British Secretary of State Liz Truss looks to be an increasingly strong favorite to overcome British Member of Parliament Rishi Sunak to replace Boris Johnson as British Conservative Party leader and prime minister.
Her next target to convince would be the British civil service.
The 47-year-old has promised to start cutting taxes immediately if she turns her wide polling lead into a victory over Sunak when the governing Conservatives announce their next leader on Sept. 5.
Truss has brushed off concerns about surging inflation and public debt to pin the blame for the UK’s lackluster performance on the stale thinking of the economic establishment.
“We have had a consensus of the Treasury, of economists, with the Financial Times, with other outlets, peddling a particular type of economic policy for 20 years,” Truss said. “It hasn’t delivered growth.”
Officials see the issue differently. Truss might be talking up a radical economic shift in the space of a few weeks, but her policy proposals are nowhere near what will be required to deal with the economic storm facing Britain.
The real collision, one official said, would not be with the Treasury, but with reality.
Truss and her team recognize that they would be facing a race against time to implement her tax cuts and cost-of-living measures before families are affected by soaring bills.
New leaders often talk about having 100 days to make their mark. If she does take office in early September, Truss might have as little as three weeks, one ally said.
Energy bills are set to jump by at least 60 percent by the end of September, just as households start switching on the heating as summer ends. Inflation is likely to be in double digits with interest rates rising fast and the economy flat-lining at best.
On top of that, members of public sector unions are likely to be voting on labor action that could result in nurses and teachers going on strike, while delays at ports could leave shops short of goods in the run-up to Christmas.
Officials have said it is too late to tackle waiting lists in the National Health Service and long waiting times for ambulances before the surge in winter diseases ramps up the pressure on hospitals.
The timeline is made even tighter because the new prime minister is due in New York for the UN General Assembly in mid-September before the annual Conservative Party conference begins on Oct. 2.
Party lawmakers looking with trepidation at the economic outlook are bracing for comparisons with Britain’s economic nadir in the 1970s, when the country was battered by strikes and power shortages, and had to borrow money from the IMF.
Some MPs are suggesting that Truss could call an early general election. The theory goes that she would be better off going to the country when she is a fresh face, rather than two years into the job when she has been tainted by possible crises.
That idea is rejected by people who work closely with Truss, who have said that she should hold off an election as long as possible.
One ally said she had no intention of being a caretaker prime minister, and that she wanted to stamp her ideological vision on the country.
Sources said that Truss’ plan is centered on having a finance minister who is completely aligned with her outlook.
Outside a circle of loyalists, Truss would inherit a divided party that might make it difficult to stay the course on her more controversial plans. She won the backing of only a third of Conservative lawmakers, and many of those who backed Sunak or centrist British Minister of State for Trade Penny Mordaunt actively dislike her.
Winning a battle of ideas with party members is one thing, sources said. Implementing the Truss brand of mold-breaking reforms with limited political capital in the middle of an economic crisis would be a much bigger challenge.
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