Tuesday, May 28, 2024

WORLD | 08-09-2022 01:01

New UK PM Truss promises to ride out economic storm with new-look top team

Incoming British Prime Minister Liz Truss begins to set out plan to tackle soaring energy bills, as she tries to head off intense pressure of a cost-of-living crisis.

Britain's new Prime Minister Liz Truss unveiled her new top team as she formally took over from Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader this week, with no place for white men in any of the three senior-most cabinet posts for the first time in the United Kingdom's history.

As expected, she rewarded allies to her during her victorious Conservative leadership campaign, promoting Kwasi Kwarteng to chancellor of the exchequer, James Cleverly to foreign affairs secretary and Suella Braverman to home secretary.

The son of Ghanaian immigrants, Kwarteng is the country's first black chancellor. His immediate focus will be turning round Britain's dire economic fortunes.

Cleverly is a mixed-race army reservist who served under Truss at the foreign office, while Braverman, whose parents are of Indian origin from Kenya and Mauritius, inherits a tricky brief from Priti Patel.

Cigar-smoking Truss loyalist Therese Coffey was made health secretary and deputy prime minister, Downing Street said in a slew of announcements.

Ben Wallace retained the defence ministry, with Truss vowing to extend Johnson's staunch support for Ukraine.

In her first call with a foreign leader, she told its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, that "Ukraine could depend on the UK's assistance for the long term," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

Truss also spoke to US President Joe Biden, telling him she looked forward to tackling "shared challenges, particularly the extreme economic problems unleashed by [Russian President] Putin's war." 

They also agreed on the need to protect peace in Northern Ireland, where post-Brexit trade arrangements are causing instability and could undermine the so-called "special relationship" between London and Washington.


Storm clouds

Truss – Britain's third female prime minister and the fourth Tory premier in just six years – earlier promised sunnier days ahead despite the current economic gloom.

Heavy rain forced her supporters to scramble for cover on Tuesday as they waited for her to arrive in Downing Street to make her inaugural speech. But the clouds lifted as the 47-year-old former foreign secretary's motorcade swept in, and she vowed the country would "ride out the storm" of double-digit inflation and soaring energy prices.

"I will take action this week to deal with energy bills and to secure our future energy supply," she said.

"As strong as the storm may be, I know that the British people are stronger," she added, outlining her priorities as the economy, energy and health.

Truss became Tory leader on Monday after a summer-long campaign sparked by a rebellion against Johnson in July following a series of scandals.

She arrived in Downing Street after a 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) round trip from London to see Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish Highlands, where she accepted the invitation to form a government.

Truss is set to sanction a freeze on household energy bills to prevent steep hikes this winter, and possibly beyond, at a cost of tens of billions of pounds.


Energy crisis

Hard-pressed households facing 80-percent increases in electricity and gas bills from October have demanded immediate action to prevent millions being forced to choose between heating and eating this winter. Businesses have also warned they could be forced to close because of even steeper hikes in energy costs.

Truss, who touts herself as a free-market liberal, has promised tax cuts to stimulate growth, despite warnings that greater borrowing could make inflation worse.

The contrast to her beaten leadership rival Rishi Sunak's more cautious approach has opened another rift in the Conservative party that was already divided by Johnson's departure.

Recent opinion polls suggest a sizeable chunk of the British public have no faith in her ability to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. A new poll by YouGov said only 14 percent expect Truss to do a better job than Johnson.



Johnson, whose tenure was dominated by Brexit and Covid, and cut short by the succession of scandals, earlier promised Truss his unswerving support as he made a farewell speech in Downing Street.

"I will be supporting Liz Truss and the new government every step of the way," he said, before leaving for Balmoral to tender his resignation to the queen.

But the former newspaper polemicist has failed to dampen speculation that he is eyeing a potential return to the political front line.

"Like Cincinnatus, I am returning to my plough," Johnson said. Latin scholars were quick to point out that the Roman statesman eventually returned to politics.

Johnson, 58, remains popular among grassroots Tories as a charismatic election winner who took the country out of the European Union. Despite repeated accusations of corruption and cronyism during his tenure, and an unprecedented police fine for breaking his own lockdown rules, Johnson is said to be smarting at having to leave.

Truss has ruled out seeking her own mandate at an early general election, promising to extend the Tories' 12 years in power from 2024.

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by Phil Hazlewood & Stuart Graham, AFP


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