Analysis

“We will deliver, we will deliver, we will deliver”: Liz Truss wins Conservative leadership race

Andrew McQuillan

Liz Truss has won the race to replace Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, defeating her opponent, Rishi Sunak.

Senior Advisor, Matthew Elliott and Andrew McQuillan of MHP Mischief’s Public Affairs team assess what we can expect from the country’s third female Prime Minister and how her agenda will cope amid troubling economic and social headwinds.

Truss triumphs

Truss won the day with 57.4% of the vote. While a decent margin of victory, it is not as convincing as Boris Johnson’s win in 2019 and underlines the divided nature of the Conservative Party.

However, it was testament to the savvy of the advisers around Truss that they were able to turn their candidate – from a comparative straggler and poor performer in the first debate and parliamentary voting – into a plausible leadership contender. Her resonance with the membership’s core instincts and her lack of involvement in the defenestration of Boris Johnson were decisive factors.

The journey to 10 Downing Street has at times not been a straightforward one for Truss, including an unhappy spell at the Ministry of Justice and demotion before eventual redemption at International Trade and the Foreign Office.  Mocked in some quarters for her less than subtle leadership manoeuvres over the years, she has finally proved her doubters and detractors wrong to claim the top job.

The challenge ahead

Any initial euphoria will dissipate quickly once the Queen invites Truss to form a government at Balmoral tomorrow, such is the scale of the problems facing the new Prime Minister.

The obvious issue is formulating a response to rising inflation and the spiralling energy bill crisis ahead of what looks to be a winter of profound discontent. It has been briefed extensively that a package of support akin to that seen during the pandemic is on the way.

The success of such a package is not just mission critical for businesses and individuals across the country, but also Truss’s prospects as Prime Minister. For all that the campaign was dominated by Thatcherite rhetoric and comparisons, this sort of interventionism does shine a light on the pragmatic side of Truss which her allies speak of. It was notable that Truss used her victory speech to say “we will deliver, we will deliver, we will deliver” and also to emphasise that she “campaigned as a Conservative and will govern as a Conservative”.

However, should this package fail to deliver it could stymie this premiership before it gets going. The greatest resistance to the new Prime Minister’s attempts to ameliorate the crisis could come from those sceptical elements of her own party; a bruising contest saw frequent criticism from the Sunak camp that the Truss prescription for the UK’s ailments is not grounded in reality.

Her comments to Laura Kuenssberg that it is fair to give higher earners more back through tax cuts signal a marked departure with perceived Conservative orthodoxy and will be watched closely by her internal critics.

Elsewhere, the new PM seems poised to reopen hostilities with the EU over elements of the Brexit settlement while No.10 is set to adopt a more muscular approach against Nicola Sturgeon and her demands for a second independence referendum.

Will it be enough to steady the ship ahead of the next election? Labour will remain confident that the stars are aligning in their favour.

Team Truss

Attention will swiftly turn to the composition of the Cabinet. Kwasi Kwarteng looks set to be made Chancellor of the Exchequer by Truss; their shared worldview is likely to make for a more harmonious relationship between the occupants of No.10 and No.11 than we have seen in recent years.

After Johnson was forced to patch together a government in the aftermath of July’s mass resignations, those placeholders are set to be replaced by Truss loyalists such as Therese Coffey and late converts, including former leadership contenders Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman.

After a bitter contest even by Conservative standards, there will also need to be bridge building with the losing side, though don’t expect Sunak to be involved.

The question remains however whether this group of familiar faces will be able to give the Conservatives a much-needed refresh ahead of the next general election.

What does it all mean? Analysis by Matthew Elliott, Senior Adviser

The moment of victory is sweet, but now the hard work begins. Liz Truss and her leadership campaign team deserve huge plaudits for winning the contest, and all of them have worked tirelessly over the past two months getting through the tricky MP round, establishing early momentum in the members round, and now entering Downing Street with a detailed plan for the new Government. But if the past few months felt tough, it is likely to feel like a summer holiday in comparison to the first 100 days, as they tackle the most difficult in-tray of any incoming Government in living memory.

Liz Truss’s team realise that her premiership rests/falls on what happens this winter. The big policy challenge is tackling the energy crisis, and her interview on Laura Kuenssberg’s new show yesterday indicates that a substantial policy response is in place and will likely be unveiled before the end of the week. The wartime scenario we find ourselves in, with Putin using the energy markets as a tool to split the Western alliance, means that a generous response is in the offing. The business community will be waiting to see the extent to which this applies to businesses as well as households. I suspect it will be similarly generous – people’s jobs are at stake.

In terms of non-policy objectives, the key one is uniting the Conservative Party after a fractious leadership contest. The speeches from Andrew Stephenson, Graham Brady and Liz Truss at this afternoon’s announcement at the QEII Centre started this process, and Conservative Party conference in Birmingham will build on it, but it will take time. The harsh words briefed over the summer cannot be unbriefed. But a strong parliamentary outreach operation, led ably by Truss’s long-term aide Sophie Jarvis, will go a long way to help with this process.

The switch from Theresa May to Boris Johnson felt as stark as the change from night to day. I suspect that there will be less of a contrast with this transition. Truss’s style of Government will be different to Johnson’s, but there will be a good amount of policy continuity. That said, after a radical shakeup of the Government, and the entry of a new raft of Special Advisers, there will be a lot of work for businesses to do to get to know the new Truss Government, so all eyes now turn to the personnel changes over the coming days.