LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Conservative Party announced on Monday that Liz Truss, the country’s current foreign minister, has been elected the party’s new leader and thus Britain’s new prime minister.
Truss, 47, beat former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak after a leadership race in which only about 170,000 paying-paying members of the Conservative Party were allowed to vote. Truss received 81,326 votes, compared to 60,399 for Sunak.
She faces immediate pressure to deliver on her promises to tackle a cost of living crisis gripping the UK and an economy heading into a potentially long recession.
Queen Elizabeth II is expected to officially appoint Truss as British Prime Minister on Tuesday. The ceremony will take place at Queen Balmoral’s estate in Scotland, where the monarch spends her summer, rather than at Buckingham Palace in London.
The two-month leadership race has left Britain with a power vacuum at a time of growing discontent across the country over soaring energy and food costs. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not made any major policy decisions since announcing he was stepping down on July 7, and officials have insisted measures to tackle the energy cost crisis will be postponed until his successor is in place.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of workers went on strike to demand better wages to meet ever-rising costs. Inflation is above 10% for the first time since the 1980s, and the Bank of England expects it to hit a 42-year high of 13.3% in October. This is largely due to soaring energy bills, which will rise by 80% for the average household from next month.
“I will present a bold plan to lower taxes and grow our economy. I will deal with the energy crisis, taking care of people’s energy bills, but also taking care of the long-term problems we have on energy supply,” Truss told party members after his election.
“I know our beliefs resonate with the British people: our beliefs in freedom, in the ability to control one’s own life, in low taxes, in personal responsibility,” she added. “I know that’s why people voted for us in such great numbers in 2019 and as leader of your party, I intend to deliver what we promised these voters throughout our great country.
Truss won the support of many conservatives through his Thatcherite zeal to roll back state intervention and lower taxes. Both she and her rival Sunak have expressed admiration for Margaret Thatcher, who served as prime minister from 1979 to 1990, and for her market economy and small government.
It’s unclear how Truss’ brand of right-wing conservatism, which has played so well with party members, will affect the wider British public – especially those most in need of the government’s help to warm them up their homes this winter.
“He is someone who believes in the market in a radical way, someone who believes that the goal of the government is to move towards a much smaller state as soon as possible. She takes this very seriously,” said Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.
While the economy will certainly dominate the new Prime Minister’s first months in office, Johnson’s successor will also have to lead the UK internationally in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine, an increasingly assertive China and to continuing tensions with the European Union over the aftermath of Brexit, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Truss will be the UK’s fourth Conservative Prime Minister in six years, entering Downing Street after Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron.
Johnson was forced to resign after a series of ethics scandals that culminated in July, when dozens of ministers and lower-level officials resigned in protest at his handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by a senior official in his government.
Both Truss and Sunak were key players in Johnson’s cabinet, although Sunak resigned in the final days of Johnson’s tenure.
A Truss government might not sit well with many because it reminds voters too much of Johnson’s misdeeds, Fielding said.
“She was basically voted Boris Johnson 2.0 by Tory members – she made it clear she was a loyal supporter of Boris Johnson,” Fielding said. “I think she’s going to have a really hard time disentangling herself from all of Johnson’s shadow.”
Truss and Sunak were the final two candidates selected from an initial field of 11 leadership candidates.
Under the British parliamentary system of government, the center-right Conservative Party was allowed to hold internal elections to select a new party leader and Prime Minister without going to the wider electorate. A new general election is not required until December 2024.
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