British prime minister Liz Truss resigned today, ending the constant speculation about how long she would last. On October 10th, a tabloid newspaper The Daily Star started running a live stream of a head of lettuce named Lizzie Lettuce with a blond wig above the question, “Will Liz Truss still be Prime Minister within the 10 day shelf-life of a lettuce?”. As it turns out, the contest was not even close, with the lettuce winning at a trot, with Truss having the dubious record of possibly being the shortest serving prime minister who did not die in office, just 45 days.
I must say that while I had been amazed at how quickly Truss had thoroughly botched things up since taking over as prime minister, and expected that she would not last long, her resignation today did surprise me. She had given a pretty vigorous defense in the weekly PMQ session yesterday, defiantly declaring “I am a fighter, not a quitter!” which I thought meant that she was going to try and salvage her premiership.
So what happened in less than 24 hours? The resignation/firing (it is not quite sure which) of her home secretary Suella Braverman yesterday was before the PMQ session so could not have been the immediate cause. Braverman has the record having the shortest tenure in that office. It is possible that Kwasi Kwerteng, whom Truss fired as Chancellor of the Exchequer, may also have the record for the shortest term in that office. Unwanted records everywhere.
I suspect that something went down behind the scenes yesterday evening that led to her decision to quit. That information will undoubtedly emerge soon. The fact that she announced that a process had been put in place so that a new leader would take over from her on October 28th means that party leaders had been part of the decision, which likely means that they had pressured her to go, seeing her position as untenable. Under the new rules, any nominations must be received by 2:00 pm on Monday, October 24th and have the support of at least 100 MPs, which limits the number of candidates to at most three. Voting will begin that same day and the process will be completed by Friday, October 28th.
Whoever takes over has the unenviable and challenging task of trying to recover the fortunes of the party, currently trailing by a whopping 30 points in the polls behind the Labour party, before having to call general election in just over two years, unless they call for an early election. Becoming. party leader and prime minister at such a time is to receive very much a poisoned chalice since if the party crashes and burns at the next election, that leader may well have to go too.
So why would anyone with serious intentions of implementing policies want to take the job, given that the next two years will largely be devoted to repairing and damage control and treading water? Politicians tend to be ambitious and arrogant about their ability to control events and there may well be people who think that they can pull off a miraculous return from the dead.
While the proximate cause of this debacle is undoubtedly Truss herself in her over-weening ambition to implement a massive ideologically driven trickle-down budget with little or no analysis of the consequences and thus creating havoc in the financial markets, the ultimate cause may well be Brexit. Ever since that ill-thought out plan was implemented, the country has been mired in problems. I am not saying that it is the only cause but it does seem to have created a tangle of problems that the government could never quite extricate itself from. The former Brexit EU negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted:
No one should or can be happy about the political & economic turmoil in the UK. There are so many reasons today we must find stability and cooperate, across Europe. Not all of these difficulties are due to Brexit, I am simply convinced that Brexit makes everything more difficult.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) October 20, 2022
It is astonishing that Boris Johnson, the chief architect of the Brexit fiasco, is favored by a plurality of Conservative party members (not MPs) to replace Truss, just weeks after being forced from office in disgrace.
Were Liz Truss to resign, Boris Johnson tops the list of potential successors Tory members would most like to see replace her
— YouGov (@YouGov) October 18, 2022
Johnson, narcissist that he is, thinks that the country is crying out for him to return and seems to be wanting to enter the race. Brexit should be a millstone around Boris Johnsons’s neck that which he should never be allowed to remove. The decision to have only the MPs be involved in the selection of the new party leader is being viewed as the party leaders making sure that Johnson does not get the post again, since he does not seem to have the support of 100 MPs.