The election of Liz Truss as the new leader of the Conservative Party and, from tomorrow, Britain’s next Prime Minister, has drawn swift reactions from London politicians and others, ranging from the enthusiastic to the hopeful to the derisive.
London Assembly group leader Susan Hall congratulated Truss and said that “as our next Prime Minister she will bring dynamism, a steely determination and a positive vision for the future of our country” and called on Conservatives to “unite and get on with the peoples’ priorities” following a sometimes fractious contest.
Hall added that in London “we need to help people with the cost of living”, “reduce the NHS backlog” and tackle crime, and called on Sadiq Khan to “reset his relationship with the government and work more constructively with ministers in the best interests of Londoners”.
For Labour, group leader Len Duvall offered his own congratulations to Truss and, inverting Hall, presented it as “an opportunity for the government to reset its fractured relationship with City Hall when it comes to devolving powers” as well as “properly funding the capital’s public services and affordable housing sector”.
He urged the incoming new PM to produce “a comprehensive package of support” to held households and businesses through the cost of living surge. Duvall said this should be announced on Truss’s “first day at Number 10” and should be “on a similar scale to what we saw during the pandemic”. Without it “countless’ more Londoners will endure fuel poverty, food insecurity and rent arrears,” Duvall said and many venues, hospitality outlets and small businesses would have to “pull down their shutters for good”.
A desire for Truss to act boldly on the cost of living was shared by John Dickie, chief executive of BusinessLDN (formerly London First), who said the new PM has “no time to lose” to help business and families, and by his counterpart Richard Burge at the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry, who expressed pleasure that Truss was “vocal about the need from London to maintain its competitive edge” and asked for “an immediate energy price cap”, long-term reform of business rates and better support fro small and medium-sized businesses.
Caroline Russell, leader of the Assembly’s Green Party group attacked what she called a campaign of “divisive populism” by Truss and accused her of “ramping up division rather than expressing an understanding of the interlinked climate and cost of living crises” and working “urgently to find some solutions”.
Russell, who is also a member of Islington Council, further took issue with Conservative national politicians’ approach to local government, saying that 12 years of “cutting resources” have resulted directly in “our lack of resilience to face what lies ahead”, as poorly insulated homes add to “the terrifying impact of the cost of living crisis”.
Truss, who triumphed with 57.4% of Conservative members’ votes, shifted her position on financial support with energy bills during the campaign and in her victory speech at lunchtime promised to “deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people’ energy bills” as well as “dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply.” She also pledged “a bold plan to cut taxes and grow our economy” and “deliver on the National Health Service”.
At the final hustings of the campaign, held at Wembley last Wednesday, Truss, a former Greenwich councillor, insisted in response to Labour’s recent electoral dominance in the capital that “we can make London Conservative again” and vowed to reform planning rules with a view to “family homes” being built in the suburbs and to “set up low tax investment zones to drive jobs and growth” along the lines of the London Docklands Development Corporation created by a Conservative government in 1981.
Also at the Wembley event, where the audience of 6,000 seemed slightly to favour her rival Rishi Sunak, Truss confirmed her support for local police and crime commissioners despite criticising Sadiq Khan, who, as Mayor holds that position for London.
In response to a question from an audience member who said he runs a nursery in London, Truss said “childcare is too expensive for parents across our country” and said there should be reform of government funding mechanisms for it, as the money presently comes from three different departments. “It would be an absolute priority for me to help the brilliant people who work in nurseries, but also help parents who are struggling with the cost of living,” Truss said.
General election implications were detected by Paul Kohler, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Merton and also his party’s candidate for the Wimbledon parliamentary seat, which he failed to win from Conservative Stephen Hammond in 2019 by just 628 votes. “Liz Truss is a Boris Johnson loyalist,” he said, whose approaching premiership “represents more of the same failed Conservative Party politics that have led to this cost of living crisis”.
Photograph from BBC TV coverage.
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