As things stand now, there is every likelihood that Liz Truss will become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in a little over a month’s time.
With ballot papers in the process of being sent out to the Conservative party members up and down England, Scotland and Wales, Truss is adjudged to be in a commanding position over former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Poll after poll shows her consistently ahead and, unless something remarkable happens, these next four weeks are but a coronation march for Truss.
But she is capable of making missteps.
On Tuesday, Truss announced plans to review the pay rates for public servants working outside of London. The cost of living is higher in the capital, therefore only civil servants working there should have London rates. Those working outside the capital would get lower pay rates if she were to replace Boris Johnson.
No sooner had the ‘send’ button been pressed than her campaign team backtracked, ditching the proposed policy within four hours. It’s a misstep from Truss — one that Sunak’s faltering campaign hopes will be the first of many in the days left in this campaign.
Indeed, no sooner had the Conservatives announced that the ballots were being distributed to the party members than Britain’s spy agency, GCHQ, warned that the electronic ballots could be tampered with. Not exactly the news that party officials wanted to hear.
But the 47-year-old Truss, a former Foreign Secretary, remains the firm favourite with party members. Besides, Sunak is seen as being the wielder of the knife that began the final demise of Johnson, resigning from Cabinet moments after Savid Javid, the then Health Secretary, said he could no longer support Johnson.
Truss is widely seen as having won a key televised debate with Sunak — one where the television presenter didn’t actually collapse on-screen, forcing a premature end.
Truss too is also popular with Brexiteers even though she herself was an active campaigner on the Remain side. Above all, she’s seen as being in touch with ordinary people — a key weakness for Sunak who has a personal wealth estimated at £1.4 billion, his wife had declared “non-domiciled” status to avoid a full UK tax burden, and possesses a “green card” for the United States. That in itself is viewed in some quarters as an escape card should he not make a success of his potential time in 10 Downing Street.
Simply put, she is more trusted than Sunak. Given all that has happened these past 35 months under the leadership of Johnson, trust is held now as the key core value.
She’s also campaigned on issues that are popular with rank-and-file Tories.
She wants to slash taxes sooner rather than later.
She wants to cut the size of the civil service.
She wants to get rid of the last rules and laws that are a hangover from Britain’s 46-year marriage to the European Union.
And she wants to take a hard line on Northern Ireland and the protocol.
This recent conversion to Brexiteer policies is all the more remarkable given that she had argued that Brexit would mean higher inflation, lower growth, more difficulties in trading with the EU, and would be a general disaster for the British economy.
But that’s not a reality that the Conservatives nor Brexiteers want to hear from the future occupant of 10 Downing Street and the successor to the mantle of Boris the Brexiteer.
But whether it is Sunak or Truss who does indeed take over the keys to the Downing Street property will lead a nation where inflation is predicted to be in double-digits for the next 24 months, economic growth is the lowest of the G7, and as many as one household-in-three will have difficulty lighting and heating their homes this winter
A lot on the plate
In the coming months, the new Prime Minister will have to decide on just how to handle Scotland and the calls for a second referendum on independence.
So far, Truss has angered those north of the border by suggesting that the best way to treat Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would be to simply ignore her. While that may play well to the Tories who will elect her to the party leadership, it’s unrealistic for the leader of the UK government to simply ignore her Scottish counterpart.
Taking a harder line on the Northern Ireland protocol might also go down well with the party faithful. But with Sinn Fein holding most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Democratic Unionist party refusing to sit until the protocol is dealt with in a way that suits its blinkered vision, just how to reform the Brexit deal brokered by Johnson will take up a growing amount of the new PM’s time.
The European Union has already taken legal steps in four separate areas in response to Johnson’s decision to unilaterally amend the protocol.
Truss, as his successor, will find it difficult to follow a path of appeasement with Brussels and Dublin — but that may be the best and only practical way forward lest the UK get into an all-out trade war with the EU. Perhaps her former sentiment towards Brussels will somehow manage to assuage Boris’ brigade of Brexiteers.