Liz Truss could be the next new UK PM

Liz Truss has reinvented herself as the favorite to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and UK Prime Minister.

After campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union, the Foreign Secretary embraced Brexit with the zeal of a convert after the vote went the other way. And she’s gone from yelling slogans against Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government as a child to leading Oxford University’s Liberal Democrat society to becoming the Tory Party’s darling on the right.

“My parents were left-wing activists, and I’ve been on a political journey ever since,” Truss said during a Tory leadership debate on ITV on Sunday. She admitted on BBC radio on Thursday that she was mistaken about Brexit.

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Truss is now six weeks – and one ballot – away from becoming UK Prime Minister, with only former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak standing in her way. British bookmakers have made her the favorite, and YouGov polling of party members suggests she will easily defeat her opponent in the party’s runoff vote.

Truss, who turns 47 next week, has used her libertarianism to appeal to the right wing of her party, extolling the virtues of free markets, advocating for low taxation, and repeatedly railing against the “nanny state” interfering in the lives of ordinary Britons.

She has gained supporters among ardent Brexit supporters by challenging the EU over the Brexit deal negotiated by Johnson’s own government, introducing legislation to override the majority of its provisions on Northern Ireland.

Even as she protested her loyalty to Johnson, the foreign secretary has done little to hide her ambitions for the top job, schmoozing with colleagues at “fizz with Liz” social events and running a carefully curated Instagram feed that rivalled Sunak’s team’s social media operation.

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She’s also openly invited comparisons to Thatcher, the Tory icon she once decried. This includes posing in a tank in Eastern Europe, as the former prime minister did in 1986 during a visit to British forces in Germany.

Truss made the final two after trailing Sunak and Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt in the first four rounds of Tory MP voting, only to overtake Mordaunt in a close fifth vote. She is the longest-serving member of the government, having held ministerial positions since 2012 and serving in the cabinet since 2014, under three prime ministers.

She was born in 1975 to left-wing parents and has spoken of joining them on anti-nuclear-weapons demonstrations in addition to anti-Thatcher protests.

Truss grew up in Scotland and then Leeds, where she attended a comprehensive school before going on to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford University. She then worked as an industrial economist for Shell before moving on to Cable & Wireless and the think tank Reform.

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The Truss ‘stare’

She worked as a councillor in southeast London for four years before becoming the MP for South West Norfolk in 2010. David Cameron, the then-prime minister, appointed her to her first ministerial post at the Department for Education in September 2012, before elevating her to cabinet as environment secretary in 2014.

She served as justice secretary, chief secretary to the Treasury, and trade secretary before being appointed foreign secretary, one of the four “great offices of state” in British politics, last year. She told BBC radio on Thursday that her cabinet experience has prepared her for the top job.

“What I’ve demonstrated is that I am tough under pressure,” Truss said. “I’ve dealt with some of the worst floods in a generation, the worst prison riots since Strangeways, and the worst war in Europe.”

Despite her long tenure in the cabinet, Truss has struggled to be taken seriously by colleagues, the press, and the public at times. She was mocked for a 2014 speech in which she called it a “disgrace” that the UK imports the majority of its cheese, a remark that was included in a compilation video of her “finest moments” that circulated on Twitter this week.

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According to interviews with more than a dozen people who know Truss, she also has a reputation for awkwardness. Tories referred to her “stare” as a habit of looking directly into the eyes of the other person in a conversation and smiling for several seconds without speaking. Allies believe it is an attempt to be friendly. Others describe it as frightening.

Tax cuts

Others said she’s well-known among civil servants for attempting to dominate meetings by interjecting when officials are speaking to state flatly that she disagrees.

Several people who have worked closely with Truss have stated that it is difficult to ascertain her true personal opinions on various political and policy issues. She failed to persuade EU officials that she understood the details during negotiations, and they were unimpressed by her attempts to appear tough in meetings with Brussels counterpart Maros Sefcovic, according to one source.

A request for comment from Truss’s spokesman was not returned. During the debate on Sunday, she admitted that she “might not be the slickest presenter.”

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Truss’ supporters, on the other hand, emphasise her relatability: she has presented herself as coming from humble beginnings. When Sunak asked whether she regretted being a Lib Dem or a Remainer more, Truss took a swipe at his education at one of the country’s most elite private schools, contrasting it with her own education at a state school where she said children were “let down.”

Her plans to cut taxes by approximately £34 billion ($41 billion) and criticisms of Sunak for stifling growth were welcomed by those on the party’s right, though her plan to fund this with increased borrowing alarmed some. She’s also promised lower government spending, which is popular among small-state conservatives, and has repeatedly cited deals she negotiated as trade secretary.

Truss told the BBC that she is not “the continuity economic policy candidate” because “that is where we didn’t get it right,” a dig at Sunak.

Those promises helped her win the support of enough Tory MPs, including Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, to get her into the party’s final vote of 175,000 members. She has long been popular with the grassroots, topping the ConservativeHome cabinet minister league table for a year until February. She came in third in the most recent one, conducted earlier this month, based on a survey of party members, with a rating of 49. Only Johnson had a lower score than Sunak.

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