LONDON (AP) — Liz Truss has been elected the new leader of the Conservative Party, the party announced on Monday, and will take office on Tuesday as Britain’s new prime minister to lead the country through an acute cost of living crisis.
Truss, 47, who is currently Foreign Secretary, 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 keep her promises to tackle the cost of living crisis hitting 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 the Queen’s Balmoral Estate in Scotlandwhere 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 over soaring energy and food costs. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not taken any major policy decisions since he announced his retirement on July 7, and officials insisted that action to address the energy cost crisis would be postponed until his successor was 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 take care of 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 numbers in 2019 and as leader of your party, I intend to deliver what we promised to those voters across our great country. .”
Truss won the support of many conservatives through his zeal to roll back state intervention and cut 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.
But it’s unclear how Truss’ brand of right-wing conservatism, which has played so well with party members – who make up well under 1% of the UK’s adult population – will fare with the UK mainstream, in especially those most in need of government relief to afford basic necessities like heating their homes this winter.
Truss promised to act “immediately” to deal with soaring energy bills, but declined to give details so far.
“Members of the Conservative Party wanted this tax cut message. The country, I guess, less,” said Bronwen Maddox, director of London’s Chatham House think tank.
“At the moment people are deeply shaken, many are very, very afraid to go into a year where all they can see is rising costs,” Maddox added. “Until she has an answer on this, she has no claim to popularity in the country, I think.”
While the economy will certainly dominate the first months of the new prime minister’s term, Truss will also have to lead the UK on the international stage in the face of Russia’s War in Ukrainean increasingly assertive China and persistent tensions with the European Union in the aftermath of Brexit – in particular in Northern Ireland.
Australia, New Zealand and Japan congratulated Truss early on Tuesday and looked forward to strengthening their ties with the UK under his government. “She was a strong supporter of the UK’s ‘swing’ to the Indo-Pacific and played a pivotal role in promoting our historic free trade agreement,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. .
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 may not sit well with many because it reminds voters too much of Johnson’s misdeeds, said Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.
“She was basically voted Boris Johnson 2.0 by Tory members – she made it clear she was a loyal supporter of Boris Johnson,” he 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 Britain’s parliamentary system of government, the centre-right Conservative Party was allowed to hold internal elections to select a new party leader and prime minister without surrendering to the wider electorate. A new general election is not required until December 2024.