Even by recent standards, Thursday was a tremendous day in British politics.
Liz Truss, the born Brexiteer who took over from Boris Johnson just six weeks ago, has announced that she must resign. In light of this, an economic crisis caused by a “growth plan” full of unfunded tax cuts and a Conservative Party that may be in power, but certainly does not have much power.
It is hard to overstate the impact Truss’s entry into the top job had on British politics in such a short space of time. His radical economic policy proposals – even before they came into force – caused the pound to fall to its lowest level against the dollar in decades.
The turmoil sent government bonds soaring, which had a negative impact on government borrowing and, more dangerously, on real people’s pension funds. Rising interest rates forced mortgage repayments, and lenders scrambled to pull their products from the market, dashing homeowners’ hopes almost overnight.
Faced with the fury of his party – fiscal discipline had been the watchword for so long – Truss capitulated. He sacked the finance minister, lost the home secretary and has created further divisions in a party torn apart since the 2016 Brexit vote.
It was only a matter of time before he was forced out.
Fractional politicians are asking the same question that the majority of the country is probably asking themselves: what happens now?
What we know for sure is that the UK will have a new prime minister by the end of next week. That person, once again, will be chosen by the Conservative Party – its members of parliament and its members – rather than the general public. It’s a situation that has angered opposition Labor, which is calling for a general election.
That won’t happen. The Conservative Party’s poll ratings are at record lows, and with the election date falling within the government’s present, these turkeys won’t be voting by Christmas.
So it will take the party to another leadership election and a second prime minister in another few months. At least it will be quick: party officials want everything by the end of next week.
Who it might be is a mystery today. Allies of former prime minister Boris Johnson told CNN he is considering what would be a surprise comeback, despite his disgraceful resignation months ago.
While people close to Johnson are saying he’s the only candidate who could truly unite a divided party, others are quick to say there was a good reason he was forced out of office.
Those reasons, for those with short memories, are that he has been hit by so many scandals – from breaking his own Covid regulations to installing someone with a reputation for sexual harassment as his chief whip – that his position as UK leader was just that. unbearable
Former allies who abandoned Johnson after too much happened say installing him would leave conservatives open to a relatively simple line of attack: why a man who proved to be utterly unfit for high office is suddenly the best person to run the country. ?
Conservative MPs who fear a Johnson return and opposition Labor Party officials told CNN that Johnson is also being investigated over the Partygate scandal, in which he deliberately misled parliament.
There are other options for union candidates. Penny Mordaunt, one of Truss’s cabinet ministers, is believed to be weighing up a bid for the job. He is a well-known Brexiteer across the party and regarded as a sensible moderate who would take a calm approach to leadership. He openly criticized Truss’s leadership while in his cabinet saying he wanted to raise welfare payments in line with inflation amid severe party strain, which would have won praise from Truss critics.
There is Rishi Sunk, the former finance minister, whose cabinet resignation in the summer was believed to have been the catalyst for Johnson’s downfall. He was Truss’ last challenger in the leadership contest and is hated by Johnson’s supporters, so his promotion would likely be unpopular with large parts of the party.
And being popular among the party – MPs and members – will be critical for the person who takes the position. Divisions from Brexit to fiscal discipline have made a party with a large parliamentary majority almost ungovernable.
Regardless of the personal dislike people may have for individuals like Johnson, Truss or Sunak, the feeling that the Conservative Party is a tame beast charging from one crisis to another has resulted in it being in terminal decline.
Conservative MPs and civil servants are completely disappointed. Even if you compare Truss’s resignation to Johnson’s a few weeks earlier, there were no supportive MPs on the streets or armies of smiling supporters. It was a grim and cold speech to a quiet Downing Street.
Many Conservative MPs believe the party has no hope of winning the next general election. And given that calling a general election is something the government can do, that means hanging on to power as long as possible in the vague hope that things will improve.
The Labor Party has gone from believing itself to be a happy government-in-waiting in a matter of weeks to downright outraged that the Conservatives are ready to install another leader without a mandate, depriving the people of a stable government.
This is the current state of UK politics. The current government will not call a general election. A generous analysis could say that this is because they believe that the country needs stability at a difficult time. A more cynical analysis, on the other hand, could be that they are afraid of how bad the election loss could be.
Things will become clearer in the next 48 hours as candidates come forward and outline the process for a smooth transition. But if not the last year of British politics, the coronation of a new Prime Minister will be accompanied by the nasty information and dirty politics we are well used to.
The simple truth is that the big beasts of British politics are likely to be at each other’s throats for the foreseeable future. And given the state of the country, this is terrible news for the citizens.