Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is seen as the clear favorite to replace Boris Johnson as leader of the ruling Conservative Party and UK Prime Minister – Copyright AFP Geoff Caddick
Liz Truss will become Britain’s third female prime minister if she wins the election as Conservative leader, and her rival Rishi Sunak hopes to become Downing Street’s first non-white incumbent.
The campaign, sparked by the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July, highlighted the couple’s differing approaches to dealing with the country’s growing cost-of-living crisis.
Sunak, whose resignation as finance minister over a series of government scandals helped spark a leadership struggle, is considered a top speaker.
But he has come under fire for clinging to fiscal orthodoxy to fight runaway inflation, and his image as a wealthy technocrat shackles him.
At the same time, he faced treason charges for toppling Tory Brexit hero Johnson.
Foreign Secretary Truss, by contrast, was the favorite of the Tory rank-and-file vote, the results of which will be announced on Monday.
“She’s the best politician,” said John Curtis, a political scientist at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
“If you ask me what the Liz Truss campaign was about, I will immediately answer: “tax cuts, not handouts.” Very clear,” he told AFP.
“There is no belt for Sunak, nothing.”
For Curtis, Truss effectively conveyed “traditional conservative ideas” to Tory members, while Sunak was more subtle.
“It’s also kind of a lecture,” Curtis said, appreciating that Sunak was “a little fragile” under pressure.
“You can see she’s been in the game longer,” he added.
– Political journey –
Truss, 47, has described her rise to the top of British politics as a “journey” in which she has been criticized for being an ambitious opportunist.
She comes from a left-wing family and first joined the centrist Liberal Democrats before moving to the right-wing conservatives.
She became the MP for Norfolk South West in eastern England in 2010, having survived revelations of a case that almost cost her her nomination.
Since 2012, she has held a number of ministerial positions in departments, including education and finance, as well as a difficult period in the field of justice.
In 2016, she campaigned for the UK to stay in the European Union, but quickly became one of its strongest supporters when the British voted for Brexit.
When the UK left the EU, Johnson put her in charge of negotiating new free trade agreements and appointed her foreign secretary last year.
In this role, she has taken on the controversial task of bridging disagreements with Brussels over post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland.
Like Johnson, she has spoken harshly about Russia and unequivocally supported Ukraine.
Truss’s clothing style and her choice of photo opportunities – posing in a tank in Estonia and wearing a fur hat in Moscow – have earned her comparison to conservative icon Margaret Thatcher.
Her sometimes tough style became noticeably more relaxed, and allies sought to tone down her image, revealing her love of karaoke and socializing.
– Establishment elite? –
“For a party that has become quite populist in recent years, it has been able to present itself as more authentic, more ordinary than Rishi Sunak, who is all too easy to imagine as part of the global elite,” said Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London.
“Like Boris Johnson, she is passionate about the idea that there is some kind of elite that needs to be opposed, and she positions herself as being outside the establishment, despite being in government for eight years now.”
Sunak, 42, the grandson of Indian immigrants, grew up as the son of a doctor and pharmacist in Southampton, on the south coast of England.
He studied at the prestigious paying school of Winchester College, then at Oxford University.
Truss, who went to a public school in Leeds, in the north of England, also studied at Oxford. Both studied politics, philosophy and economics.
Sunak met his wife, Akshata Murthy, whose father founded the Indian tech giant Infosys, at the American Stanford University and later worked at Goldman Sachs and investment funds.
He has represented Richmond County in the North of England since 2015, where he was soon flagged as a potential future prime minister.
He became finance minister in early 2020, quickly winning applause for leading government support for people and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
But Sunak, who confessed his love for Star Wars, saw public opinion turn against him this year after it was revealed that his wife didn’t pay taxes in the UK.
Critics also used his personal wealth, expensive clothes and houses to portray him as out of touch with the general public.