Another Iron Lady for Britain?
We must hope so, as the U.K. welcomes a new prime minister
Balmoral Castle in Scotland, one of the personal residences of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, was yesterday the unprecedented scene for a new British prime minister to begin office. Liz Truss, chosen by members of Britain’s Conservative Party, was invited to Balmoral to meet with the Queen and to receive appointment as the Queen’s “first minister” in Parliament.
The changing of Britain’s head of government was not unprecedented—the scene was. The new prime minister is Queen Elizabeth’s fifteenth, and all previous transitions had taken place at Buckingham Palace in London. The Queen’s advanced age (95) and issues with mobility caused the transition to be moved to Scotland.
The British prime minister is head of government, not head of state. Thus, transitions in that office are much less complicated than presidential transitions in the United States. In Britain, a political fall can be immediate and ruthless, even if well deserved. Yesterday morning, Boris Johnson was prime minister, but by afternoon he was out. Johnson, one of the most colorful and effective politicians in recent British history was felled by his own misbehavior, including a series of partying events that violated the government’s own COVID restrictions. The fact that a partying scandal meant the end of Boris Johnson’s political career, at least for now, is a fitting irony.
In this sense, Liz Truss is Johnson’s opposite. She is known for her personal resolve, but not for a colorful personality. Boris Johnson came alive behind a television camera, but Liz Truss does not seem so comfortable in the public eye. She is also something less than spellbinding as a speaker. Given the rhetorical nature of Britain’s prime ministerial role, she had better become spellbinding fast.
Until this transition, Truss was Britain’s foreign secretary and she was a clear defender of Ukraine and key ally to the United States. She has held a series of Conservative Party leadership roles and cabinet posts, and voting members of the party chose her over Rishi Sunak, who had served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, roughly analogous to the treasury secretary in the United States. But Sunak’s resignation forced the resignation of Johnson, and the Conservative Party was not quite ready to reward what some saw as treachery. Truss becomes Britain’s third woman to serve as prime minister.
She comes from an interesting background. Her parents were members of the far more liberal Labour Party and, as a young woman, Truss was a Liberal Democrat. She was also anti-monarchist, which must have made yesterday’s meeting with the queen a bit awkward. But Truss became convinced of conservative principles and policies as a young woman and then, elected to Parliament, began her ascent.
Nothing is certain in politics, and timing is crucial. Liz Truss starts out with significant disadvantages. She has not just led her government to electoral victory. Her fellow Conservatives in Parliament wanted Sunak, not her. Britain faces daunting economic challenges, a falling British Pound, and skyrocketing energy costs—most immediately due to the war in Ukraine. Truss had originally opposed Brexit, but then championed it. Now, it will be up to her to succeed or fail in the very unfinished task of disentangling Britain from the European Union.
Her biggest challenge may come from within her own party. In recent years the Conservative Party in Britain has thrown away almost every conservative principle. Supposedly conservative prime ministers basically joined the economic redistribution bandwagon. On most moral the cultural issues, the Conservative Party in Britain no longer deserves to be considered conservative.
And yet, it is certainly less liberal or socialistic than the alternatives. As she positioned herself for the run at the top job, Truss began to speak more openly of her admiration for Britain’s famed “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher. But admiration in an electoral contest is cheap. Following the example of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister will be costly, but it is also right. The example of Thatcher’s iron resolve and conservative politics is exactly what Britain needs now.
Is Liz Truss up to this challenge? Time will tell, but she asked for it. She promised new conservative leadership for Britain, and now she has a real fight on her hands. We can hope that Liz Truss has the resolve of Margaret Thatcher, who famously declared her own political and personal resolve: “The lady’s not for turning.”
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.