The Daily Telegraph
Truss can now show what she’s capable of
Liz Truss will become the 15th prime minister of the Queen’s reign when she travels to Balmoral today following her victory in the Tory leadership contest. She does so in circumstances less propitious than any faced by a new occupant of No10 in recent times.
Given that David Cameron assumed office in 2010 in the wake of a recession, Theresa May inherited the fall-out from the 2016 EU referendum, and Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in 2019 with the Brexit imbroglio still unresolved, it is an indication of the hard slog ahead that Ms Truss arguably faces even greater difficulties than her immediate predecessors.
Critics are wrong, however, to assert that the new Tory leader’s mandate is tenuous. She may have received fewer votes from MPS than her vanquished rival Rishi Sunak, but she enjoyed a slew of high-profile endorsements from her erstwhile opponents over the summer. Even if her victory among the members was, at
57 per cent of the vote to 43 per cent, somewhat less emphatic than predicted, this is likely to be quickly forgotten.
It is also to her advantage that expectations, among some, are mistakenly low. She can silence her detractors by showing the determination, single-mindedness of purpose and competence that she has promised to deliver throughout the overlong leadership contest.
In her first comments following her confirmation as Conservative leader, she sought to heal the divisions caused by a fractious few weeks’ campaigning, which saw two different Tory approaches set out before the country. Despite their disagreements, far more unites her and Mr Sunak than divides them.
Ms Truss has several challenges that need to be dealt with immediately and a number of more fundamental long-term reforms that she may not be in a position to confront until after the next general election. Her first task is to appoint a Cabinet, with many existing ministers likely to be dropped or reshuffled from the posts they occupied in the so-called “zombie” Government Mr Johnson put in place for his final few weeks.
The Foreign Secretary has been constructing her team for some time and should be in a position to announce who will receive the principal portfolios shortly after entering Downing Street later today. The shape and composition of the new Cabinet will give the first indication of the sort of administration Ms Truss intends to lead.
She needs to avoid appointing only close political allies to the top jobs. An emphasis on competence and acumen is more important than blind loyalty. The word Ms Truss is most fond of using is “delivery”; but that can only happen if her ministers and officials are proficient in what they do.
The most pressing matter is the soaring price of energy and the deleterious impact it is having on both household and business costs, with inflation already in double figures and the economy almost certainly in recession.
Ms Truss has promised a response later this week, with insiders predicting that gas and electricity bills will be frozen at the latest capped rate. Labour is also proposing a freeze but one funded by a windfall tax on the energy companies. Ms Truss is more likely to opt for a credit fund operated by the commercial banks and guaranteed by the Exchequer on which energy companies could draw to make up the shortfall caused by holding prices below market rates.
The merit of a freeze is that it provides clarity, whereas piecemeal, targeted help will inevitably be criticised as inadequate or poorly directed. The Government will forever be trying to catch up with disappointed expectations. A tariff deficit fund, as devised by the power companies, would see the inflated prices recouped from customers over a longer period, perhaps 10 years, averting immediate hardship while avoiding a state handout of the sort Ms Truss has set her face against. How this package resonates in Parliament and with the public will be the first big test of her premiership. It needs to be swift, decisive and uncomplicated.
The second immediate challenge concerns the NHS, whose primary and emergency care is in desperate need of a bold intervention to avoid a complete collapse. When people are being left to die from heart attacks or strokes because ambulances do not respond to 999 calls, the system is failing in its most basic task. A credible and effective plan to sort this out is another urgent requirement.
How Ms Truss handles these early big decisions may come to define the rest of her premiership, along with the emergency tax-cutting budget expected before the end of the month. She wants to “hit the ground running” and deserves a chance to show what she and her new government are capable of delivering before judgment is passed.
It is to Ms Truss’s advantage that expectations, among some, are mistakenly low
The word she is most fond of is ‘delivery’; but that can only happen if her ministers are proficient in what they do