Back in July, I described the events that culminated in Boris Johnson’s resignation as “unprecedented, extraordinary, and frankly, farcical”. Little did I think that, merely a few months later, I would find myself in the same position describing the downfall of his successor. This is the last thing British politics needed but, alas, here we go again.
Just 44 days into the job, Liz Truss tendered her resignation, plunging the United Kingdom, yet again, into governmental crisis and political freefall. The shortest-serving prime minister in British history, Truss accepted on Thursday 20 October that “[she] cannot deliver the mandate on which [she] was elected.”
Mandate is a strong word given it was provided to her only by 81,000 of the Tory Party faithful. Her demise is a painful reminder of how broken the Conservative Party is, and how devoid the UK is of effective, stable governance.
It has been a cringeworthy and heartbreaking 44 days. Liz Truss’ ephemeral time in office demonstrated Britain’s inability to govern itself, at a time when it so desperately needs an effective administration. The only time her premiership could be considered somewhat ‘successful’, was when politics was placed on hold for the national mourning of Queen Elizabeth II.
Sadly, it is impossible not to take a pessimistic view of the country’s direction. So how did Liz Truss get us into such disarray?
Truss’ demise has been on the cards almost from the outset of her premiership. On 23 September, she and her former chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, presented the catastrophic ‘mini-budget’, which “shattered all hopes of Conservative economic cogency”. Trust in Trussonomics died no sooner than it had been unveiled. Not only did the main policy proposal of scrapping the 45 per cent higher tax rate demonstrate quite how out of touch her government was with the country, but it also shook the British economy to its core.
By 26 September, the pound had hit an all-time low against the dollar, reaching almost parity at $1.03, the lowest since 1971. The following day, the International Monetary Fund released a rare, and somewhat awkward, statement in which they deemed her economic policies “likely [to] increase inequality [within the United Kingdom.]”
On 29 September, 40 per cent of mortgage deals were wiped from the UK financial market. Two days later, Truss issued an ignominious U-turn at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. She would go on to sack Kwarteng on 14 October. Truss and Kwarteng single handedly destroyed the Conservative’s reputation for “fiscal prudence and sound economic management.” The writing was on the wall.
Moreover, the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor, who backed Rishi Sunak in the summer leadership contest, further undermined Truss’ authority. His U-turn on the majority of the mini-budget’s tax cuts all but made Truss’ resignation a fait accompli.
If the fallout of the mini-budget did not scream incompetence, the buildup to Truss’ resignation did. The events of Wednesday 19 October were so chaotic, I would argue that they superseded the extraordinary causation of Boris Johnson’s demise.
At her last PMQs, Liz Truss said she was “a fighter, not a quitter”. Sadly, any illusions of strength was shattered.
By that afternoon, Liz Truss’ home secretary, Suella Braverman announced that she had quit after breaching the ministerial code. Her scathing assessment of Truss’ leadership in her resignation letter leads one to assume that this was no mistake at all, but a larger, calculated Tory plot to oust their new leader, just weeks into the job.
If that was not bad enough, chaos turned into absurdity. Labour tabled an opposition day vote on fracking, which many Conservative MPs mistook for a confidence vote in the government. The result? Physicality, “jabbing” and “manhandling” by senior Tory MPs. There were reports that amongst those physically pressuring MPs to back the government were deputy PM Thérèse Coffey and business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Whilst some Tories called for Truss’ resignation after Braverman quit, many more expressed their dissatisfaction after the ugly scenes. The drama was not to end there. Reports soon emerged that Wendy Morton had been witnessed screaming she was “no longer the Chief Whip”. Ruth Edwards, Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, approached Morton to seek clarity on the situation, in which she allegedly retorted: “I don’t have to talk to you, I’ve resigned”. Chris Whittaker, the deputy chief whip, then stormed out of the lobby in an expletive-laden rant.
The scenes culminating in Liz Truss’ resignation were self-indulgent, unbecoming and embarrassing. Whilst millions of Britons are concerned about how to heat their homes or to pay their bills, the Conservative Party has, yet again, imploded on itself when the country needs effective governance.
At any time, such self-inflicted uncertainty and inefficacy are bound to corrode public trust in British politics. To do so when Britain faces a deluge of crises imbues a sense of contempt for an already beleaguered electorate. Thus, it is wholly reasonable to assume the Conservatives will cling onto power until 2024, to prolong having to face the public at the ballot box. How many more Prime Ministers we will get through before that point remains to be seen.
For the sake of this country, we can only hope the next Prime Minister Rishi Sunak can unite its parliamentary body in government alongside implementing meaningful and effective policies to counteract inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. This unendurable period of precarious British politics must be put to bed.