Brave new world: The first 100 days of Liz Truss’ Britain
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LONDON — If the opinion polls are right, this is Liz Truss’ world now — and we’ll all soon be living in it.
With three weeks to go in the U.K. Conservative Party leadership race, every poll of the 180,000-strong Tory membership suggests Truss, the foreign secretary, is streets ahead of her rival Rishi Sunak.
Amidst a burgeoning cost of living crisis and with recession now looming, the next prime minister will need to hit the ground running. So attention is already turning to Truss’ first moves in No. 10 if, as expected, she is crowned the victor on September 5.
Two major fiscal events, several big policy speeches, key meetings with world leaders and a full-scale reshuffle of her ministerial ranks are already being tentatively planned by Truss’ transition team.
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Long promised has been an emergency budget — expected in September — to help soften the blow households will suffer from the next huge hike in energy bills on October 1.
But a second fiscal event is also now under discussion in the form of a spending review later in the year. This would reset the budgets of government departments in light of what are expected to be bleak new forecasts from the Office of Budget Responsibility, which will take into account the steep rise in inflation since the start of the year.
Here POLITICO charts those all-important first 100 days of a Truss premiership, and the key staging-points along the way.
September 6 — First meeting with the Queen
Every new prime minister kicks off their premiership with a visit to Buckingham Palace to seek permission from the Queen to form a government.
Truss’ first audience with Her Majesty could be an awkward one, given that as a 19-year-old activist at the Liberal Democrat party conference she called for the abolition of the monarchy.
For the 96-year-old Queen, however, Truss will be just one more political face through her famous front door. This will be the 15th prime minister to serve under her reign.
September 6 — First big speech on the steps of Downing Street
On her return from Buckingham Palace, Truss would deliver her first big statement as PM from the steps of Downing Street.
With millions of people across the U.K. watching, her task would be to both reassure and inspire. This is one of the most important speeches any PM will make, and needs to set out both a broad vision for the country and immediate priorities in government.
In his first speech, Boris Johnson promised a plan for fixing Britain’s social care crisis within the first 100 days of his government — a pledge which, like many to follow, fell swiftly by the wayside.
In her first Downing Street speech in July 2016, Theresa May stressed her commitment to helping ordinary people who “can just about manage” — a phrase she hoped would become a defining theme of her premiership, before Brexit derailed it completely.
Truss’ immediate priorities are likely to be assuaging concerns about the cost of living crisis and reuniting the Conservative Party after a viciously-fought leadership campaign.
Like others before her, however, Truss may also take the opportunity to flag her own personal policy priorities. One government official said that as PM she is likely to champion reform of childcare — aiming to help women in the workplace while supporting families with the cost of living.
September 6 — Senior officials installed in No. 10
Behind the scenes, Truss’ immediate task would be to appoint a reliable team around her.
As both May and Johnson found to their cost, making the wrong appointments or failing to manage the resulting power dynamics can be disastrous for the functioning of government.
May was forced to sack her two closest aides, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, who had become wildly unpopular with senior colleagues by the time the Tories lost their majority in the 2017 general election.
And a power struggle between Johnson’s wife Carrie and his chief aide Dominic Cummings — who eventually quit in November 2020 — precipitated a series of events that eventually led to his downfall as prime minister.
“Boris Johnson’s experience is a very strong lesson that you have to have a united No. 10 team,” said Gavin Barwell, who served as Downing Street chief of staff following the departures of Hill and Timothy. “If you have different factions with different views of where the PM should go, it’s a catastrophe.”
Some of the most important posts to be filled include chief of staff, director of communications and head of the No. 10 policy unit.
Notably, serving Downing Street staff have been reassured by senior members of Johnson’s team that there will be a degree of continuity under the next PM.
Recently-appointed No. 10 deputy chief of staff David Canzini is expected by officials to be among those who would stay on under Truss. He could be a contender for chief of staff.
Adam Jones, who has headed strategic comms for Truss for the past two years, is a potential director of communications. Other aides in line for key roles include Jason Stein, a former media adviser to Prince Andrew and Amber Rudd; Sophie Jarvis, a long-serving SpAd to Truss; and press officers Sarah Ludlow and Lauren Maher.
September 6 — Key Cabinet appointments
Surrounded by her closest aides, Truss would next set out to appoint her first Cabinet.
Her top team would need to be in place in time to sit alongside her on the front bench for her first session of prime minister’s questions on September 7.
Truss’ closest Cabinet allies — including Kwasi Kwarteng, Thérèse Coffey and Simon Clarke — are expected to get key jobs, with Kwarteng hotly tipped for the Treasury. The more difficult question is what she might offer Sunak, as well as other former leadership contenders and prominent figures from rival wings of the party. She has already committed to including Kemi Badenoch in her top team.
“The big question is to what extent she will be rewarding the people that have backed her in the leadership election, or appointing a Cabinet that is the Conservative Party’s A-team,” Barwell said.
Whatever happens, Truss will also need a Plan B. “In any reshuffle you’ve always got to be flexible. It may be that your ideal configuration isn’t possible,” Barwell cautioned. “The leadership campaign has really become quite bitter and unpleasant, and so it’s not impossible that some people might choose not to serve.”
September 7 — First PMQs
Truss’ first big parliamentary outing as PM would be prime minister’s questions, the day after her arrival in No. 10.
Truss’ task will be to reunite the Tory MPs behind her, despite the fact that only a minority wanted her as leader. She will also need to rebuff the inevitable attacks from Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is likely to pile on pressure to call a general election.
September 7-9 — Populating ministerial posts
Over the remainder of her first week in office, Truss would need to appoint the rest of her ministerial team.
This calls for a difficult balancing act — her task would be to reward allies while keeping her promise to form a “government of all talents” by drawing on people from all sides of the party.
The fact Truss performed relatively poorly during the parliamentary stages of the leadership contest — only making it through to the final head-to-head thanks to second-preference votes — means she cannot afford to alienate any faction.
Mid-September — Emergency budget
The defining moment for a Truss government would be its first budget against the backdrop of the spiralling cost of living crisis. A typical family in the U.K. is expected to face costs of £3,500 a year for their gas and electricity by October.
If she wins, Truss is planning to hold two fiscal events — an emergency budget, which a campaign source said would happen “very quickly,” would need to take place before energy bills rise on October 1. Possible dates being discussed are September 14 and September 21.
A Truss government would then hold a spending review later in the year, with the Office for Budget Responsibility tasked with producing new forecasts in light of inflation.
Departments need to draw up multi-year spending plans taking into account new OBR forecasts. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, told POLITICO last week: “The spending review a year ago was assuming inflation would be 3 percent and it’s turning out to be 13 percent. They’ve got a lot less money than they expected.”
September 19 — First foreign trip
The new PM is due to make their first foreign visit within a few weeks of entering Downing Street, with the annual UN General Assembly in New York opening for world leaders on September 19.
If Truss wins this will be her opportunity to introduce herself as British PM to key figures such as U.S. President Joe Biden.
Harry Summers, a researcher at the Tony Blair Institute, said there will be a lot more riding on this meeting for Truss than Biden, who will be focused on domestic U.S. politics ahead of the midterm elections two months later.
“Biden has spent the last two years or so rebuilding trust with the international community following the Trump administration,” Summers said. “Truss needs to show she’s doing the same with the U.S. after the Johnson government.”
Some White House officials are skeptical, however, given Truss’ central role in U.K. plans to override parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, which Washington fears would be damaging to the Good Friday Agreement peace accords.
“There are a couple of things she can do that avoid the thorny matter of the Northern Ireland protocol,” Summers said. “Vocalize support for Biden’s passage of new climate spending in the recent Inflation Reduction Act, and reiterate the two countries’ joint approach to Ukraine.”
October 1 — Energy bills rise
Gas and electricity bills will soar again on October 1, by which point a Truss government will need to have demonstrated that it has a grip on the crisis.
James Smith, research director at the Resolution Foundation, said the government support announced so far “will fall hundreds of pounds per household short.”
“Any policy choices announced must prioritize targeted support, aimed at the households most in need — and be swiftly delivered,” he added. “Without this, there is a very real possibility of destitution for many this winter.”
October 5 — Tory conference speech
Truss’ speech at the Tory party conference on October 5 is her first opportunity to directly address the grassroots members who elected her.
Her popularity with the party membership should guarantee her a warm reception. But a key challenge will be how to handle Johnson, who should he choose to attend is likely to steal the limelight.
“If there’s no intention to be difficult he’s going to cause problems,” Barwell said. “Whatever he decides to do on the fringe will get a lot of interest.”
Mid-October — Parliamentary battles
The new prime minister will quickly face some big political tests in parliament.
Perhaps the most immediate is the question of the privilege committee’s inquiry into whether Johnson misled the Commons over his statements on Partygate.
Truss said at a hustings on August 9 that she would vote for this investigation to cease. She will come under pressure from key allies of Johnson, who have supported her campaign, to stay true to her word — but doing so would cause an enormous political row.
“The Conservative Party really needs to learn the lesson of the Owen Paterson affair,” Barwell said. “The perception that you are changing the rules, or you are basically ensuring that one of your friends doesn’t get subjected to the rules, I think is politically incredibly toxic.”
Another key question is what Truss decides to do about the Online Safety Bill, which is in its final stages and has come under fire from a section of the Tory right who warn it is an assault on freedom of speech.
However, Nadine Dorries, a key Johnson ally and now a vocal backer of Truss, is a staunch defender the legislation in its current form.
Truss will need to pick a side before bringing the bill back to the Commons. Her choice of Culture Secretary will be a clear indication of whether she intends to push it through unamended.
October 24 — Target date for trade deal with India
One thing Truss would inherit from Johnson is a target to sign a U.K. trade deal with India in time for the festival of Diwali on October 24.
Truss — who has made much of her track record in signing deals as international trade secretary — would no doubt love to meet that goal.
Talks with New Delhi are in full flow, with the fifth round of negotiations concluding earlier this month and Indian Commerce Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam telling reporters that they will wrap up entirely by August 31.
A businessperson close to the talks told POLITICO this month that Truss was expected to “want to do a quick deal.”
The only certainty is that whoever becomes PM in September will have to grapple with a tanking economy, a fractured Conservative Party and a prolonged war in Europe, themes which will dominate their leadership far beyond those crucial early days.
And the next incumbent of No. 10 will also need to fight and win a general election within two years — a truncated timeline which means every day matters more.
Graham Lanktree contributed reporting.