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Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss attends a hustings event, part of the Conservative party leadership campaign, in London, Britain on Aug. 31.HANNAH MCKAY/Reuters

She grew up in a hard-left household in northern England, became a right-wing conservative at Oxford University and credits the shift in her thinking partly to a year she spent at Parkcrest Elementary School in Burnaby, B.C.

And if everything goes as expected, in a few days Liz Truss will be Britain’s new prime minister.

Ms. Truss is hardly a household name, even in Britain. She also wasn’t the favourite to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader when he resigned in July. But her dogged campaign has won over party members, and polls show she will easily defeat former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak when voting results are announced on Monday. If that happens, she’ll be sworn in as prime minister by the Queen on Tuesday.

It will be a remarkable victory for Ms. Truss. Despite being in cabinet for eight years and serving as foreign secretary, most Conservative Members of Parliament wanted Mr. Sunak to be leader. The dashing former hedge fund manager helped lead the country out of the pandemic, and he has a glittering resume filled with degrees from Oxford University and Stanford University, as well as a stint with Goldman Sachs.

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Mr. Sunak, 42, easily won the first stage of the contest in July when Tory MPs winnowed the list of candidates from eight to two through five rounds of voting. Ms. Truss, 47, finished third in every round except the last, when she squeaked into second spot by eight votes.

But then it was over to the party’s 160,000 members to pick the winner through a mail-in ballot, and Ms. Truss slowly pulled ahead.

She got off to a poor start by fumbling early debate appearances and getting mocked for her wooden speaking style. It didn’t help that she launched her campaign with a Twitter post that read: “I’m ready to hit the ground from day one.”

But her message of low taxes, less government and an end to “left-wing identity politics” began to resonate with members far more than Mr. Sunak’s fixation on tackling inflation. She also promised to increase defence spending, reverse bans on fracking and expand the government’s plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda.

And while Mr. Sunak gave nuanced answers to questions and refused to rule out measures such as rationing energy, Ms. Truss was quick to promise no new taxes, no energy rationing and no windfall tax on oil companies.

Her lack of polish also became an asset, setting her apart from Mr. Sunak’s slick videos and smooth stage presence. She also didn’t shy away from playing hardball by highlighting Mr. Sunak’s privileged background and criticizing his time as chancellor.

“We need to be bold and we need to do things differently and that’s what I would do if elected as your prime minister,” she told a crowd of 6,000 party members during the final all-candidates event on Wednesday in London.

“As the campaign has gone on, I’m liking her more,” said Lesley Lincoln, a party member from London. “She seems to get more backbone.” Ms. Lincoln initially favoured two other candidates but she has settled on Ms. Truss largely because she doesn’t believe Mr. Sunak can relate to the concerns of ordinary people. “He just doesn’t get it,” she said.

“I just feel like we are in safer hands with Liz,” echoed Ian Kelly, a party member from outside Birmingham. He acknowledged that Ms. Truss wasn’t well known by the public but added: “I do think that after Boris that is an advantage. I think there is somewhat of a need for a fresh start.”

Ms. Truss’s sudden popularity among the party faithful is surprising given her background.

She was born Mary Elizabeth Truss in Oxford, the eldest of four children and the only daughter. Her father, John Truss, is a mathematics professor at the University of Leeds and her mother, Priscilla Truss, is a former nurse.

Ms. Truss spent her early years in Scotland, where she used to accompany her parents on protest marches for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. During the rallies she would join in anti-Margaret Thatcher chants of “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out.”

In 1987, at the age of 12, she spent a year in Canada when her father secured a position at Simon Fraser University. Ms. Truss was enrolled in Parkcrest Elementary, which left a deep impression.

“The whole culture was people wanting to do well and succeed,” she wrote in a newspaper article in 2012. In the piece she contrasted Parkcrest with her school in Leeds, where the family moved after returning from Canada. “People wanted to be the top of the class, going home and working on your homework was a good thing. While the school I was at in Leeds was the opposite.”

In 2017 she posted her class photo from Parkcrest on Instagram and wrote: “30 years ago I spent a year in Canada that changed my outlook on life.” And in 2020 she wrote in the Telegraph: “It was an exciting time – many of my fellow students came from nations along the Pacific Rim, and we shared the same eagerness to get on in life and embrace new ideas.”

In an e-mail, Parkcrest principal Andrew Lee said that if she wins the leadership, Ms. Truss would become the first alumnus of the school to become prime minister. “We certainly wish her the best of luck as she pursues her dreams,” he said, adding that “it is very nice to hear that Ms. Truss remembers her time so fondly at our school.”

By the time she got to Oxford, Ms. Truss had abandoned her parents’ left leanings and joined the centrist Liberal Democrats. She caused a stir with a speech that called for abolishing the monarchy and supporting legalization of cannabis. “I was testing things out and I was quite radically minded,” she recalled later in an interview. The attachment to the Lib Dems didn’t last and by graduation she was a true blue Tory.

She spent a decade in the private sector, at Shell and Cable & Wireless Communications, before winning a seat on Greenwich city council. After two failed attempts, she was elected to Parliament in 2010.

She quickly made a name for herself by creating the Free Enterprise Group of MPs and co-authoring a book called Britannia Unchained, which declared that British workers were “among the worst idlers in the world.”

Seen as a rising star, Ms. Truss soon landed a string of cabinet roles with responsibilities ranging from child care and the environment to justice and international trade. Mr. Johnson named her Foreign Secretary last year and she has been leading Britain’s support for Ukraine in that country’s war against Russia.

There have been blunders. She mixed up the Baltic and Black Seas as Foreign Secretary, and as justice minister she faced the wrath of the legal community when she failed to defend High Court judges under attack in the tabloid press for various Brexit-related rulings. Her constant use of social media has also generated grumbling that she spends too much time cultivating her image.

She has also done a complete U-turn on Brexit. Ms. Truss was a staunch “remainer” leading up to the 2016 referendum on Britain’s future in the European Union. During the campaign, she called those pushing Brexit “extreme and outdated” and said staying in the EU was “in Britain’s economic interest.”

She now says she was wrong, and has vowed to seize on the opportunities created by leaving the EU.

If Ms. Truss does become prime minister, she’ll face a host of daunting challenges that will leave little time for a honeymoon.

Britain is facing a cost-of-living crisis. Energy prices have rocketed 80 per cent and inflation has topped 10 per cent. There have been growing calls for government intervention to help families and small businesses.

Ms. Truss has provided few details about how she will address the problem. She has pledged to cut taxes and find new sources of energy, but she has been largely silent on whether she will offer financial assistance.

“She’s coming into a situation where reality is going to noisily intrude on her various campaign promises very very quickly indeed,” said Rob Ford, a professor of political science at the University of Manchester. Dr. Ford said that because Ms. Truss has devoted so much effort to courting the Conservative right wing, she will have little room to manoeuvre. And that group could easily turn on her if she wavers on their principles, he added.

Victoria Honeyman, an associate professor of British politics at University of Leeds, said Ms. Truss faces an uphill battle. The challenges “are huge and will be both politically and economically costly to deal with,” she said. Ms. Truss “has signed herself up for a job almost no one would realistically relish doing.”

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