Analysis: The Queen’s death has drawn the poison out of Britain’s toxic politics. Will it last?


Liz Truss had only been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for two days when she learned that Queen Elizabeth, the monarch she had asked to form a government earlier that week, had died.

After a long summer of taking over from Boris Johnson, resigning in disgrace and leaving behind a bitter and toxic political landscape, Truss was ready to hit the ground running and move on from his predecessor’s era.

During his leadership campaign, Truss presented himself as the embodiment of the conservative right. He was a reformed Eurosceptic street fighter who would maintain Johnson’s aggressive style in dealing with opponents both within his own party and across the political divide.

However, last Thursday as he unveiled a plan to help Britons cope with high energy costs, Truss revealed for the first time that doctors were concerned about the Queen’s health and recommended medical supervision. A few hours later, Buckingham Palace announced that the monarch had died.

From that moment on, British politics -2016. which has been in an almost permanent state of chaos and crisis since 2000 – has effectively stopped.

Gone are all the personal attacks, tribalism and bitterness that have characterized Britain’s political landscape since the 2016 Brexit referendum. Politics is largely attuned to Her Majesty’s grief and the idea of ​​things returning to normal once the national period of mourning ends next week seems startling.

In recent years, conservative newspapers have called judges “enemies of the people” for opposing Brexit; Johnson falsely accused the opposition leader, Keir Starmer, of being responsible for the decision not to prosecute a notorious pederast during his time as England’s attorney general; and many times, MPs have been thrown out of Parliament for directly calling the Prime Minister.

The passing of the Queen has created a window that could not have been artificially constructed. A moment in history that called for restraint from Britain’s upper classes could be welcomed back into the country’s political discourse.

“Immediately, his death has disrupted the way the Truss government had planned to run,” Catherine Haddon, a fellow at the Institute of Government, told CNN.

“Administrations usually start with key dates and times in mind. In the first hundred days they want to set the tone for the government and stamp their authority in politics. Truss’s team may now move closer to big talks about their vision for Britain’s future,” added Haddon.

Officials working for the government and the main opposition Labor party told CNN that this period of silence could encourage both sides to move away from the kind of aggression that typified the Johnson years.

“When Johnson was in office we had to focus on the personal because he was an ethically flawed person, but also because he was constantly on the attack,” a Starmer adviser told CNN.

“What I hope is a return to focusing on ideological differences, which I think we still comfortably overcome,” they added.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, left, welcomes Liz Truss to a hearing in Balmoral, Scotland, where she invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party to become prime minister and form a new government, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.

Multiple government sources said they also hope the moment will spark a new and unifying approach to political debate, regardless of their personal politics.

They also pointed out that the pressure on Truss to do his job properly is enormous. Allies point out that in some respects, Truss will benefit from this period of quiet reflection, as he will forever be remembered as the prime minister who took office just days before the country’s biggest constitutional upheaval in decades.

It is undeniable that the very complex series of events choreographed after the Queen’s death has so far unfolded smoothly and that a pressure valve has opened in politics.

As Haddon points out, “those of us who follow politics obsessively will notice that the speeches against opponents have stopped and the gossip and gossip of politics seems to have completely disappeared.”

But others believe this period could soon come to an end as the bitter reality of Britain’s brutal winter sets in, with household energy bills soaring and inflation soaring, exacerbating the country’s cost of living crisis.

“Of course, it’s a great opportunity for Truss to take a back seat and put some distance between himself and Johnson, but the energy and cost-of-living crises that dominated his early days have not gone away,” University of Manchester politics professor Rob Ford told CNN.

He pointed out that Johnson’s biggest political success – the UK vaccine rollout – for which he could claim personal credit, bought him only a few months of goodwill before the scandals brought him down.

(Front Left) Former British Prime Ministers Theresa May, John Major and Baroness of Scotland, (Second Row Left to Right) Former British Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, (Third Row L to R) Former British Prime Ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson arrive at a meeting of the Council of Accession inside St James's Palace in London on September 10, 2022 to proclaim King Charles III as the new king.  - Britain's Charles III was officially crowned king on Saturday, a day after he vowed to emulate him in his first speech to mourners.

“If this period continues well, it could be something people fondly remember and certainly something Truss is celebrated for. Then if the UK goes into recession and Labor continues to lead in the polls, politics has a habit of reverting to form and Truss will have to go on the offensive. ».

Almost everyone involved in politics who spoke to CNN said they hoped this transition period would provide some room for the temperature to drop. The divisions, personal attacks and misinformation of recent years have not made Britain a stronger or more prosperous country.

To take just one example of how disgusting the speech has been in the Conservative leadership contest to replace Johnson, then a Cabinet member, Nadine Dorries, retweeted a distorted image of Rishi Suna, Truss’ opponent and Johnson’s former finance minister, stabbing Johnson. .

It is worth noting that since 2016, two members of parliament have been murdered while they were doing their job, meeting with local voters. Any decent elected official should think twice before posting such an image.

Britain has certainly been a quieter, more reflective place over the past week. Whether this results in a lasting change in the nature of political discourse is difficult to predict. But surely it wouldn’t be a bad thing if everyone involved in UK politics took a moment to think about the purpose of democracy, and look at the dignity shown last week by the people they are supposed to serve.