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Two months of decisions, political debates and strong statements are over; Britain knows the name of its future leader. Former Foreign Secretary Liz Truss became Conservative leader and Prime Minister, defeating Rishi Sunak, a former finance minister.
The final pair was chosen by successive votes by the Parliamentary Conservative Committee 1922. In the last phase of the election, the new leader was chosen by all party members, of which there are over 170,000, by means of a postal vote. Truss was already leading in pre-election polls, and some experts or bookmakers predicted her victory in advance.
The race ended with a ratio of 81,326 thousand votes for Truss, 60,399 for Sunak.
Sunak most likely paid for the “king killer” label he earned with Johnson’s departure. His own resignation from his position in the government triggered an avalanche of others and subsequently contributed to the downfall of the prime minister himself. At the same time, the 42-year-old Sunak kept the so-called Partygate with Johnson the whole time and supported him even in the vote of no confidence in June. He left the sinking ship just before the end.
Forty-seven-year-old Truss has years on the political scene and for many embodies a possible continuity with the Johnson era. What functions did it go through? What does the future hold for Britain? And how true is her comparison to Margaret Thatcher?
Prime Minister of all Britons
Full name Mary Elizabeth Trussová was born in Oxford, England in 1975 to left-leaning parents. She spent part of her childhood in the Scottish town of Paisley, but later the family moved to Leeds, England, where she attended Roundhay State School.
In the past, Trussova did not speak highly of the institution where she studied. However, it is not only the former students there who question her statements and there are opinions that her statements are only intended for political gain. It is precisely through her past at a state school that Truss emphasizes the claim that she is not the prototype of a successful member of the Conservative Party.
“She did not go through the elite secondary schools from which most of the prime ministers recently came, including Boris Johnson or David Cameron,” Kryštof Kruliš, an analyst at the Association for International Affairs (AMO), explained to Seznam Zprávy. “This distinguishes the wealthier British elite. These families can afford to give a child who has the ambition to be highly academically or politically profiled, the benefit of such an education.”
Truss’s next steps led to the University of Oxford, which allows the politician to emphasize that despite not having an elite high school education, she was able to get to a prestigious school and to high political positions.
In doing so, she re-records the image that portrays Liz Truss as “prime minister of all Britons”.
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Truss was already active in student politics and initially joined the Liberal Democrats. During this period, she supported the abolition of the monarchy or the legalization of cannabis, which she abandoned over the years.
She then joined the conservative ranks in 1996 and took her first steps towards parliamentary politics at the age of 25.
In high politics
She finally started her career in the British Parliament in 2010. Since then, she has held a total of six ministerial posts under three different prime ministers.
On her account, for example, she has the position of Minister of Justice, Trade or Foreign Affairs, and in 2016 she also became the first woman in the role of Lord Chancellor.
It is certainly worth noting that she is the third woman to take up the position of prime minister.
The media do not avoid various comparisons, and according to them, Trussová herself should – not only with her clothes – try to stylize herself as the new Margaret Thatcher, the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the comparison with the “Iron Lady” is strongly promoted by the politician’s team.
“It’s quite frustrating that female politicians are always compared to Margaret Thatcher, while male politicians are not compared to Ted Heath (former British Prime Minister, note ed.),” the new Prime Minister of the UK told GB News.
Even Kryštof Kruliš does not agree with the comparison; according to a Czech expert, although the female politicians agree on some important topics for the conservatives, Truss is, however, a prime minister for a different time.
“They face a differently set society and other topics, such as defining themselves against the culture war, thinking that the crimes of the British Empire should be taught in schools, or the politics of gender identities,” recalls Kruliš.
At first glance, the successful professional career of Liz Truss was accompanied by upheavals in her personal life.
Truss married her ex-husband Hugh O’Leary in 2000, and they later had two children. By the time she was already married, however, the politician had an 18-month affair with now-former Tory MP Mark Field. His marriage eventually ended in divorce, which put an end to the Truss affair.
The future of Britain
When Boris Johnson officially resigns on Tuesday and Queen Elizabeth II. appoints his successor at his country seat of Balmoral, Britain ushers in a new era. However, according to experts, it will not be so different from the previous one, especially in terms of economic policy, which is now one of the important topics in the country.
“Truss will also rely on the majority in the House of Commons, which Boris Johnson won in the last parliamentary elections. From this point of view, it will be about continuity in a number of respects, also considering the fact that she is a politician who remained loyal to Boris Johnson and did not leave his government,” explained Kruliš.
Even if Boris Johnson is surrounded by scandals, according to a survey by the Opinium agency, it is possible to observe a certain nostalgia for him among party members. The poll found that 63% of Conservatives would prefer Johnson to remain in charge rather than Truss taking over. The preference for Johnson over Sunak was even stronger (68%).
According to available data, the Conservative Party’s membership has grown significantly in recent years, with many attracted by the 2019 election victory led by the outgoing Prime Minister. So the level of loyalty and admiration for Johnson in their ranks may be quite high.
“Also, the program he expresses is in principle close to some of the steps that Johnson himself has announced and which brought him into conflict with Truss’s rival Rishi Sunak. It was mainly about disagreements on the topic of the economy of taxes – whether to come up with tax cuts now, or to postpone them even with regard to fiscal moderation until later,” the analyst added.
It was Johnson’s pursuit of tax cuts that Trussová took over in the race for the post of leader of the Conservatives, while Sunak, on the other hand, prioritized the intervention against rising inflation. The political recipes for dealing with the current economic situation or the general approach to the economy and debt are very similar to Johnson’s.
“What kind of change can be expected, however, is that a personality will enter 10 Downing Street who will not be burdened by a series of political scandals, as was the case with Boris Johnson. That way, he will be able to focus more on the real promotion of the agenda and will not spend so much time reflecting on cases,” Kruliš further pointed out.
The future of relations with the EU
In 2016, the UK experienced what the BBC website describes as possibly the biggest political event in a generation – a referendum on membership of the European Union. Truss campaigned to remain at the time, arguing that Brexit would mean “a triple tragedy – more rules, more forms and more delays in selling to the EU” for the country.
However, the British voters then chose to leave and on January 31, 2020, the country really left the EU.
The UK was in transition for less than a year and Truss was slowly changing her mind. According to some voices, she was able to sense which way the wind was blowing and gradually moved towards the Brexit wing of the party. Today, few people remember her support for Remain.
“Although at the beginning she was in favor of remaining in the European Union, she filled the political space in such a way as to accommodate Eurosceptics within the conservatives, who from the beginning were linked precisely to the demand for withdrawal and sought to ensure that the link to the European Union after leaving was not so strong.” Kruliš commented on the situation. “Truss can satisfy this faction in the Conservative Party more than her opponent.”
For the European Union, Boris Johnson has been a very unpleasant opposition figure on Brexit and has also been seen as one of the most visible figures in the country behind the Leave campaign. “Of all the personalities with whom the EU would like to negotiate, Johnson was probably the least welcome. But this should not be the case with Truss,” said the Czech analyst.
According to Kruliš, it is also interesting that Trussová won in all conservative groups in the polls. The only group where this was not the case were members who are in favor of better relations with the European Union or who are not as strong supporters of Brexit. However, this group is not so dominant in the party.
As for British relations with the Czech Republic, most things are resolved through the European Union. However, relations in matters outside this agenda have always been good and cannot be expected to deteriorate under Truss’s leadership.
The same will almost certainly happen in the case of war-torn Ukraine, which has been an important topic in recent months.
“Truss can be expected to continue Boris Johnson’s policy on this too – given her having been Foreign Secretary in his government and also from her statements. We can thus assume that the foreign policy established by Johnson, which includes, for example, significant support for Ukraine, will most likely be maintained,” said Kruliš.
The future of the Conservative Party
The list of reports previously discussed the election of the party’s new chairman with Jan Váška from the Institute of International Studies at FSV UK. He predicted that if the final fight took place between Truss and Sunak, the winner of the duel would not have a very strong mandate because the Conservative Party would be split.
“The victory that the Conservatives achieved under Boris Johnson is by more than 60 seats. It rolls off a bit, but if there is such a large majority, it is very difficult to form an opposition voice within the party that would threaten the government,” Kruliš explained, adding that a clear example is Johnson himself, who only quit when problems accumulated too much and the cup of patience has definitely overflowed.
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However, it will depend on the overall development of the situation in the country; i.e. if inflation will continue to rise, if other economic problems will increase or if the state’s indebtedness will increase. Because of this, in the end, there could be the greatest friction in the party, and a conservative opposition could also emerge, which will have enough ammunition to be active.
In addition, the mandate that Boris Johnson won in the election has now fallen into Truss’s lap. Because of this alone, her position will be partially weakened, until she herself wins the election race. Some former prime ministers announced early general elections under similar conditions, but according to Kruliš, it is better to wait for some time.
“At this point, the logical thing is to just take office, rule for a while, and then try to find out how I’m doing through unbiased opinion polls,” the analyst explained. “If she finds out that she is doing very well, it would make sense to call early elections. It would gain its own mandate.”