Who is Liz Truss, the favourite to become Britain’s next PM?
Truss, now foreign chief, remained loyal to Boris Johnson as he faced a rebellion and is promising the public tax cuts.
Liz Truss, a right-wing politician of the Conservative Party, is currently favourite to become Britain’s next prime minister, to replace scandal-hit Boris Johnson.
The 47-year-old entered Parliament in 2010, and by 2014, she settled into her first cabinet position – secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs under David Cameron.
She since served under Theresa May and Johnson in various positions. In 2021, she was handed the top role of foreign secretary.
But she has not always been a Conservative. Raised by left-wing parents, she was a teenaged member of the centrist Liberal Democrats, and at 19, called for the abolition of the monarchy.
Now, “Truss is on the [Conservative] party’s right, and she is an instinctive free-trade libertarian and is not a natural supporter of levelling up,” David Jeffery, lecturer in British politics at the University of Liverpool, told Al Jazeera, referring to a policy touted by Johnson aimed at reducing inequality.
In the June 2016 referendum on European Union membership, Truss voted in contradiction to Johnson and was in favour of remaining in the bloc.
“Although she supported ‘remain’ in the referendum, she has, with the zeal of the convert, become a firm pro-leave politician,” said Jeffery.
He believes that her work as foreign minister was unimpressive.
“Truss’s tenure as foreign secretary was quite low-key. She was a very active (and social-media savvy) international trade secretary, but seemed to fade as a foreign secretary. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she was overshadowed by the prime minister and the defence secretary, Ben Wallace,” Jeffery said.
Unlike her competitor Rishi Sunak, Truss was among the few cabinet members who remained loyal to Johnson earlier this month as he faced a party rebellion.
This sense of loyalty seems to be appreciated, and could be why she is the current favourite to run the government. She has secured the support of leading Conservative politicians, including Wallace and a former hopeful for the premiership, Tom Tugendhat.
In the coming weeks, Conservative Party members will decide who will succeed Johnson.
A recent YouGov survey found 31 percent intend to vote for Sunak, while 49 percent plan to vote for Truss.
While a win seems plausible, the race is not yet run, Alan Convery, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Edinburgh, cautioned.
He told Al Jazeera: “She starts in a strong position because opinion polls of Conservative members show that she is ahead. However, there is a long way to go between now and September [when the result will be announced]. Sunak will be doing all he can to appeal to the membership.”
As foreign secretary, Truss promoted “Global Britain”, seeking to strengthen the UK’s role in international politics.
In 2021, she outlined her understanding of British foreign policy during a speech at Chatham House, identifying an ideological struggle between freedom and authoritarian regimes such as in Russia and China.
She cited the Comprehensive and Progressive Trade Agreement (CPTPA) between 11 Pacific states, which she considered a bulwark against China and which London should join. This was a vision that was “in its essence, Thatcherite”, the Economist magazine noted afterwards.
Truss never tires of declaring her admiration for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
However, this comparison does not always benefit her.
For months she has been entertaining the British with professionally styled photos that are almost a carbon copy of Thatcher moments, such as when she visited Moscow, dressed in a long coat and fur hat – just like Thatcher 35 years earlier.
Truss is pledging 30 billion pounds ($37bn) in tax cuts, similar to Thatcher, who reduced personal income tax in the 1980s, and promises immediate action to help people cope with the rising cost of living.
The tax cut, according to Truss, would rein inflation while boosting growth.
“Trussonomics” is the term used for her proposal, her very own version of supply-side economics, a key feature of Thatcher’s economic policies.
Her plans also include rescinding a planned increase in corporate income tax and reversing the recent increase in social security rates.
And on the cultural front, Truss has declared war on “identity politics”.
“There is no question that Truss has occasionally styled herself after Thatcher. But whereas Thatcher had a clear idea of what she wanted the country to look like, it is not clear Truss has the same vision,” said Jeffery. “Truss’s appreciation of Thatcher (and, it should be said, Sunak’s) are based on a partial understanding of Thatcher, or a caricature of what Thatcher/Thatcherism actually was.”
Besides Thatcher, Truss also offers post-Boris Johnson continuity, particularly concerning Brexit.
But while she was viewed as a tough negotiator with the bloc and “very bellicose on the EU, [this] won’t actually solve any of the issues [between the UK and EU] in Northern Ireland or France.”
Asked about her U-turn in 2017, from pro-remain to pro-leave, Truss said the “massive economic problems haven’t come to pass” and “I’ve also seen the opportunities”.
“Having been a ‘Remainer’, she has now positioned herself as a champion of the opportunities of Brexit and has therefore attained the support of key supporters of Brexit like [Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency Jacob] Rees-Mogg,” Convery said.
In essence, Truss would imply more continuity with Johnson than Sunak, as Britain’s next PM, Convery said.
“I think she would want to eliminate all of the Johnson-era unforced errors in the Downing Street operation but continue with quite a confrontational approach towards Brussels. However, if she carries out her promise to cut tax, it would mark a departure from the economic emphasis under Johnson.”