Despite being the longest continuously serving minister at the time of Boris Johnson’s resignation, Liz Truss started her premiership with a much lower public profile than her predecessor. As such, her ideology and policy priorities have been a mystery to many in the UK and across the world. Those of us in UK free market circles do, however, know her well and have long relished the prospect of Truss taking the top job. She is, to her core, a free market liberal who believes that expanding economic freedom is a central tenet of a just and prosperous society.
In the government’s emergency ‘mini-budget’ on Friday, Truss cemented those free market credentials by reversing Boris Johnson’s planned tax increases, abolishing the 45p rate of income tax, and cutting the Stamp Duty on house sales. More importantly, Truss has not shied away from making the moral case for markets, stating this week in her address to the United Nations General Assembly “We want people to keep more of the money they earn because we believe that freedom trumps instruction.”
In an interview before her UN speech, Truss made it clear that she is willing to be unpopular in the short term to implement her agenda for growth. Not only does this further evidence the depth of her convictions on free markets, but also shows that her government is willing to diverge from the consensus politics which has gripped Britain since 1997.
Since Tony Blair’s third-way strategy was shown to be a powerful electoral asset, British politicians have tended to base policymaking on avoiding negative headlines rather than basing it on long-term goals or ideological principles. This has contributed to an obsession with wealth distribution at the expense of wealth creation. By positioning her agenda squarely on the free market side, Truss is more likely than her predecessors to resist the temptation of giving in to negative headlines and inconvenient issue polling.
Liz Truss’ position is unenviable: her party has been tarnished by the misdeeds of her predecessor, she has inherited the worst economic climate for at least 14 years, and she has only two years to turn it around before the next general election. If the last ten years have taught us anything, it’s that forecasting is a fool’s errand. We truly don’t know whether Truss will steadfastly fly the flag of free markets, or whether her new energy price controls are a warning sign of things to come. Even if she does implement a radical free market agenda, there is no guarantee that the economic effects will be felt in time for the next election, nor that the crucial pro-Brexit voters in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ will respond well to free market policies.
What we do know is that Truss has come into Number 10 with a strong belief system, one which free marketers can be cautiously optimistic about. For that reason, Truss stands a chance of demolishing the British Blairite consensus and deliver truly radical reforms. The last person to take on stagnant consensus politics during a time of economic strife was Margaret Thatcher. Like Truss, she came to office with a low profile and a strong set of convictions: I am optimistic that Britain’s third female Prime Minister can continue to emulate the first.