Liz Truss has comfortably won the race to become leader of the Conservative party and on Tuesday will become Britain’s prime minister, facing one of the most daunting economic crises of recent times.
The foreign secretary beat her rival Rishi Sunak, former chancellor, in a ballot of Conservative party members by 81,326 votes to 60,399 after a bruising seven-week contest to succeed Boris Johnson. The turnout among the 172,437 eligible voters was 82.6 per cent.
Truss will on Tuesday meet the Queen at Balmoral, the monarch’s country estate, and will then immediately return to London to address the nation from Downing Street and announce her cabinet.
The 47-year-old incoming premier, who has served in the cabinet for eight years, has promised a rightwing agenda of tax cuts — largely funded by borrowing — in an attempt to halt Britain sliding into a lengthy recession.
Truss is considering capping energy prices — average household bills are currently set to rise from almost £2,000 to more than £3,500 in October — in a costly market intervention to avoid household misery and business collapse.
But her prospective chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has vowed that he will be “fiscally responsible”, even though he conceded in the Financial Times that the spending taps would have to be turned on this winter.
Truss won the party crown after a protracted and acrimonious contest to succeed Johnson, who quit on July 7 after a cabinet mutiny, led by Sunak, over his conduct as prime minister.
Johnson’s authority had already been weakened by the partygate affair — the scandal over parties in Downing Street during Covid lockdowns — but he was finally toppled after being accused of lying about what he knew about sexual harassment claims concerning Chris Pincher, former deputy chief whip.
Sunak won the first stage of the leadership contest — securing the backing of 137 Tory MPs compared with 113 for Truss — but the foreign secretary triumphed in the second stage with her powerful appeal to more than 150,000 party members.
Truss presented herself as an heir to Margaret Thatcher, promising tax cuts and less regulation, insisting it was wrong to see all economic policy through “the lens of redistribution”.
On foreign policy she struck tough positions towards Russia and vowed to stand up to Brussels in a row over the post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Truss will announce her new cabinet on Tuesday. Kwarteng will be her chancellor, while James Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, is expected to be promoted to foreign secretary. Suella Braverman, attorney-general, is expected to replace Priti Patel as home secretary.
In other key appointments, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a rightwing ally of Johnson, is expected to become business secretary, with responsibility for energy policy. Ben Wallace will stay at defence, while Truss’s ally Therese Coffey has been tipped to become health secretary.
Truss not only faces a daunting energy crisis but takes over a country in the midst of serious industrial unrest and with some public services — particularly the NHS — showing signs of breaking down.
Johnson, who will make a farewell speech in Downing Street on Tuesday morning, has not given up hope of making a political comeback, according to his allies, if Truss slips up.
The ruling Conservative party, which has been in power since 2010, will have to face the voters in a general election before the end of 2024; Truss’s party is currently trailing Labour in the polls.
Truss, a free-market Tory, was elected as an MP in 2010 and has served in the cabinets of David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson. She will become the fourth Tory prime minister in little more than six years.