Liz Truss, the next prime minister of the United Kingdom, is a political chameleon who has gone from a radical who called for the abolition of the monarchy to a flag-bearer of the Euroskeptic right wing of the Conservative Party.
Truss, who was only elected to parliament in 2010, has – in a relatively short period of time – established herself as a political force of nature who pursues her agenda with relentless vigor and unequivocal enthusiasm.
But after a decades-long transformation that has seen her personal views change enormously, many will be asking what exactly Britain’s new leader stands for.
Many who have observed her over the years question whether she has any sincere beliefs at all, or if she simply endorses whatever is the most convenient at the time.
To say that Truss, 47, has been on a political journey would be an understatement. She was born in 1975 into a family that she herself has described as “to the left of Labour,” Britain’s main left-wing party. She grew up in parts of the UK that didn’t traditionally vote Conservative, moving between Scotland and the north of England.
In contrast with her privately educated cabinet colleagues, Truss went to a state school in the Yorkshire city of Leeds, and later won a place at Oxford University. There she was an active member of the Liberal Democrats, a centrist opposition party that has long been an effective opponent to the Conservatives in large parts of England.
During her time as a Liberal Democrat, Truss supported the legalization of cannabis and the abolition of the royal family – positions that are at total odds with what most would consider to be mainstream Conservatism in 2022.
“I honestly think she was playing to the gallery back then, whether she was talking about decriminalizing drugs or abolishing the monarchy,” Neil Fawcett, a Liberal Democrat councilor who campaigned with Truss in the 1990s, told CNN. “I think she is someone who plays to the gallery with whatever audience she is talking to, and I genuinely don’t know if she ever believes anything she says, then or now.”
Liz Truss has insulted several leaders. Now she has to work with them
During her campaign to claim the Conservative Party leadership, Liz Truss pushed to win the hearts of about 160,000 right-wing Brits.
And it was a task she leaned into, taking several opportunities to make slights towards political figures at the other end of the political spectrum — frequently to the cheers of her audiences.
But on Tuesday, Truss will become Britain’s prime minister and the newest G7 leader. And some of her comments on the campaign trail may make for awkward encounters.
Truss caused controversy when she said “the jury’s out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron is a “friend or foe” to the United Kingdom. “If I become Prime Minister, I’ll judge him on deeds not words,” she added.
Britain and France have long been close allies on the world stage. Their relationship has been strained in recent years, particularly over the increase in migrants crossing the English Channel, but it was a remarkable move for an incoming British leader — and the sitting foreign secretary — to imply France might be a “foe” towards the UK.
It was a stir that Boris Johnson — hardly renowned for his own history of diplomacy — felt the need to clean up, telling reporters that Macron was a “tres bon buddy” of the UK and insisting that British-French relations have been “very good.”
“Britain is a friend of France; a strong ally, no matter its leaders — and sometimes despite its leaders, or the small mistakes they can make while speaking in public,” Macron responded when asked about Truss’s comments.
Truss was less keen to comment on whether former US President Donald Trump was a friend or foe, saying at her final hustings event on Sunday that she wouldn’t discuss “future potential presidential runners.” At the same event, she said of China’s President Xi Jinping: “I am not going to use the word foe, but what I will say is I am concerned about China’s assertiveness,” according to PA Media.
The new British PM has also taken aim at the leaders of the UK’s nations, with whom she will be required to work on devolution and power-sharing agreements. She called Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford a “low-energy version of Jeremy Corbyn,” the former Labour leader, during a hustings event last month — and said Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon is “an attention seeker.”
Those comments could risk alienating voters in Scotland, where Sturgeon has pushed for an independence referendum, and Wales, where the Conservatives are battling to regain seats they won in the 2019 general election.
“Congratulations to Liz Truss. Our political differences are deep, but I will seek to build a good working relationship with her as I did with last 3 PMs,” Sturgeon wrote on Twitter after Truss’s win. “She must now freeze energy bills for people & businesses, deliver more cash support, and increase funding for public services.”
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