United Kingdom: catastrophic start of mandate for Liz Truss
The coming to power of Liz Truss, the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, led to a plummeting of voting intentions in favor of her party.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss has been in office for barely a month, but she is already breaking records for unpopularity, not to mention the rebellion within her troops conservatives, divided over its socio-economic agenda. Why such a debacle? How long can she last in her post?
To find out, we asked Tereza Capelos, assistant professor of political psychology at the University of Birmingham, five questions.
We caught up with her in this city in the center of the country where the annual convention of the Conservative Party took place, which was an eventful baptism of fire for Ms. Truss both as leader of the party and as head of government.
In early September, Liz Truss won the race to succeed Boris Johnson, for whom she served as Foreign Secretary. The Conservative Prime Minister, very popular at the time of Brexit, of which he was one of the promoters, was forced to resign, becoming persona non grata within the party after three years of a mandate marked by various scandals.
Radio-Canada : First of all, what did the British know about Liz Truss when she came to power?
< strong>Tereza Capelos :Not much, apart from the fact that she had a reputation for being close to Boris Johnson and that she had changed her mind about Brexit to join this cause after opposing it. Liz Truss did not often appear in newscasts. Normally, when there is a party leadership contest, people can make up their minds about the candidates to learn more about their character. And what they're looking at are four key traits: leadership, competence, degree of empathy, and integrity, especially in these times of crisis, with soaring energy prices and a war on our doorstep [in Ukraine, Editor's note]. Not to mention that among the Tories there was a lot of anxiety about what would happen after Boris Johnson was shown the way out.
In this difficult context, a new leader must show great integrity to be able to manage the situation. But he must also show compassion to be in tune with the British and the opposition, to reassure them and to make them understand that the country is in good hands. That's not at all what happened. Instead, Liz Truss took as a model Margaret Thatcher [former prime minister and emblematic figure of the conservatives, editor's note], recognized for her strength but not for having shown great compassion.
Political psychology specialist Tereza Capelos in Birmingham
Radio-Canada: Liz Truss is a neoliberal, as was the Iron Lady… But beyond this common ideology, what can push her to reincarnate this style decades later?
Tereza Capelos : It is a psychological tactic to try to rally the conservative troops. If you are able to convince that you have the same judgment as a person who was imposing, this can open doors for you and help you to more easily accept your positions. Is this a good strategy in the current context? I do not believe. This carries risks. First of all, it shows that Liz Truss is not able to develop her own style: it's a lack of leadership. Moreover, the UK needed a revival to find suitable solutions to many problems, some old, some newer. And the Conservative Party, in disarray in public opinion, could have benefited from this context. It would have been a turning point instead of having a leader based on a ghost and on solutions from the past.
Margaret Thatcher , 1925-2013. His mandates at the head of the United Kingdom (from May 4, 1979 to November 28, 1990) were notably marked by massive strikes.
On September 23, the government of Liz Truss presented a mini-budget, largely financed by debt and which panicked the markets in addition to causing the Conservatives to fall in the polls. One of the most controversial measures was the planned tax cut for the wealthiest Britons.
Under strong pressure, even from her own party, the premier did an about-face on this measure in the middle of the annual convention, where she had arrived weakened because of this outcry. Before apologizing for this measure, Liz Truss first attributed the paternity to her Minister of Finance. an inability to take responsibility and reassure the public that we are in control of the decisions that have been made, believes Professor Capelos.
Despite this setback, however, Liz Truss intends to stay the course on a massive tax cut, which she believes is essential to ensure growth in the United Kingdom. Some of the Conservatives would like her to do more to help the British who are struggling to balance their budget, for example by reviewing upwards social benefits because of inflation.
Radio-Canada : Can Liz Truss turn the corner in public opinion and within the Conservative Party?
Tereza Capelos : If she's going to pursue this idea – that of lowering taxes by borrowing to make it happen – it's not just people she'll have to convince it's a good idea: she'll also have to rally global markets.
Most citizens reacted to the reaction of the markets, less than to the proposed tax cuts. With the fall of the pound, they watched interest rates soar and wondered how they were going to be able to pay their mortgages and bills and feed their families.
This has really fueled their anxiety, a mindset that does not invite patience and giving the leader the benefit of the doubt. And when Liz Truss first clung to her original plan saying it was good and she should have explained it better to the Brits, well, it didn't make people feel like we took care of them. They wanted a new leader who would protect and reassure them at a time when their insecurity runs deep.
Markets that weren't convinced don't happen often. You know, the UK economy is generally believed to be resilient and able to withstand various shocks. However, this Liz Truss plan is widely considered to be risky, and many economists point out that it has been tried in the past and that it did not work. So if you stick to this idea, which is considered outdated, it may be that you are badly advised.
Des Greenpeace activists held up a banner reading “Who voted for this? a reminder of the fact that Liz Truss was elected by members of the Conservative Party and did not become Prime Minister following a general election.
Radio-Canada : This is not the first time that the UK has seen a politician lead the country after a succession race within the ruling party. Should Liz Truss have sensed the potential danger of her controversial decisions had she not been elected in a general ballot?
Teresa Capelos :Not everyone has the skills to lead a country. We have sometimes seen political leaders flourish in this position, learn and rise to the occasion. And you need trusted advisors.
However, when you surround yourself exclusively with people who are loyal to you to replace ministers who might criticize you – as Liz Truss did – that is not the right way to start a term. This demonstrates that you are unable to accept conflicting opinions and that you are closed to any new ideas. Groupthink is generally bad. This prevents you from being exposed to various opinions and broader debates that would make you a better leader, provided you have some authority to channel it all. That's the big question, and so far, [Liz Truss] hasn't demonstrated that.
The start of Liz Truss' term was marked by national mourning in the UK following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. This grace period was short-lived, however, says Professor Capelos.
Radio-Canada : The general election will have take place in two years in the UK. Will Liz Truss be able to stay in office until then?
Tereza Capelos :I do not believe. I don't think the country can endure this for long, not in the current financial situation. A leader can hardly maintain this degree of unpopularity without undermining the conservatives' chances of re-election. Some deputies have already suffered the wrath of their constituents. This is what we saw [after the presentation of the mini-budget].
The Tories are banking on this mandate to tackle whatever has been causing frustration among the British people for months and to woo not only their constituents but also a large part of the electorate who lean to the right with no allegiance to any party. . And they may even think they'll woo Liberal Democrat or Labor supporters.
Therefore, alienating one's Conservative base is not a good thing, any such as undermining the confidence of financial institutions internationally. This situation is certainly not what many Tory activists and the party itself hoped for when Boris Johnson left. They hoped it would get better. No one expected it to deteriorate so quickly.
Recent polls show that the Labor opposition largely dominates in voting intentions in the United Kingdom.