Who is Britain's Liz Truss and what challenges await her?

Who is Britain's Liz Truss and what challenges await her?

Analysts are skeptical about its ability to meet British expectations.

Boris Johnson's former foreign secretary will have a lot to do to get the country's economy back on track.

As Britons worry about the dramatic rise in the cost of life, a new Prime Minister is about to take charge at 10 Downing Street. Does Liz Truss have what it takes to address citizens' concerns?

47-year-old Liz Truss has a long track record. A Member of Parliament since 2010, she has held several ministerial posts in the governments of David Cameron and Theresa May. She was notably the first female Minister of Justice. Under Boris Johnson, she was Secretary of State for Trade and then Foreign Minister, which allowed her to acquire a certain notoriety.

In the race for the leadership , she positioned herself clearly on the right, with a speech focused on reducing the size of the state and lowering taxes.

Taking former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a model, sometimes in a caricatural way, she forced the other candidates to assume quite radical positions, believes Matthew Flinders, professor of political science at the University of Sheffield, England.

She pushed them to be tougher on taxation, on immigration, on the state and bureaucracy, tougher on European issues, even if, deep down, they are much more pragmatic than ;they dare not suggest it, notes Mr. Flinders.

Liz Truss has a reputation for getting things done, notes Victoria Honeyman, associate professor of British politics at the University of Leeds.

Her supporters maintain that she has been able to advance her files, in particular as Minister of Foreign Affairs, while her opponents claim that she rather knows how to lather her skinny accomplishments, she notes.

Ms Truss's opponents point out, for example, that since the UK's exit from the EU, no trade deals have been struck with major partners such as the US, India or China, and that there is nothing to brag about having negotiated with Norway, Australia or the Faroe Islands.

On Brexit precisely, while she was firmly opposed to it at the start, defending the maintenance in the Union, she then converted when this option won. She often changes her mind, saying “I adapt”, explains Sarah Pickard, teacher-researcher in contemporary British civilization at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, in Paris. She has no political ideology.

In fact, she is above all an opportunist, believes the researcher.

Supporters surround Liz Truss at a campaign rally in Perth, Scotland, on August 16.

She thus modulated her message to please the members of the Conservative Party, responsible for choosing the leader. Adherents are often more radical than MPs and the general population, so she has adapted in recent weeks, going more to the extremes, speaking more populist, says Sarah Pickard.

What she has said so far should not be trusted, since she was above all trying to distinguish herself from her main opponent in the leadership race, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, say analysts.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss talk during a debate in Stoke-on-Trent, July 25, 2022.

But that could change dramatically as soon as September 6, observes Matthew Flinders, who expects to hear him present a much more positive and inclusive view of the country.

What we are going to see, I imagine and hope, is the reverse strategy. After moving to the right to win leadership, it will now try to move quickly back to center and embrace compassionate conservatism.

“There was a lot of political play around the positioning in order to secure the vote of the party members. Once that is settled, all bets are off. She can now come up with a whole new set of policies, because this time it's all about appealing to the general public. »

— Matthew Flinders, Professor of Political Science at the University of Sheffield.

This is also the view of Chris Stafford, UK Policy Researcher at the University of Nottingham, who thinks that Ms. Truss has stuck, for now, to what party members wanted to hear.

She did not want to venture on thorny subjects that could be unpopular. So not much is known except that she intends to cut taxes rather than provide financial support [as her rival, Rishi Sunak proposed].

The economic situation is very difficult in the UK right now. The inflation rate hit 10.1% in July and the Bank of England expects it to top 13% in October, well above other G7 countries.

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That's what everyone's talking about, Victoria Honeyman points out. People are very worried.

Liz Truss has yet to explain how she plans to help households cope with soaring energy costs. The monthly gas and electricity bill will increase by 80% from October.

The authorized price cap will increase from 1,971 pounds ($2,992) per year, per household, to 3,549 pounds ($5,387). And it could be worse next year.

In contrast, real incomes fell 3% in the last quarter. According to a YouGov poll, a quarter of Britons have had to cut essential spending.

Real household disposable income is expected to fall by a combined 10% in 2022 and 2023, the biggest drop in living standards in a century, according to think tank Resolution Foundation. That would be 3000 pounds ($4555) less per year for an average household

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Social discontent is intense, including massive walkouts in several sectors, including transport.

During the campaign, Liz Truss said militant trade unionists [stand] the country hostage and that she intended to quickly put in place severe measures to restrict the right to strike and ensure that a minimum service is guaranteed.

But she did not give details on what she plans to do about the rising cost of living. She mentioned she could lower taxes, but never talked about a full-scale energy cap, Honeyman points out.

Sarah Pickard is also not convinced by Liz Truss' skills in economics. Her plan to lower taxes is completely out of step with the current situation, she believes. This will especially benefit the wealthiest households, because the less well-off, cutting taxes and duties, it does not give them enough to eat or heat the house.

Ms Truss recently canceled an interview she was to give to the BBC, arguing that she had run out of time. But that's because she's not comfortable talking about the economy, Pickard said. His strategy is to say nothing rather than talk nonsense.

Railway workers protest outside Victoria station, London, June 21, 2022.

In addition to the rise in the cost of living, the new Prime Minister will have to tackle the situation of the health system, in major crisis, with a deficit of 12,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses. Some 6.5 million patients are on waiting lists for medical treatment.

Finally, the other major issue she will have to tackle during her mandate is that of Brexit, recalls Chris Stafford. Defining Britain's place in the world and its relationship with Europe is going to be a big issue for it to deal with, he stresses.

If no one expects it to quickly solve all the problems, it will be necessary on the other hand that it succeeds in generating a perception of stability, notes Matthew Flinders, that we are at least sure that it is is about a competent government that knows where it is going.

“She will have to tackle a number relatively small number of fundamental issues, but most importantly, after the chaos of Boris Johnson, restoring a reputation for strategic stability, not only in the UK, but also globally. »

— Matthew Flinders, Professor of Political Science at the University of Sheffield.

The next general election must be held in December 2024 or January 2025 at the latest, i.e. five years after that who led Boris Johnson to power.

It is expected that this deadline will be pushed back as much as possible, believes Victoria Honeyman. Especially since, in the current context, Ms. Truss will not be entitled to a honeymoon. A new leader usually gets a rebound effect, but Liz Truss probably won't, she thinks. This will be erased as soon as people receive their first gas and electricity bills in October.

At the moment Labor leads in the polls 8 points ahead of Labor. Conservatives (39% to 31%), according to a YouGov poll conducted in late August.

If, in theory, the Prime Minister has two years to recover, it is unlikely that she will succeed, estimates Chris Stafford. Boris Johnson has done a lot of damage and I don't think Liz Truss is the right person to pick up the slate.

Just like Mr Johnson, he laments, she has no vision or plan for the country, as former prime ministers Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher might have had.

“With its lack of charisma and her lack of vision for the future, I find it difficult to see how she could succeed. »

— Chris Stafford, researcher in British politics at the University of Nottingham.

The challenge will be above all to get closer to voters, believes Matthew Flinders. Does she have the necessary emotional intelligence and empathy? he wonders. Would people like to have a cup of tea with her?

Theresa May never passed, while Boris Johnson could pass the test of coffee, tea, beer… Whether we like it or not, it has this ability to create links, observes Mr. Johnson. But will Liz Truss succeed in communicating with the average Brit?

Her success will depend on her, but also on the performance of Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer. Whoever replaced Jeremy Corbyn in 2020 is also struggling to connect with the electorate. Labor are ahead in the polls, but after the Boris Johnson outcry they should be a lot better than that, Flinders says.

With information from REUTER

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