Liz Truss conveys resolute leadership with imperial purple attire

Next British prime minister will enter Downing Street facing a level of crisis not experienced by a leader since Winston Churchill

New Conservative Party Leader Liz Truss following the announcement of her win arrives at Conservative Central Office, London , 05 September 2022. EPA
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Dressed from neck to knee in purple, Britain’s prime minister-in-waiting firmly made the point on Monday that she is now in charge.

Liz Truss is not cut from the same cloth as Boris Johnson and her approach is likely to differ from his over the past three years.

Part of that will be enforced by the energy crisis Britain confronts this coming winter but it will be also through her own forceful character, her ability to work 18-hour days, getting across her brief with a willingness to challenge officials. From now on, if there are any parties in Downing Street they will be formal and functional.

As Mr Johnson found to his cost, politics is not just about winning elections. The ability to govern, to swallow bitter pills knowing decisions taken will hurt your standing, requires resolution and steel.

So it was that Ms Truss’ speech after securing a modest win over her rival Rishi Sunak was about her serious intent to “deliver”.

Her loyalty to Mr Johnson remains, although her attempt to eulogise him before the 400 Tory MPs and members gathered at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster at one point fell rather flat.

“You’re admired from Kyiv to Carlisle …” she said of the prime minister, giving a deliberate pause for applause that came an embarrassing second or two later.

There seemed to be more sympathy for Ms Truss than her predecessor. The Tory hierarchy know that their new leader has been handed the trickiest inheritance of Number 10 since Winston Churchill took office as the Nazis rampaged across France in May 1940.

New Conservative Party Leader Liz Truss following the announcement of her win at Conservative Central Office on September 5, 2022.  EPA

There is war in Europe once again, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatening to imperil the West not only through the possible spread of the conflict but the strangulation of energy supplies, the consequence of which could be a very difficult winter.

The dry, rather stiff performance she gave in her acceptance speech is less important than the cabinet she selects on Tuesday to tackle the coming storm.

Ben Wallace’s firm presence at the front of the audience suggested resilience in defence. Tom Tugendhat’s animated chatting to colleagues on the front row perhaps revealed he has a cabinet post, possibly as security minister following his firm leadership challenge.

Kwasi Kwarteng momentarily stood close to the podium, suggesting his proximity to power as the next chancellor. His good working relationship with Ms Truss will at least mean that the two most powerful politicians will be in agreement — unlike their predecessors.

Perhaps Ms Truss’ flat performance was down to two brutal months of electioneering, in which she has barely had time to recover from jet lag after her 15-hour flight from the G7 summit in Indonesia following Mr Johnson's resignation on July 7.

But her resilience is such that she recovered from a fumbled leadership launch, surging in the last parliamentary vote from third to second place before giving assured performances in the television debates and hustings.

“It’s been one of longest job interviews in history,” she said to chuckles. She was right. During the12 hustings before 20,000 Tories there have been 14 hours of questioning and 1,600 questions answered to members and media.

Handling his third Tory leadership contest in eight years, Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, was unblemished in delivering the voters' verdict of 60,399 for Mr Sunak and 81,326 for Ms Truss. There was an intake of breath at the narrower than expected result, with the next leader securing just 57 per cent of the vote.

But that will be largely forgotten amid the maelstrom that greets Ms Truss as she enters Downing Street late on Tuesday afternoon, following an audience with Queen Elizabeth II in Balmoral, Scotland.

“We've been in a leadership vacuum for the last eight weeks,” senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown told The National. “Liz Truss is going to make positive, concrete announcements this week and hopefully we'll start to solve some of the really big problems we've got in the country.”

With its fourth leader in six years the Conservative Party will be hoping that Ms Truss remains in post at least until the next general election, which must be held before January 2025.

Party unity and discipline, fractured since the Brexit referendum in 2016, will be foremost if the Tories want to keep the Labour Party out of office.

That concern was reflected in a conversation between two MPs overhead by The National before Monday’s announcement.

“Here we go again,” said one MP referencing the high turnover of Tory leaders.

His colleague, who worked closely with Boris Johnson, replied: “Yes, I hope this one’s a keeper.”

Updated: September 05, 2022, 8:32 PM
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