British politics has revealed hidden depths, each sought as each prime minister succumbs. The announcement of Liz Truss her resignation came after only 45 days in office. In terms of duration, this would make her the shortest prime minister since Tory George Canningwho died of tuberculosis in August 1827 after holding office for 119 days.
The sequence of events from the moment Truss entered Downing Street on 6 September is bound to induce vertigo. She promised a package of eyebrow-raising energy price guarantees and tax cuts on September 23. She fantasized about growing Britain and demonized a fictional cabal of adversary to growth lurking on the opposition benches and in the streets.
The unfortunate mini budget delivered seven days later spooked the markets and encouraged a fall in the pound. The promise to abolish tax bracket of 45p was scrapped. Then came the dismissal of the chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, presumably Truss’s close ally. In a manner befitting friendship, Kwarteng was blamed on to announce Truss policy.
In the maelstrom, the jokes began to spread and thicken as each disastrous decision was made and then not made. With such a sequence of famous crashes, The economist suggested that Truss’s time would be comparable to “the shelf life of a salad”.
The Daily Star set one webcam in tribute to the sighting, with a wilting iceberg lettuce from Tesco, valued at 60p (AU$1.07). The newspaper states the following question on the site: “Will Liz Truss become Prime Minister in the ten-day shelf life of a salad?”
At lunchtime on October 20, when Truss tendered his resignation, the salad received a gold plastic crown. The caption was one of triumph: “The lettuce survived Liz Truss.” Then came the national anthem, accompanied by champagne.
The number of departures retained that sense of unreality on steroids that characterized Truss’s brief tenure in Downing Street. There was old mantra, “the vision of a low-tax, high-growth economy – which would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit”. She highlighted her successes in controlling energy bills and reducing National Insurance. In addition to giving the President of Russia Vladimir Putin a mention for threatening “the security of our entire continent”, that was more or less it.
The Economist, now confirmed in its predictions, gloomy coined the term “Great Britain”, a country “with political instability, low growth and subordination to bond markets”. With sour irony it noted that Truss and Kwarteng, as contributors to a pamphlet entitled Britannia Unchained, had warned that Britain should not follow the path of Italy and other southern European countries, burdened by bloated public services, lagging growth and poor productivity. Their “misguided attempt to create another path” had done just that.
Britain’s indignant Italian ambassador, Inigo Lambertiniadded some flavor to the comparison of rejecting the magazine’s use of a cover “inspired by the oldest stereotypes”. Why choose spaghetti and pizza when you might consider an example from “our aerospace, biotech, automotive or pharmaceutical sectors?” Any other choice “would cast a more accurate spotlight on Italy, even taking into account your not-so-secret admiration for our economic model”.
Since 2016, British politics has claimed the scalps of four leaders, reminding pundits of Australia’s own revolving door of prime ministers (that country boasted five between 2010 and 2018). David Cameroninjudicious and arrogant, called a referendum on leaving the European Union. Designed to stifle anti-EU voices within his own Conservative Party while allowing him to stay in power, it did the opposite. There were no plans in the event of Britain leaving the Union, let alone any strategy.
Brexit became a millstone of defining proportions, hindering Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, who found it impossible to maintain party discipline among the Tories. Europhobic and Little England sentiments were on the rise. Get on Boris Johnsonwhose populist, baffling antics had their desired effect – a sweeping victory in 2019 with the slogan, “get brexit done“. Global Britain, nostalgic and starry-eyed, had arrived.
Johnson’s time in office impoverished British politics and defamed the Sceptred Isle’s famous sense of hard stability. He was found to have behaved unconstitutionally in the proroguing parliament. He abused and mocked the coronavirus pandemic. He flouted rules made by his own officials and held secret gatherings even as the rest of Britain remained locked up and prevented from seeing family and friends. He was fined for doing so and eventually resigned for lying about it Partygate business. His list of abuses had no end and seemingly no beginning.
With Johnson stepping down, the Tories went into selection mode, giving British voters a taste of tribal warfare ahead of debates between Truss and her challenger, the former chancellor Rishi Sunak. Truss, demagogic and deluded, won through and convinced a white-haired and graying proportion of Conservative Party members that she had the magic. With this growth-enhancing creature, ironically undead in so many ways, the horror show continued.
No sane person would seek the office. But the Tory Party is steeped in insensitivity. Sunak is to be sworn in as the next prime minister, beating out challengers as the leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordauntand also Johnson, who did more than most to debase the office.
For now, the salad won. At least it deserves a run.
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