LONDON, Sept 5: UK foreign secretary Liz Truss on Monday won the hard-fought Conservative Party leadership race, beating Rishi Sunak to go on to replace outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson – loyalty to whom seems to have gone against the Indian-origin former chancellor in a result that was much closer than predicted.
The 47-year-old senior Cabinet minister was widely expected to become Britain’s third female Prime Minister after over 1,70,000 online and postal votes cast by Tory members, ending Sunak’s historic run as the first Member of Parliament of Indian heritage to compete for the top job at 10 Downing Street.
Truss polled 81,326 votes, compared to Sunak’s 60,399 in an election with a high turnout of 82.6 percent, with 654 rejected ballots from a total of 1,72,437 eligible Tory voters. It means Truss did win by a comfortable margin, but her victory was slimmer than in other recent Tory leadership contests at 57.4 percent to Sunak’s 42.6 percent – reflecting a divide within the governing party.
Sunak, 42, soon took to Twitter to call for party unity: “Thank you to everyone who voted for me in this campaign. I’ve said throughout that the Conservatives are one family.
“It’s right we now unite behind the new PM, Liz Truss, as she steers the country through difficult times,” a former chancellor of the Exchequer said.
In her acceptance speech, Truss declared: “We will deliver, we will deliver, and we will deliver.”
“I will deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people’s energy bills but also dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply,” she said, with reference to the key issue dominating the leadership campaign which she dubbed “one of the longest job interviews in history”.
After thanking her fellow finalist Sunak, Truss also paid tribute to outgoing leader Johnson.
“Boris, you got Brexit done, you crushed [Opposition Labour ex-leader] Jeremy Corbyn, you rolled out the vaccine and you stood up to Vladimir Putin. You are admired from Kyiv to Carlisle,” she said, to a rather muted response from her party colleagues gathered for the announcement.
Johnson responded on Twitter by congratulating her on a “decisive win” and called on the party to unite behind his successor.
“I know she has the right plan to tackle the cost of living crisis, unite our party and continue the great work of uniting and levelling up our country. Now is the time for all Conservatives to get behind her 100 per cent,” he said.
In her address, praised the other Tory leadership race candidates, particularly Sunak.
She said the campaign was “hard-fought” and showed “the depth and breadth of talent” in the party.
And, her reference to a Tory victory under her leadership in 2024 will be seen as a sign of ruling out the prospect of an early general election.
The result was formally announced by the returning officer of the leadership contest and chair of the Conservative Party’s powerful 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, Sir Graham Brady, at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre near Downing Street here.
However, for pollsters, political analysts and media outlets it came as little surprise as Truss had been the frontrunner to beat Sunak in pre-poll surveys and bookmaker odds on the race.
A combination of the Tory membership base’s lingering loyalty towards outgoing Prime Minister Johnson, whom they see as being betrayed by former close ally Sunak, and Truss’ pledge to cut taxes are among the key factors behind the British Indian MP failing to clinch the race.
“Truss may have been victorious, but it wasn’t the landslide that many were predicting,” the BBC commented.
Since the Conservative Party changed its internal election rules to give members a final say, ahead of the 2001 leadership contest no leader has got less than 60 per cent.
Truss secured 57 percent of members’ votes, compared to Boris Johnson getting 66.4 percent of the vote in 2019, David Cameron 67.6 percent in 2005 and Iain Duncan Smith 60.7 percent in 2001.
Theresa May never faced a membership ballot in 2016, after her opponent Andrea Leadsom pulled out after the first round, the BBC reported.
While the over 1.5-million-strong Indian diaspora – many of whom are Conservatives with a vote in the election – stood firmly behind the UK-born MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, other sections of the Conservative Party including those who trace their roots to other parts of the sub-continent were expected to be more divided.
Truss’ campaign pledge to reverse Sunak’s tax hike plans while he was Chancellor to tackle the cost-of-living crisis facing the country seems to have worked in favour.
While Sunak’s approach of wanting to focus on fighting soaring inflation and using targeted measures to offer support to those most in need did connect with audiences at the nearly dozen party hustings, that clearly wasn’t enough to turn the tide in his favour.
Now elected party leader, it won’t be until Tuesday afternoon that Truss can formally lay claim to her new office at 10 Downing Street – after predecessor Johnson hands in his formal resignation to the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
It will be followed soon after by Truss’ first audience as PM-elect with the 96-year-old monarch, after which she will be flown back to London to begin announcing her new Cabinet top team after her inaugural speech at Downing Street.
On Wednesday, she will address her very first Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons and face off with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
“After 12 years of the Tories all we have to show for it is low wages, high prices, and a Tory cost-of-living crisis. Only Labour can deliver the fresh start our country needs,” said Starmer, even as he congratulated the new Prime Minister elect.
Other Opposition leaders were similarly critical, with Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey calling for a general election.
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, said she “will seek to build a good working relationship” with the new Tory leader and urged Truss to “freeze energy bills for people and businesses, deliver more cash support, and increase funding for public services.” (PTI)