momentum. You can call it opportunism or pragmatism, depending on whether you are a friend or an enemy.”