On Monday, September 5, Mary Elizabeth Truss, 47, Liz Truss for short, was proclaimed the new leader of the UK Conservative Party, thus making her the new British prime Minister replacing Bris Johnson who resigned in July after his government was hit by what became known as the Party-gate scandal. The Returning Officer for the election said Truss got 81, 326 votes - 57% while the runner up, Rishi Sunak got 60, 399 votes representing 43%. A total of 172, 437 Tories voted, turn-out was 82.6 %, only 654 votes were voided. It was a much smaller margin of victory than was predicted (just 18%) - which means that Truss as PM would have a lot of work to do to carry other party members along. Rishi Sunak certainly was not disgraced, and he has been most gentlemanly in promptly congratulating the winner and asking the party to unite behind her. He deserves praise for his courage and his refusal to drop the ball even when all pundits predicted a Truss win. His ideas may well still find accommodation in the new administration.
Today, September 6, Truss and Boris Johnson will travel to Balmoral in Scotland together for Boris Johnson to take his leave, and for Truss to receive the Queen’s authority to form a government in line with the UK’s unwritten Constitution and the Queen’s role as Head of Government. They will depart from the Queen’s presence as a combination of the old and the new, and the beginning of a new momentum in Great Britain. In her acceptance speech, Truss praised Boris Johnson: “Boris, you got Brexit done, you crushed Jeremy Corbyn, you rolled out the vaccine, and you stood up to Vladimir Putin. You are admired from Kyiv to Carlisle.” These are very kind words, and history may indeed be kind in the long run to Boris Johnson’s legacy, but it would also be remembered of him that he ended up as the first Prime Minister in UK history to have broken the law while in office. Truss is now the third woman to assume office as British Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May before her. She says she is a modern-day Thatcherite: she wants to cut taxes, address the cost-of-living crisis, address the concerns of households and businesses, and deliver in the next two years and also deliver victory for the Conservative Party in 2024. But can Liz Truss be trusted to move from political rhetoric to action and truly deliver? Her critics insist that she is a master of political convenience and chameleonic politics. With a political beginning as a Liberal Democrat who once advocated for the abolition of the British monarchy, she has shifted so ideologically along the political spectrum, between 2010 when she got elected to parliament till this moment, when she would lead Her Majesty’s Government.
For her, it must be the best of times personally, but the worst of times to be Prime Minister. She is practically inheriting an “economic catastrophe” in the UK. Inflation is over 10%, the highest in 40 years. The cost-of-living crisis is so bad that families now skip meals and companies like Lewis Partnership are promising free meals for staff during winter. Even pub owners are saying, without government help, they may have to increase the cost of beer by 500% per pint, making it 20 pounds per pint! Many families can’t afford gas for vehicles or for their homes. Truss has not given any specific details as to what she would do, but certainly, this is no longer time to play to the gallery.
Nigerians should watch the UK space closely as we prepare for the 2023 general election. Liz Truss is the product of a well-honed internal party democracy system, which we do not have in Nigeria. The Tory election was issues-driven. Here, our politicians don’t even understand the issues enough to talk coherently. Today, Liz Truss is likely to announce her cabinet. Tomorrow she will face PM’s Question Time in parliament and slug it out with Keir Starmer. She was born in 1975. Whoever wants to become Nigeria’s President in 2023, must pay attention, and learn the best lessons from other jurisdictions.