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UK PM Election: Why This May Be the Last Contest Liz Truss Wins

Truss has a truly terrible economic outlook to deal with. It’s almost a nightmare scenario for a new leader.

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Liz Truss has won a clear victory in the Conservative Party leadership contest – but not by quite as commanding a margin as many expected. After a long and fractious campaign, her rival, Rishi Sunak, won the votes of 43 percent of the party members. So the new leader has to heal the wounds within a divided party. She also has a truly terrible economic outlook to deal with.

The most pressing problem is an energy crisis. Household gas and electricity bills are set to rise threefold, largely as a consequence of the disruption of energy supplies caused by the war in Ukraine.

Liz Truss has said that within days she will announce measures to deal with this looming catastrophe.

But that could cost tens of billions of pounds, perhaps as much as a hundred billion pounds, and no one is clear where that money will come from – especially as Truss has pledged to cut taxes, diminishing the amount of public money available for a bail-out.

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Partly because of the spike in the energy prices, inflation is at 10 percent and likely to go a lot higher, there’s a rash of strikes as workers try to secure wage rises to match the galloping food and energy prices, the economy is on the brink of recession, war continues to rage in Eastern Europe, the state-financed National Health Service has record waiting lists and desperately needs new investment, and relations with the European Union are as bad as they have ever been.

It’s almost a nightmare scenario for a new leader.
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Truss' Past Politics

Liz Truss is 47, married with two daughters, and has been a cabinet minister for the past eight years under three different Conservative prime ministers. She is one of the most experienced figures in British politics and she ran a determined and impressive campaign.

"I campaigned as a Conservative and I will govern as a Conservative," she declared in her victory speech. But she hasn’t always been on the right.

Her parents were on the hard left and, as a child, she accompanied them on demonstrations against nuclear weapons and shouted slogans against the Conservative government of the time; as a student, she was on the radical wing of the centre party, the Liberal Democrats, demanding the abolition of the monarchy; in 2016, she opposed Brexit and campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union.

Yet she has become the darling of the Conservative right-wing, seen as someone who is committed to Brexit, and the core Conservative values of low taxes and a small state. It’s a remarkable political transformation.

Truss won above all because she understood her electorate. The decision on who should replace Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader, and so prime minister, rested simply with the Conservative Party members. They tend to be older, wealthier, and more white than the general population – and much more right-wing. But in what is hardly a shining example of democracy in action, 80,000 votes have proved sufficient to determine the prime minister of a nation of 70 million.

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'Sunak Was Seen As Arrogant and a Bit of a Know-It-All'

Liz Truss’s rival, Rishi Sunak, lost out even though he had the support of more Conservative Members of Parliament. If the electorate had been wider than simply Conservative Party members, Sunak might well have won. He came across as more thoughtful and less ideological in his approach to the economy. But he also was seen as arrogant and a bit of a know-it-all.

While race wasn’t a factor in the outcome of the leadership contest, money was.

The immense personal wealth of Sunak and his wife gave an impression that he was remote from the lifestyle and concerns of the ordinary people. The British public seem not to mind posh leaders, but they aren’t keen on being governed by the ultra-rich.

On Tuesday, 7 September, Liz Truss will meet the Queen at Balmoral in Scotland and will be asked to form a government – that’s when she formally becomes the prime minister. By the end of the day, she will have appointed her cabinet. All the signs say that it will be the most diverse in the country’s history.

If the speculation is borne out, for the first time, none of the four big offices of state will be held by a white man. Among those expected to get a big job is Suella Braverman, who is of Indian origin. Her father has Goan heritage and her mother is from the Tamil community in Mauritius. Braverman is tipped to become Home Secretary, replacing Priti Patel.

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If Liz Truss is true to pattern, she will be more pragmatic as prime minister than she suggested while campaigning for the job. She had to tack to the right to win the support of the party grassroots; now she needs to tack to the centre to gain the confidence of the wider electorate. But the economic storm clouds about to break over Britain will make the new prime minister’s job exhausting, and not far off impossible.

And the electoral clock is ticking. A general election has to be held by the end of 2024. And it seems ungenerous to say so when the new prime minister has still to be sworn in to the job she has striven so hard to win, but in that wider election, her chances of success are slender.

After all, when a country faces problems as profound as Britain does – problems which are certain to intensify in the months ahead – the natural political reaction is to blame the government.

(Andrew Whitehead is a former BBC India correspondent and also reported on British politics for the BBC. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Opinion   UK Prime Minister   UK Elections 

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