Liz Truss is a political shape-shifter. Now she’s set for her toughest transformation yet as Britain’s likely next prime minister.
The person most likely to replace Boris Johnson as leader of the ruling Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is a political chameleon who has gone from radical abolitionist to standard-bearer for the Eurosceptic Conservative right.
Liz Truss, who was only elected to Parliament in 2010, has established herself – in a relatively short time – as a political force of nature who pursues her agenda with unrelenting vigor and unequivocal enthusiasm.
However, with most opinion polls suggesting she is on the verge of getting the keys to Number 10 Downing Street, her critics ask: what exactly does she stand for?
Many who have observed her over the years wonder if she has sincere beliefs or if she simply approves of what is most practical at the time.
To say Truss took a political trip would be an understatement. She was born in 1975 into a family she herself described as « left of Labour », the main socialist opposition. She grew up in parts of the UK that did not traditionally vote Conservative, moving between Scotland and the north of England.
Unlike her privately educated Cabinet colleagues, Truss went to public school in Leeds and later secured a place at Oxford University. There she was an active member of the Liberal Democrats, a centrist opposition party that has long been an effective opponent of the Tories in large parts of England.
During his tenure as a Liberal Democrat, Truss supported the legalization of cannabis and the abolition of the royal family – positions that are in stark contrast to what most would consider mainstream conservatism in 2022.
Truss says she joined the Conservatives in 1996, just two years after giving a speech at a Liberal Democrat conference calling for an end to the monarchy.
Even then, her fellow Liberal Democrats questioned her sincerity and spotted traits they still see in her today.
“I honestly think she was playing gallery at the time, whether she was talking about decriminalizing drugs or abolishing the monarchy,” Neil Fawcett, a Liberal Democrat adviser who campaigned with Truss in the media, told CNN. the 90s. « I think she’s someone who plays gallery with whatever audience she talks to, and I really don’t know if she ever believes what she says, then or now. »
Truss certainly continued to capture the attention of his audience. Since joining the Conservatives and becoming an MP, she has fervently supported almost every ideology imaginable. She has served loyally under three Prime Ministers in several different ministerial posts and is currently Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Most notably, she supported staying in the European Union in 2016. At the time, Truss tweeted that she supported those who wanted to stay in the bloc because « it’s in the economic interest of Great Britain. » Britain and means we can focus on vital economic and social reform. at home. »
Truss is now backing Brexit, saying his pre-referendum fears that it could cause « disruption » were misguided. The aspiring Tory leader is even threatening to scrap all remaining EU legislation in the UK and roll back the Brexit deal Johnson brokered with Brussels in a way the EU deems illegal. She also blamed France and the EU for border controls at Dover, the main port between the UK and France.
There is a debate within the Conservative Party about the reality of this support for Euroscepticism. Some believe Truss was reluctantly following government orders at the time of the 2016 referendum, which opposed Brexit. Others find this argument inconceivable.
Anna Soubry, a former Conservative cabinet minister, told CNN that Truss « had the most coverage among us supporting Brexit. Her memoir at the time included the farming community, who supported Brexit as a whole. I I’m sitting around the cabinet table and I’ve heard everyone’s reason for doing what they did and I can’t believe she’s changed her mind so much.
On the other hand, Gavin Barwell, who was former Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff, said that after the Brexit vote, « Truss decided very quickly that there was no room for compromise. If you had to do it, you had to do it all. And as the stalemate dragged on, she argued that a binary choice presented itself between leaving without a deal and canceling Brexit, and that the latter would be catastrophic for the government.
The closer she gets to power, the more Britons are wondering what a post as Prime Minister Truss would look like. She campaigned to lead the most conservative programs. She pledged to cut taxes from day one, tear up EU regulations and encourage private sector growth with low corporate taxes. She said she would not impose a windfall tax on energy companies, despite making huge profits during the cost of living and energy crisis.
These types of policies are, of course, red meat for the Tory MPs who will ultimately vote for her. And while some of those who know her wonder how much she actually believes in them, there is no doubt that she will go to great lengths to implement them and make their impact felt immediately.
It’s likely that a Prime Minister Truss job would end up looking a lot like Johnson’s, but with a stronger focus on lower taxes, shrinking government and, potentially, an even tougher line on Europe . Critics said the tax cuts she promised would lead to even higher inflation and interest rate hikes amid an expected recession. Questions have also been raised about a promise made by Truss to cut public sector wages, which would have saved the public $8.8 billion. Its economy has been questioned by critics, and uproar over perceived insensitivity to public sector workers has forced Truss to turn back.
Julian Glover, a journalist and speechwriter to former Prime Minister David Cameron, was an academic contemporary of Truss and remembers traits in her that are still recognizable today: determined but unfocused.
“We only crossed paths briefly and she was in a different year than mine, but despite that, she stands out in my memory as some sort of strange, fuzzy force, extremely in favor of action and change,” Glover said. « It was always hard to see the purpose of it all, or where it might lead, except that she would be at the center of it all. »
Roger Crouch, who succeeded Truss as president of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats, told CNN he remembered a woman who was « determined, resolute and ready to challenge orthodox wisdom and dominant, often masculine ».
Unlike many who knew Truss in her youth, Crouch, who is now a teacher, thinks her views haven’t changed much since the 90s. so a consistent thread of thought there. I remember a student discussion group in which she advocated the privatization of streetlights.
If she wins, Truss will struggle to unite her party, which has been in power for 12 years and bitterly divided over Brexit for six of them.
She will also have to lead the country through its worst cost of living crisis in decades. Inflation has reached its highest level in 40 years, energy bills are expected to rise by hundreds if not thousands of pounds a year, and the UK is expected to slip into recession before the end of the year. This winter, many families will have to make a difficult choice between eating or heating. And for a party that’s been in power for more than a decade, it’s hard to blame it on anyone else.
His supporters see the chance for a fresh start in Truss. They believe that with Brexit out of the way and the scandals that led to Johnson’s downfall soon to be a distant memory, the party will focus on staying in power and winning a historic fourth consecutive general election. .
For its detractors, it is more complicated. During this leadership race, those who have backed his rivals feel they have been unfairly maligned simply for contesting Truss being handed the keys to Downing Street.
When it comes to running the country, that could be a problem for Truss. She had the support of fewer MPs than her rival Rishi Sunak at the start of the competition and the bad blood between the two sides worsened over time.
And for all Truss’ determination and determination, if she takes the helm of a party torn by infighting and suffering in the polls during a cost-of-living crisis that has unfolded under the leadership of the conservatives, she might find her key objective too difficult. task at hand: to make his party eligible for the next general elections after almost a decade and a half in power.