The Washington Post
A need to succeed
As prime minister, Ms. Truss must make an impact in Britain — and the world.
FROM THE moment Liz Truss became Britain’s prime minister Tuesday, her days in office seemed numbered. She assumed the job after winning a contest to succeed former prime minister Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Party, which has held power for 12 years. Just once since World War II has any British party clung to power for more than 13 years — when the Conservatives under Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major governed for 18 years, until 1997. Ms. Truss, with elections coming no later than January 2025, faces bleak prospects of propelling the party again to that mark, or anything close to it, unless she can revive one of the industrialized world’s wobbliest major economies.
She begins with an array of disadvantages, not least her low standing in national polls. Many doubt Ms. Truss’s core values and resolve given her shape-shifting stance on the country’s most polarizing recent issue, its “Brexit” from the European Union, which she opposed before embracing it. Add to that her most pressing tasks: taming soaring inflation, especially in natural gas prices; lifting anemic growth in income and productivity; solving a severe labor shortage; and facing down a wave of strikes hitting postal and train service, ports, schools, health care and garbage collection. All of that is on her plate, along with the Bank of England’s projection that a recession is coming before year’s end.
As Britain’s Financial Times put it, Ms. Truss “will have to be great just to be good.”
She deserved credit as foreign secretary, her most recent job, for showing backbone, along with Mr. Johnson, in opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s blood-soaked aggression against Ukraine in the face of Kremlin energy supply blackmail. Her success in office will depend partly on her ability to continue holding firm and rallying Europe to do likewise, even as the pain of Russia’s oil and gas squeeze intensifies this winter and beyond.
Ms. Truss has at least one crucial advantage, which is the ease with which she should clear the low bar for dignity, seriousness and truth-telling set by Mr. Johnson, her friend and political ally. His scandals, clownery and impressionistic handling of facts finally wore thin with his own party’s stalwarts, as they did with much of the British public. To the extent that Ms. Truss can reestablish the respectable comportment that Brits and others have long expected from 10 Downing Street, she might have an early, if modest, leg up.
Her biggest test will be to reinvigorate the British economy, whose per capita income has grown at less than half the rate of the E.U.’S since Britons voted in 2016 to leave the bloc. Here there is cause for skepticism. She has pledged more government spending along with tax cuts, which might only accelerate the inflationary spiral that Brits refer to as a cost-of-living crisis. And she has floated, then walked back, a proposal to rein in the Bank of England’s independent decision-making on setting interest rates, a bad idea that would further shake faith in Britain’s economy.
Still, give Ms. Truss credit for a preternatural work ethic, a feature she shares with her late idol, Thatcher. Like the Iron Lady, Ms. Truss has often been underestimated. The United States should help Ms. Truss exceed expectations, for the sake of the special relationship with Britain, the fight in Ukraine and the global economy’s health.