I am not passionate about the special relationship between the US and the UK, but I fully support it. Nations have to look out for their own interests, but in a dangerous world you keep old friends close by. We came from them: the Magna Carta flowed into our proclamation, the English and Scottish Enlightenment that helped create our founders. We are English speaking people, democratic people who fought shoulder to shoulder in a turbulent 20th century.
Margaret Thatcher once said in conversation that she saw England’s role in preventing evil ideas from jumping across the ocean on the continent. Perhaps part of our job, in our better years—40 years ago in, say, Silicon Valley—was to inspire a chaotic energy.
That’s why it matters that Britain will have a new prime minister on Monday, when the votes for members of the Conservative Party are announced. The Tory leadership race began in July and the winner will almost certainly be Foreign Secretary Liz Truss over former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak.
When I was in mid-August, London was bustling, full of tourists, restaurants humming, yet every conversation reflected a growing sense of alarm about the future. Inflation had just risen to over 10%, with Vladimir Putin’s energy war on Europe projected to skyrocket home heating bills, with the National Health Service embarking on some sort of new collapse. It seemed that everyone was ready for something.
Every political conversation in America quickly turns into “Trump” and in London it quickly turns into “Boris.” And how even with his gifts, his shrewdness and the best political genius in a generation, the Prime Minister still could not organize himself and handle the scandals around him, which he did.
Boris Johnson dominated the Tory race and muted it in the looming. Ballots came in short and slow. People could not make up their mind. Conservatives away from London were incensed: they knew Mr Johnson would have to leave, but did not like that he left. They had united the party only three years back, now it is all broken again. None of the candidates to replace him seemed to be of his size.
When Mr. Johnson became Prime Minister, I felt that I was witnessing the beginning of an era. It took a moment. As I looked at Mr Sunak and Miss Truss, I felt that whoever wins, this is the beginning of a moment, not of an era.
Mr. Sunak, 42, seven years in Parliament, thoughtful, accomplished, knows policy and takes it seriously. He has a clear and cultured mind. He has been unfairly accused of betraying Mr Johnson by resigning from his cabinet. But Mr Johnson did in Mr Johnson. Ms Truss, 47, after 12 years in parliament, and holding similarly influential positions, is more politically agile, even slightly shape-shifting.
One Member of Parliament who has not taken any public stand in the race saw it as a virtue. “You don’t know exactly what she’ll do, which makes her interesting and probably a better fit for the moment.” There may be creativity in Ms Truss’s unpredictability. This is what people see more and more in Mr. Sunak’s stillness.
There are policy differences—she would have cut taxes to ignite things; He, worried about inflation, would skip the early cut to bring it under control. When the race was called, Mr Sunak made a mistake in calling Ms Truss’s tax cuts “hypothetical economics”. Its echoes date back to 1980, when George H. Bush called Ronald Reagan’s economic plan “voodoo economics”. From that moment Ms Truss was cast as Reagan, and embraced the comparison.
It seemed to me that Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, in the Telegraph in July, was the best of all about why Ms. Truss would win. “Almost everyone who does, or has ever, voted Conservatives has experienced nothing to encourage them since COVID-19 began.” Their taxes are up, savings are low, “Vocari insults their culture.” While I was there, the chief of recruitment for the Royal Air Force stepped down over race and gender instructions.
Mr Sunak read the Conservatives of Parliament right but Ms Truss read them right on the ground, and the latter will decide. I think he saw the almost poignant desire of regular conservatives to feel like conservatives again: lower taxes, make government less domineering, stop the fluid awakening that keeps growing – you plug the hole here and There it comes. Can’t we have some victories that we really consider conservative?
The week she went ahead, I met Ms Truss at her campaign offices on Lord North Street. I told him I’m a famously bad interviewer because I’m ashamed to ask people questions and put them on the spot, which makes us laugh, and we took questions off the record in the beginning and then. That was naturally the most interesting part off the record. But it immediately became clear that while Mr. Sunak was seeking votes, Ms. Truss was planning a government.