Explainer: Who is Liz Truss and how she became the new British PM
TODAY takes a closer look at how new British Prime Minister Liz Truss went from being part of the Liberal Democrats party to hold the top post among the Conservatives.
- The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary Mary Elizabeth Truss is Britain's new prime minister
- She beat former chancellor Rishi Sunak by more than 20,000 votes, campaigning on the ticket of tax cuts
- TODAY traces how the former member of the Liberal Democrats party climbed the political ladder to become leader of the ruling Conservative Party
The 47-year-old leader of the ruling Conservative Party replaces Mr Boris Johnson, who resigned in July after a series of scandals.
In the Conservative Party leadership contest, Ms Truss received 81,326 votes over the 60,399 votes for former chancellor Sunak, becoming the third woman to lead the UK government.
TODAY takes a closer look at how she went from being part of the Liberal Democrats party to hold the top post among the Conservatives.
‘NOT A CONVENTIONAL TORY’
Britain is governed by the Conservative and Unionist Party, known as the Conservative Party in short and colloquially as the Tories. British news media BBC said that Ms Truss is “in many ways not a conventional Tory”.
She has called her father, a mathematics professor, and her mother, a nurse, “left-wing”, while she herself was the president of the Liberal Democrat Society back in Oxford.
BBC reported that at the Liberal Democrats party conference in 1994, while she was 19, Ms Truss had spoken in support of abolishing the monarchy.
She switched to the Conservative Party later on, but was defeated as a Tory candidate during the 2001 general elections and suffered yet another defeat in 2005, before successfully entering Parliament in 2010.
Despite this, her past liberal leaning was brought up during her recent campaign trail to the top office.
BBC reported her as saying this during a leadership hustings in Eastbourne recently: "Some people have sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, I was in the Liberal Democrats. I'm sorry."
Besides the change in political leaning, Ms Truss had also switched sides on the divisive Brexit issue — from fighting for Britain to remain in the European Union, to becoming a staunch Brexit defender — with The Washington Post from the United States calling her a “shapeshifter” in an article last week.
When confronted about this U-turn recently, English newspaper The Independent quoted her as saying: “I fully embraced the choice the people of Britain made (to leave the European Union).”
Reminded that she had predicted that Brexit would mean less trade, slashed investment and fewer jobs, she replied: “I was wrong and I’m fully prepared to admit I was wrong.”
She added: “The portents of doom didn’t happen. Instead, we’ve unleashed new opportunities. And I was one of the leading figures driving those opportunities.”
The following were the key posts that Ms Truss has held.
- September 2012: Parliamentary under-secretary of state at the department for education
- July 2014: Secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs
- July 2016: Secretary of state for justice and Lord Chancellor
- June 2017: Chief secretary to the treasury
- 2019: Secretary of state for international trade and president of the board of trade; minister for women and equalities
- September 2021: Secretary of state for foreign, Commonwealth and development affairs
HOW SHE WON
Experts who spoke to TODAY explained Ms Truss’ popularity among Tory grassroots members.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, political analyst at Singapore Institute of International Affairs, a think tank, said: “I think for the Conservative grassroots, who make up the bulk of the party leader-choosing electorate, Rishi (Sunak) is considered too ‘distanced’ and upper-class.”
In contrast, they consider Ms Truss more as “one of them”, given her more down-to-earth background, Dr Oh added.
For example, Ms Truss had attended a secondary school in Roundhay, a suburb in Leeds, while Mr Sunak had his education in a private boarding school.
Assistant Professor Dylan Loh from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said: “She has, to some success, sought to attribute blame to Sunak for the cost-of-living crisis and high inflation, putting him on the backfoot and on the defensive.
“Focusing on tax cuts and Sunak’s personal wealth, she has also made her rival candidate look out-of-touch and ill-equipped to handle the inflation crisis.”
WHAT SHE PROMISED VOTERS
On Ms Truss’ promises to voters, Assoc Prof Loh said: “Truss has campaigned on bringing reliefs to Britain through tax cuts, while Sunak has promised to stick with the tax increases introduced during Covid.”
For example, in late August, she said that she would consider cutting value-added tax by 5 per cent across the board to help tackle the cost-of-living crisis, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
Speaking to the BBC over the weekend, she said: "If I'm elected prime minister, I will act immediately on bills and on energy supply.
"Within one week I will make sure there is an announcement on how we are going to deal with the issue.”
She did not disclose more on how she will achieve this.
BBC reported on Monday that energy industry sources expect the incoming government to freeze energy prices, a possible move that was not denied by Ms Truss' team.
WHAT MIGHT REMAIN LARGELY UNCHANGED
During hustings last week, Ms Truss was reported to have said that “the jury is still out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron was “friend or foe”.
Her comment sparked uproar, with President Macron saying that France and Britain would be facing “serious problems” if the latter cannot decide if France was a friend or an enemy.
Ahead of the results on Monday, Russia said it could not rule out relations with the UK worsening under the upcoming administration.
Despite these, both Assoc Prof Loh and Dr Oh were of the view that the UK’s foreign policy would remain largely unchanged from during Mr Johnson’s administration.
“Mr Johnson was ousted as a victim of internal power struggle within the Conservative Party and not as a result of differences over ideologies or policies,” Dr Oh said. This was why he believes that foreign policies “are not expected to differ significantly”.
Ms Truss, much like Mr Sunak had he been chosen instead, would likely be “tough on both Europe and Russia”, though the UK “will work with the former to confront the latter”, Dr Oh added.
Assoc Prof Loh said: “Both candidates had promised to continue their strong support for Ukraine and both of them had also outlined very strong responses towards China, suggesting policies that will see the relationship get chillier.
“Both had set higher targets for defence spending and had outlined plans to see the UK play a bigger role on the world stage.”
Assoc Prof Loh added that he does not foresee “any major impact” on relations with Singapore or this region following the administration change.
“They may seek to be more present and active in the region but that was something the Conservative government sought to undertake anyway, post-Brexit.”