Tough times ahead for Liz Truss

While her opponent Rishi Sunak did better that some expected, the result was something of a foregone conclusion.
Liz Truss
Liz Truss

NEW DELHI: It was virtually certain that Liz Truss would emerge victorious in the Conservative Party leadership election, making her Britain’s next Prime Minister.

While her opponent Rishi Sunak did better that some expected, the result was something of a foregone conclusion.

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At the end of the day, her promise of not raising taxes, freezing energy bills and her more libertarian approach to the issue of fixing the economy prevailed over Sunak’s arguably more cautious, arguably more sensible approach of managing it.

Her victory, secured by an electorate comprising an ageing group of Conservative Party members, is no reflection of her popularity either within Parliament or among the Tory voters.

It was Sunak who was well ahead her when MPs voted in the leadership race and, even today, there is no doubt that Boris Johnson, disgraced though he may be, is well ahead on popularity among those who generally vote conservative.

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How she will deal with a divided Conservative Party, including a Johnson who believes he was betrayed by his party MPs, remains to be seen. But this is only one of her problems.

The most immediate one she will have to contend with is that of the economy. She takes over as Prime Minister when the country is going through an extremely difficult time — high inflation rates, small businesses facing bankruptcy and a policy on Ukraine that has contributed to spiralling energy prices are some of her immediate challenges.

The manner in which she plans to tend to the needs of people in these especially straitened times while pushing her Conservative economic agenda is something that she has never adequately explained.

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On the economy, Sunak was much more coherent, while Truss evaded detail with simple-minded and populist quips. Yet, what she may have going for her is a certain political adroitness, a capacity to mould policy to suit the times.

An example of her ideological flexibility was very much in evidence when it came to Brexit – Truss went all the way from being a remainer to one of Brexit’s ardent supporters.

Another is her republican anti-monarchy position, which has all but evaporated.

In some ways, Truss is in a similar position that her idol Margaret Thatcher faced when she took over as Prime Minister in 1979.

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The economic issues that plagued Britain then were different and Thatcher’s solution was to adopt a transparently neoliberal policy that inflicted a considerable amount of economic pain before it paid off.

Britain’s problems today are partly universal, being Covid-related, and partly a result of the war on Ukraine.

Even if Truss can’t live up to her tall promises, she needs to find a way to manage the crisis, with a mix of economic pragmatism and a political savvy that keeps her Tory rivals under check.

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