The new UK Prime Minister will be the former Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who has defeated the former Finance Minister, Rishi Sunak, to be elected as the next leader of the current governing Conservative Party, and as a consequence, become the country’s next Prime Minister.
The announcement was officially made on Monday 5 September, shortly after 12:30 p.m. (BST) although in truth the result was of no great surprise, as Ms Truss had been widely tipped to succeed for several weeks, with Mr Sunak’s campaign seemingly stalling, whilst his rival gained more and more support from within the party.
What happens now?
Tomorrow, Tuesday September 6, in what is a break with tradition, Queen Elizabeth II will confirm the appointment at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, rather than at Buckingham Palace, where it would normally take place, due to Her Majesty’s mobility issues, meaning that it would be difficult for her to travel back to London to perform the duty, so the affairs will be conducted at her own summer residence.
Once concluded, and Ms Truss has been invited to form her own government, the Court Circular, which is the official record of royal engagements, will record that “the prime minister kissed hands on the appointment” in keeping with customary practice. No physical interaction will actually take place, as the “kissing of hands” is merely a symbolic gesture, it is a long standing name for the proceedings; although historically, the new prime minister was genuinely required to kiss the sovereign’s hand, to show their absolute loyalty to the sovereign, and to the crown in general.
This will be the 15th different Prime Minister during the Queen’s 70 year reign.
Incoming and outgoing speeches
Displaced leader, Boris Johnson, will be presenting a statement outside Number Ten Downing Street early on Tuesday morning, which is expected to be relatively formal – although with Boris it is impossible to judge – before he travels north to Aberdeenshire, to tender his resignation to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which should take place some time around midday.
Ms Truss will then fly back to London to make her first Prime Ministerial speech, probably at around 4 p.m. (BST), provided that there are no last minute hitches. She will then appoint her new cabinet of ministers who will be called to a meeting early on Wednesday 7th September, before the real business starts in the House of Commons chamber at midday, with her first head-to-head against Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, who no doubt will be looking to “trip her up” with some difficult points and questions, and certainly not give her an easy introduction to the role.
Reminder of why this is happening
After a turbulent period in office, lasting just over two and a half years, Mr Johnson resigned from his post as leader of the Conservative Party on July 7 of this year, and in doing so also stepped down as the Prime Minister of the UK. It followed an astonishing few days of ministerial resignations after an avalanche of scandals finally caught up with Johnson and left his position virtually untenable.
He thanked the voters who gave him a landslide general election victory in December 2019, and said he had resisted the calls to resign previously because: “I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation to you to continue to do what we promised in 2019.” Making reference to the Conservative members of Parliament who turned against him he said: “The herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.” Before adding: “No leader is indispensable, our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader.” He has continued in a caretaker role in the interim and has promised to offer his successor his full support, although only time will tell what Ms Truss has in mind for her former boss.
In a departing column he wrote: “This is the moment for every Conservative to come together, and back that new leader wholeheartedly. This is the time to put aside the disagreements of the last few weeks, fascinating though they may have been, and put the national interest first. As I leave Number Ten, after three tough, but often exhilarating years, I know just how big and demanding this job is.”
Close contest but Truss edges it
The battle to become the next Conservative Party leader and with it the role of next British Prime Minister, closed on Friday September 2, which was the deadline for Tory members to register their choice between former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss. The original field of eleven contenders was whittled down to those two in a series of Tory MP ballots. Sunak, 42, and Truss, 47, had gone head-to-head in a dozen hustings right across the UK over the past month, to win over the votes of an estimated 160,000 Tory electorate.
The Conservative Party Chairman Andrew Stephenson said: “I’d like to thank Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss for participating in what, at times, must have been a gruelling schedule carried out, I believe, in good spirits and giving our members the opportunity to question them up front and personal, answering over 600 questions and putting themselves under the spotlight. I know our party is ready to unite around our new Leader and tackle the challenges we face as a country ahead.”
The new PM faces a significant number of challenges immediately. The cost of living crisis (specifically energy bills), the war in Ukraine, Northern Ireland, and climate change, are all massive on-going tasks which the British public will want positive responses to. She has said she is more than capable of making “difficult decisions”, but the calls for government intervention on the energy bill issue will definitely jump straight to the top of the list of “things to do”, and will require careful handling, but at the same time instantaneous action.
TV interview 24 hours before appointment
In a live TV interview yesterday (Sunday 4th), Ms Truss said she would act on issues relating to the price of energy within the first week of her appointment. “I think we face some very, very serious challenges, which will receive immediate action from the Government.” When pressed on the matter she responded: “What I have been very clear about is that I would act immediately within the first week. I understand what people are facing on their energy bills. If I am elected as Prime Minister, within one week, I will make sure there is an announcement on how we are going to deal with the issue of energy bills and of long-term supply, to put this country on the right footing for winter.”
Insisting she was “not being coy” about her plans, she continued: “It will take a week or so to sort out the precise plans and make sure we are able to announce them. That is why I cannot go into details at this stage. It would be wrong. But what I want to be very clear about with the British public is I understand that this is a huge problem. I understand people are quite rightly worried, and I want to reassure people that I am absolutely determined to sort out this issue.”
She went on to stress that her focus was on growth and tax cuts, believing it was the fairest way to go about things, adding: “It is fair, absolutely. To look at everything through the lens of redistribution is wrong. What I am about is growing the economy because that benefits everybody.” She reiterated that she would “within a month, present a full plan for how to reduce taxes, get the economy going again, and find our way out of these difficult times.”
No kicking the can down the street
She had been a little more free about her intentions in comments made during the week leading up to her appointment. She said: “Delivering a broader plan to get our economy growing again, make it more resilient and make it more competitive, is my aim. A fiscal event will follow later this month from my chancellor, with a broader package of action on the economy. We need to take the difficult decisions moving forward to ensure we are not in this position every autumn and winter. Sticking plasters and kicking the can down the road, simply will not do. I am ready to take the tough decisions to rebuild our economy.”
She spoke passionately about her vision: “I recognise that many of the growth measures we take will not have an immediate impact, but it is vital we get started now and build a better economy for the future and pay down our debt as a country and provide the future for our children. There will be tough decisions to be made, and I am prepared to make those tough decisions, as prime minister.”
Energy announcement possibly on Thursday?
In the hours leading up to the announcement that Ms Truss had been confirmed as the winner of the race to the top job, commentators were suggesting that leaked information, with regards to the energy crisis, indicated that her “team” had already been in discussions with the energy industry and that she had initially “pencilled in” Thursday September 8, so just three days from now, as the day she would communicate to the country her decision on that pressing issue.
Furthermore, although it is believed a menu of options has been drawn up in Whitehall to offer up assistance to struggling families, it is being widely forecast that the judgement which will be declared, will be a price freeze on the energy cap, for this autumn and winter bills.
Obviously this is still just speculation, but there does seem some confidence in these “rumours” circulating and were they to be correct, it would come as a huge relief to a massive percentage of the population, who are at present frantically trying to work out how financially, they are going to get through the next few months.
As the new PM, Ms Truss will be expected to make a very early visit to the Ukraine for a meeting with leader Volodymyr Zelensky, who was very warm with his praise of Boris Johnson, calling him a “true friend” of Ukraine, and consistently thanked him for the UK’s “steadfast support” of his war-torn country. He will be looking for sustained military, diplomatic, and financial support from the new government, irrespective of the impact the war is having on energy and food prices, back in the UK.
Not a popular choice with all
Road safety advocates will be concerned as to whether Ms Truss follows through on reports that she is considering scrapping the 70mph speed limits on motorways. Her move would bring the UK closer to nations like Germany, where some sections on autobahns are unrestricted. She had said: “We need to be prepared to look at that limit; I cannot give you a precise answer now, but it definitely needs looking at.”
On smart motorways, she said: “I absolutely think that we need to review them and stop them if they are not working as soon as possible; and all the evidence I have seen suggests they are not working. We need to be prepared to look at that. I do believe that the smart motorways experiment has not worked.”
The highest speed limit in the UK is 70mph, this applies to cars and motorcycles on motorways and dual carriageways. The same vehicles can drive at a maximum speed of 60mph on single carriageways.
Fears in football
Football in England was all set to introduce an independent regulator and undertake proposals to make the footballing pyramid more sustainable, as a blueprint for its long-term future. However, Ms Truss is thought to be happy to listen to influential figures who have little, or no appetite to change the existing structure.
This will be a massive blow to fans of clubs all across the country, and especially Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, who chaired a fan-led review which brought about the recommendations, that included a “shadow board” and a new improved fit and proper persons test for owners. This follows the near liquidation of Derby County, one of England’s finest and most famous and well-supported clubs, through shocking leadership by a local owner.
Now there will be fears that the current cost of living crisis could push another club over the edge from which Derby very nearly tumbled out of existence. There is likely to be an urgent request for clarification on the governments standing on the issue.
Scotland points to goalpost shift
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, reacted with anger when she became aware of reports that Ms Truss was in favour of introducing new legislation which would be for a requirement of 50 per cent of the Scottish electorate – not just a majority of those who vote in a referendum – to back independence. She accused the new PM of “moving the goalposts” and said: “This desperate suggestion is proof positive that the independence arguments are winning. Only those who fear losing feel the need to change the democratic goalposts. Just because you fear losing a democratic contest, it is not an excuse, or does not make it acceptable, to rewrite the rules of democracy.” Although there does seem some contradiction and hypocrisy in that statement.
She did add in a positive tone: “It is obviously the case that we do not agree on very much politically, but I am a firm believer in giving anybody who is coming into the office of prime minister a chance to prove themselves, and I will certainly do my best to build a constructive working relationship with her.” Before stating quite bluntly: “If she governs how she has campaigned over the summer, she will be a disaster, not just for Scotland, but for all of the UK. Let’s hope that it is not the case, because this is a very serious time for the UK and it needs very serious and very purposeful leadership.”
Unpopular in the national polls
In what is undoubtedly a time of great concern for UK citizens, the new PM will need to hit the ground running. Recent opinion polls suggest 52 per cent of people already think she will be a poor, or indeed terrible prime minister, with only 12 per cent expecting her to be good, or better than good in the role. Even amongst Conservative voters, 43 per cent say she will be worse than Boris Johnson, and just 20 per cent think she can be an improvement on the outgoing PM.
The opening days, weeks and months are going to be a very demanding introduction into the role for Liz Truss. She will need and undoubtedly accept, all the support on offer, together with a united party; plus as with anything, a considerable slice of luck.