Liz Truss resigns: What’s next for Britain?

Double digit inflation. A weakened British Pound, which is hovering near parity with the Dollar. Rising energy costs. The death of a honored monarch.

And now the prospect of a third prime minister in less than three months.

Even before Prime Minister Liz Truss’s spectacular political flameout, Britain has often seemed of late like a country unsure of its place in the world: a mid-sized power whose empire is long gone and on the fringes, a small, isolated one Country to become island, swept within and without by storms.

Truss’ tenure was so brief – just 44 days – that her successor will face essentially the same problems she began with when she began: a troubled Scotland where breakaway sentiment could flare up again; the damaging longer-term economic effects of Brexit, which came into effect in 2020; a social safety net and healthcare system frayed by years of austerity; mixed feelings towards the royal family, now led by the less popular King Charles III. to be led.

And that web of suffering stands against the backdrop of a war in Ukraine that has now become Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stark challenge to a post-war rules-based security order in which Britain was once a powerful player.

Truss’s resignation on Thursday was another jolt in a series of upheavals that have seen the UK grope for any semblance of unity. This year saw governments on their head, protesters took to the streets over intensifying struggles over the cost of living and the loss of a national symbol, Queen Elizabeth II, who died last month at the age of 96.

Truss’ Conservative Party turned against her after her proposals to cut tens of billions of dollars in taxes with no plans to recover the funds rocked the economy. She said on Thursday that she “could not fulfill the mandate for which I was elected”.

It’s a nicer way of saying what many within her own party, and certainly those outside the party, have agreed on, said Matthew Goodwin, a politics professor at the University of Kent.

“Liz Truss will go down in history as the shortest-serving prime minister to have held office and the worst prime minister in our country’s history,” he said.

Party members will vote on a replacement on October 28. Likely candidates include a who’s who of names from current and past government administrations, including former CFO Rishi Sunak, whom Truss beat out for the top post in September. Boris Johnson, the rumpled, brash former prime minister whose resignation in July amid a scandal paved the way for Truss, is also eligible to return to the fray, although it’s believed unlikely.

The new leader in this nation of 63 million, one of the wealthiest and most populous in Europe, is expected to remain in office until October 31.

Britons have become accustomed to near-constant government and economic crises since the country narrowly voted to leave the European Union six years ago. In that time there have been four prime ministers, each of whom have resigned, and a fifth is on the way.

All hail from the Conservative Party, whose longstanding majority in Parliament has given it the ability to elect leader after leader.

Polls suggest the party would lose if general elections were held today, prompting campaigners to call for such a vote ahead of time. The next one is not due until 2025. The last was in 2019.

The voters are obviously fed up.

“We are the nation of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher,” said Sanmeet Singh, a technician who was eating out in east London on Thursday when news of the resignation flashed over his phone. “Now we have this government clown car, a parade of fools.”

“Who knows what nightmare Halloween will bring?” he said. “I used to be proud of our country, no matter which party was in power. Now I’m embarrassed.”

Jeffrey Sheffield, a friend of Singh’s who joined him, thought similarly. “We’ve always been that place that people look up to,” he said. “But we can’t even hold a government together for a few months? We resemble a developing country more than anything close to an established, functioning country. Embarrassing indeed.”

It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in Britain these days, a place that has recently excelled at setting records few nations would envy.

Inflation hit 10.1% in September, a peak last seen in 40 years. In the same month, the pound, historically one of the strongest currencies in the world, fell to a point where it almost equaled the dollar. It has barely recovered.

Britain is the only nation in the group of 7 industrialized democracies whose economy has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The new government faces a dark winter as it battles an energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. The company that manages the UK’s gas and electricity network has warned of potential blackouts as a result of Russia’s energy blockades spreading across Europe.

Even British pubs, a popular national institution, are warning that soaring electricity bills could prompt some to ring the closing bell.

The monarchy, long sustained by enduring national affection for Elizabeth, is struggling to regain a foothold after her death after 70 years on the throne. Many younger Britons say they see little point in continuing centuries-old royal traditions.

All of this has led to a feeling of deep insecurity.

“The British system prides itself on its stability,” said Victoria Honeyman, professor of politics at the University of Leeds. “It’s been tested to the breaking point for the past few years, and this year it’s one break at a time.”

Goodwin agreed, saying the country has “lost its reputation as a leader of consistency, a model of predictable, consensual, dovish politics”.

But among Western peer nations, Britain’s political anxiety hardly makes it an outlier.

“France is stuck in traffic. Italy implodes politically. Populists are rampant in Sweden,” Goodwin said, noting that with the upcoming midterm elections, Jan. 6 hearings and the ongoing struggle in the Republican Party between supporters of former President Trump and his traditional members, the United States is unlikely to “ stable and calm.”

At the very least, the drama unfolding at the Prime Minister’s Office at 10 Downing Street has provided plenty of fodder for meme-makers, pundits and online walkers.

Truss “lasted 4.1 Scaramuccis,” tweeted Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director best known for being fired by Trump after just 10 days.

In London, the Daily Star tabloid last week launched a live YouTube stream showing a framed photo of the British leader next to a blonde wig on a head of lettuce, with the caption: “Will Liz Truss still be Prime Minister within the 10 day shelf life of a lettuce ?

At 1:37pm London time on Thursday, as 20,000 viewers were watching the live stream, a hand appeared in the frame and turned the portrait down. A bubbly bottle of Prosecco and a glass emerged – all to the tune of the new national anthem, “God save the King”.

The lettuce won after seven days. Liz Truss resigns: What’s next for Britain?

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