What does Liz Truss win mean for Labour?

Labour leader Keir Starmer has branded Liz Truss “out of touch” as he went head to head with the new prime minister for the first time.

Reacting to Truss’s election as the new Conservative Party leader on Monday, the Daily Mail said Starmer offered his “token” congratulations to the new PM before “opening hostilities” by attacking her plans to drop hikes in corporation tax and accusing her of ignoring the cost-of-living crisis. 

“She needs to show that she actually understands and can meet the challenges that are there after 12 years of failure from this Tory government,” he said. 

But after nearly three years of contending with Boris Johnson’s administration, are Starmer, and the Labour Party, prepared for Prime Minister Truss?

What did the papers say?

Taking office with an unenviable in-tray of policy challenges to deal with has left even Truss’s allies uncertain, with one incoming Cabinet minister telling The Times: “I doubt she’ll last two years”. 

What is more, her party has emerged from Boris Johnson’s downfall and the subsequently “rancorous” leadership contest in “more electoral difficulty than at any previous point during this parliament”, with Labour enjoying a significant lead in the polls, said John Curtice for the i News site. Although there is the possibility of a “honeymoon bounce” after Truss’s arrival in Downing Street, “it is doubtful that any bounce will be big enough to erode fully the gap that Labour currently enjoys”, Curtice added. 

But it would be “premature” to write off Truss as prime minister, said columnist Andrew Fisher, for the i News site. “One thing in her favour” is the strength of her world view. She has an “explanation for why things are wrong and how they can get better,” Equally, the “main qualities the public look for from their leaders in the 2020s are honesty, strength and authenticity,” says former Theresa May pollster James Johnson in Politico. It will require “care and calibration”, but Truss “has a path to come closer to these than Starmer”, he added. In her first few days she has a chance to build a reputation with the public as someone “who gives it to them straight”.

Truss’s world view though, is one that “Labour must challenge”, said Fisher. “A low-tax, deregulated, small-state economy won’t solve the crisis in the NHS and social care. It won’t tackle pollution and climate change. It certainly won’t deliver energy security.” 

Truss’s journey from Remainer to Brexit true-believer could also render her a “less obvious target” for the Labour Party, said former Labour MP Tom Harris in The Daily Telegraph.

“After all, Truss – like Starmer – campaigned for Remain, and – again, like Starmer – now wants Brexit to work and rejects any notion of rejoining the EU,” he noted. Is the public “really expected to believe that a Labour leader who did more than anyone to try to secure a second referendum in order to reverse Brexit should now be more trusted to ‘make Brexit work’ than the new Prime Minister?”

What next?

Starmer has already made it clear to his party that they should not underestimate the talents of a prime minister who has served in the government continuously since 2012. The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman reported that he told a weekly parliamentary Labour party meeting that “we will never underestimate Liz Truss”, adding “she is a talented politician who has got to the top through hard work and determination” and that “she will do whatever it takes” to keep the Conservatives in power. 

Labour’s approach to the new PM will not be to “insult her intelligence – as some of her own party colleagues have”, but rather “link her back” to her role, and its failures, in the previous Johnson  administration, explained Hardman. 

Indeed, it is Truss’s ideological strength that is likely to provide Labour with its key attack lines, with the party keen to “emphasise one thing above all else: Truss’s beliefs and her policies”, said political correspondent Peter Walker in The Guardian

“I do think that she is, at heart, the most ideological prime minister there has probably been in my lifetime,” a senior Labour source told the paper. 

“She’s not going to be a ditherer. She’s going to try and smash things, which means we can’t just be on the sidelines saying: ‘Excuse me, what are you doing?’”.

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