JOHNSON’S REPLACEMENT: England’s new Iron Lady in the making

The static campaign has unfolded amid rapidly deepening economic turmoil. Household energy bills are spiking, inflation has soared into double digits, and the Bank of England warns of a prolonged recession. But none of that has dented the aura of inevitability around Truss.
JOHNSON’S REPLACEMENT: England’s new Iron Lady in the making

MARK LANDLER

CHENNAI: When a British journalist asked Liz Truss to name the character flaw she would most like to fix, she confessed, “I think some of my friends would say I’m a bit relentless.” Her answer elicited chuckles from a gathering of Conservative Party members; after all, that question is usually an invitation for a politician to resort to a humble brag. Yet this time it had the ring of truth, coming after a campaign in which Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, has piled up big-name endorsements, upbeat media coverage and a seemingly unshakable lead in polls of party members. With less than two weeks left in the race to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, her march to Downing Street looks nothing if not relentless. After a shaky start, Truss, 47, has cemented her status as the odds-on favourite to become Britain’s third female leader, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

The results of the Tory leadership contest will not be announced until Sept. 5, after the ballots of the party’s 160,000 or so dues-paying members are counted. Truss’s underdog opponent, Rishi Sunak, delivered a robust and well-received performance at the event in Birmingham, a reminder that fortunes can change swiftly in politics. “You’re acting like this is already over — and it’s not,” a visibly peeved Sunak told the moderator, John Pienaar.

The static campaign has unfolded amid rapidly deepening economic turmoil. Household energy bills are spiking, inflation has soared into double digits, and the Bank of England warns of a prolonged recession. But none of that has dented the aura of inevitability around Truss.

British newspapers are already busy speculating about whom she will name to her cabinet and when she will pass an “emergency budget.” The first question is easier to answer than the second. Despite spending a month on the campaign trail, Truss has offered very few clues about how she would confront an economic crisis that many experts view as the gravest in a generation. Instead, she has vowed to cut taxes, discard remaining European Union regulations, and shrink the size of Britain’s government — crowd-pleasing measures, tailor-made for the members of the Conservative Party, who tend to be older, wealthier, and more right-wing than the party’s voters, to say nothing of the broader British electorate.

Truss has stood by Johnson and continues to serve in his lame-duck government. But she has wrapped herself in the mantle of Thatcher, an anti-Communist warrior, free-market evangelist and conservative icon who entered Downing Street at a time of comparable economic hardship in 1979.

“The principles she believed in were the right principles,” Truss said, drawing her biggest applause of the evening. “Enterprise, personal responsibility, giving people control over their own money, putting money back in people’s pockets.” When the subject switched to national security, Truss was asked how she would react if faced with a decision to unleash Britain’s nuclear arsenal to defend the country. “It’s an important duty of the prime minister,” she said. “I’m ready to do that.” Such steeliness appeals to the party faithful, even if she has yet to persuade many party members that she is the second coming of the woman known as the “Iron Lady.”

“She’s a pound shop Maggie,” said Tony Clark, a member who lives outside Birmingham, using a colloquialism that refers to a discounted version of a great figure. Clark said he nevertheless planned to vote for her because he believed she was a genuine conservative. Sunak, while “intellectually brilliant,” came across as vaguely “smarmy,” he said.

Landler is London Bureau Chief with NYT©2022

The New York Times

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