LONDON: As a child, Liz Truss marched in demonstrations against Conservative PM Margaret Thatcher. As an adult, she came to admire Britain’s first female leader — and now she is about to enter No. 10 Downing St. with a Thatcherite zeal to transform the United Kingdom.
Truss, 47, will become UK’s third female PM, after Thatcher, who governed from 1979 to 1990, and Theresa May, who held office from 2016 to 2019. Conservative Party members have embraced Truss’ vows to slash taxes and red tape and keep up Britain’s staunch support for Ukraine. Some see echoes of the Iron Lady — as Thatcher was known — in Truss’ vision of a “network of liberty” binding democracies around the world. To critics, Truss is an inflexible ideologue whose right-wing policies won’t help Britain weather the economic turmoil set off by the pandemic, Brexit andRussia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Born in Oxford in 1975, Mary Elizabeth Truss is the daughter of a math professor and a nurse, who took her on anti-nuclear and anti-Thatcher protests as achild, where she shouted: “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie — out, out, out!” In a 2018 speech, she said she began developing her own political views early, “arguing against my socialist parents in our left-wing household.”
Truss has modelled herself on Thatcher, posing on a tank like her heroine once did in West Germany and wearingsilk pussy-bow blouses, a staple of the Thatcher wardrobe. But her politics more closely resemble those of another hero of the right, US’ Ronald Reagan: a clarion call for lower taxes and smaller government, coupled with a celebration of post-Brexit Britain as an “aspiration nation”. That message appealed to the 1,60,000 or so mostly white and mostly aging members of the Conservative Party, who chose it over the hard truths offered by her opponent, Rishi Sunak. Now, she will have to pivot yet again, to lead a diverse, divided country facing its worst economic news in a generation.
Politics drew her early, and Truss became president of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats, where she campaigned to legalise marijuana. Soon after graduating in 1996, however, she switched to the Conservatives, a party then careering into the political wilderness. She worked in the private sector, for the energy giant Shell and for Cable & Wireless, qualifying as a chartered accountant. Elected to parliament in 2010 as a member for South West Norfolk, Truss went on to hold six ministerial jobs under three Conservative PMs.
In UK’s 2016 referendum on whether to leave the EU, Truss backed the losing “remain” side. Since the vote, she has won over Brexiteers with her uncompromising approach to the EU. In 2021, she was appointed foreign secretary, Britain’s top diplomat. Her performance has drawn mixed reviews. She secured the release of two UK citizens jailed in Iran, where her predecessors had failed. Many praise her firm response to Ukraine invasion: Truss outflanked even Boris Johnson in her hard line against Russia. “Putin must lose in Ukraine,” she said last March. She held a famously icy meeting on the eve of the war with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. But EU officials who hoped she would be softer on Brexit issues have been disappointed.