Liz Truss announced her resignation as Britain's leader after 6 weeks in office
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you ever dreamed of being U.K. prime minister, now may be your chance.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
OK. The race may not be that wide open, but after Liz Truss lasted only six weeks, nobody knows who might take the job next. Half a dozen figures in the Conservative Party are seen as contenders. Most have some kind of baggage or downside, and they include Boris Johnson, the prime minister who resigned amid scandal before Truss did.
INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been watching events from London, and he joins us now.
Frank, good morning.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. So I'm thinking of that old lyric from The Who, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Could that be literally true?
LANGFITT: It could be literally true. I mean, I'm still very skeptical, and a lot of people are here, too. I want to say that none of these candidates have actually announced, but there's already building public support. And the reason that I think this is actually worth considering is right now Conservative Home - this is a good website that covers the Conservative Party - it has numbers now showing that Rishi Sunak - he's the former chancellor - he's at 35 support from lawmakers in the parliamentary party - 19 for Johnson, 11 for Penny Mordaunt, who is the former defense secretary. So over the weekend, we're going to see more and more people coming out to decide who they want - these are conservative lawmakers in the Parliament - and see by Monday who's getting the most support.
INSKEEP: OK. So you have to take Boris Johnson seriously, given that the same members of Parliament who pushed him out - at least some of them seem willing to push him back in or pull him back in. What is the argument against Boris Johnson?
LANGFITT: Well, I mean, how much time do you have? I mean, you got to remember, this is a guy that just last summer we were talking about a lot. He was basically tossed out by his own lawmakers because he lied about these government parties during the COVID lockdown. And people were really angry about that here. They recognize that in the past, Boris Johnson had lied about a lot of things. But this really, really bothered them.
And what we found if you - I was just looking at some old polls from just even a few months ago. Nationally, 75% find him untrustworthy. Two-thirds found him incompetent and wanted him to resign. So the idea - which you would hear from some conservative lawmakers - that he could actually - because in the past he's won elections - could help the Tory Party, the conservatives, out of the mess that they're in right now - for a lot of people, that just seems extremely unlikely.
INSKEEP: Now, you did mention some other names earlier when you talked about that conservative site...
INSKEEP: ...That was tracking members of Parliament. Who are some of the other contenders?
LANGFITT: Yeah. So I think the person to watch right now is definitely Rishi Sunak. He's at the top. And he came in second over the summer, lost to Liz Truss. He is the former chancellor of the exchequer. And that's important because the major problem that this country right now faces is economic and fiscal. And he has that background. And his original budget was a much more fiscally conservative budget.
Liz Truss went for unfunded tax cuts. And after the market attack, she actually ended up having to adopt the policies of the man, Rishi Sunak, that she beat. The other person, Penny Mordaunt, is very popular also among the Tory faithful out in the countryside, and they're the ones who could ultimately have the decision here.
INSKEEP: So when you talk about ultimately having the decision - the Conservative Party in recent years has had this system where the members of Parliament, who would normally choose the Prime Minister, don't make the final decision. They leave it to party hard-liners out in the countryside. Are they really going to go through that again?
LANGFITT: They could. The only way that that would change is there's now about a - you have to have a hundred people in the Parliament to support you. And if only one person makes that, then that person would become head of the party and prime minister of the United Kingdom.
INSKEEP: So if someone is overwhelmingly supported among members of Parliament, it goes no farther.
LANGFITT: And there's certainly a lot of hope that that will happen because the last two prime ministers didn't work out too well.
INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks so much.
LANGFITT: Great to talk, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.