“We will deliver, we will deliver, we will deliver”, vowed a beaming Liz Truss, as she was declared Britain’s 56th Prime Minister this afternoon.
The results of a bitter two-month leadership contest were finally announced today by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee in London, making Foreign Secretary Truss the third ever Female PM, and the third Conservative MP to hold the post in just over three years.
In her acceptance speech, the 47 year-old pledged to “deliver on the energy crisis” and on her “bold plan to cut taxes and grow our economy”, as well as “delivering a great victory for the Conservative party in 2024”.
While her own victory came as no surprise, it wasn’t the landslide most pundits were predicting. Truss won 57% of the votes to Sunak’s 43%, making her the only one out of four Conservative party leaders elected via a ballot of party members – the other three being Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith – to have secured less than 60% of the vote.
Tomorrow morning, in a break from tradition, she will fly to Balmoral alongside Johnson to be formally appointed leader by the Queen. By mid-afternoon, she will be back in Westminster, where she is expected to give another speech and appoint her Cabinet.
One thing is clear: there will be no honeymoon period for Truss – it’s straight to work. Soaring energy bills will be her most immediate policy challenge – with a fresh YouGov poll indicating that a third of Brits have now fallen into debt because of the cost of living crisis.
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Truss is tipped to unveil her emergency support package on Thursday, and she is understood to be moving towards a freeze on energy bills this winter as the least worst option. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, has labelled a bill freeze “a terrible policy — but maybe one that we cannot avoid”. It’s certainly a costly one: the IFS estimates it would require £100 billion – which is more than the furlough scheme.
While spending billions of pounds of public money is not in line with Truss’s political philosophy, adopting the policy would suggest she can put pragmatism before ideology in a time of crisis.
The chancellor helping her navigate these tricky fiscal decisions will almost certainly be her staunch ally, Kwasi Kwarteng. As for the rest of her Cabinet, James Cleverly is tipped for Foreign Secretary while former leadership contender, Suella Braverman, is heading for Home Secretary, and ultra Truss loyalist Thérèse Coffey is expected to be rewarded with the title of Deputy PM as well as Health Secretary.
After a summer of wrangling, it remains to be seen whether Truss will attempt to heal a fractured Tory party by offering any of Sunak’s backers top positions. Indeed, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, an ally of Rishi’s and MP for The Cotswolds, insisted today: “divided parties do not win elections.”
Certainly, Truss’s narrower-than-expected victory will make it harder for her to ignore the concerns of those in the Sunak camp. But the key tension is that many of Sunak’s followers diverge on an issue so central to Truss’s campaign pledge: they think it’s foolish to start cutting taxes right now.
As for the markets, the pound has plunged further after Truss was declared PM – with some analysts citing concern about the implications for so-called “unfunded” tax cuts on the fight against inflation in Britain.
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