(CN) — Triumphing in a monthlong leadership contest with the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss has been appointed Britain’s new prime minister.
Truss, who previously held the position of foreign secretary, received 57% of votes from the Conservative Party’s grassroots membership, compared with rival Sunak’s 42%. She replaces the outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was forced to resign last month after a series of scandals led to mass resignations from government.
Truss formally became prime minister on Tuesday after traveling with the outgoing Johnson to a Scottish castle, known as Balmoral, for an audience with the queen. The monarch has a constitutional duty to ask an incoming prime minister to form a government, but for the first time was unable to do so from Buckingham Palace in London due to health reasons.
Truss becomes the third female prime minister in British political history. She defeated her more high-profile competitor after spending years in Cabinet bolstering her Thatcherite credentials as a tax-cutting, low-spending fiscal conservative. Her ascent has also been aided by her careful maneuvering around the collapse of Boris Johnson’s premiership. Unlike Sunak, Truss did not resign from Johnson’s government and continued to be loyal to the former prime minister, who remains very popular among the Conservative Party’s grassroots.
Truss is far from the most likely of Conservative prime ministers. She is from a staunchly left-wing family and was once a high-profile member of the rival Liberal Democrat Party’s youth wing. Before transforming herself into a right-wing, pro-Brexit, establishment Conservative, Truss opposed the U.K. leaving the European Union and advocated in previous speeches for the abolition of the British monarchy. First elected to Parliament in 2010, Truss has held numerous junior government posts and been a member of Cabinet since 2017, before becoming foreign secretary last year.
As foreign secretary, following the Russian invasion earlier this year, she raised eyebrows by encouraging Brits to fight in Ukraine, in contradiction to the government’s official position. But she also scored some high-profile successes in the post, including securing the release of British citizen and political prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from an Iranian jail. Truss is also well known for her strong anti-China sentiment, which is now likely to become more prominent in Britain’s foreign policy.
During her time as foreign secretary she was widely known to be positioning herself for a leadership bid, organizing lavish dinner parties to court MPs, and engaging in extensive photo shoots during foreign visits. The approach helped her to become a favorite among party members, and ensured that she just managed to make it into the final two leadership candidates selected by parliamentarians — narrowly overtaking unlikely rival Penny Mordaunt at the final hurdle. Ever since making it onto the membership ballot, she had been widely expected to win the contest, with Sunak trailing significantly in membership-approval ratings.
Truss’ campaign for the top job has not, however, been without controversy. She has singularly focused on reducing taxation as the core of her campaign and economic agenda, with critics arguing this focus has been at the expense of a plan to deal with the rapidly rising cost of food and energy. She has also criticized the politically independent Bank of England for rising inflation, and dismissed giving Brits “handouts” as a means to manage the energy-price crisis, before her campaign later stated that direct payments might be needed.
Particularly controversial was a proposal to introduce regional pay boards to the U.K. Truss’ regional pay boards would have made decisions on public-sector pay based on local prices, meaning that workers such as teachers and nurses living in more economically deprived areas of Britain would be paid less. The policy was announced despite the fact that the Conservative Party was elected at the 2019 general election on the promise of "leveling up" the country through public investment to reduce regional inequality.