Opinion | Truss came and left a mess

Former UK prime minister Liz Truss. Photo: Agency
Former UK prime minister Liz Truss. Photo: Agency

The once famously dull and predictable British politics has, lately, developed a taste for Italian-style frothy political culture with governments changing at the drop of a hat.

When Liz Truss announced her resignation this afternoon after being in office for barely five weeks, she became the fourth prime minister to come and go in just six years.

She will go down in history as the most short-lived British prime minister, and her prime ministership as the most fractious and incompetent in recent memory.

Even more fractious and incompetent than that of her immediate predecessor Boris Johnson, who until now had held the record for running a shambolic administration.

A fresh leadership election will be held next week to choose her successor. The Tory party has decided to change the normal election rules to allow a quick succession -- and avoid a prolonged political vacuum at a time when the country is in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis.

Westminster and the media are already buzzing with speculation as to who will succeed her. A bunch of familiar names are floating around headed by Rishi Sunak, former Chancellor, who she defeated in the last leadership race. Others include Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, and Suella Baverman, who resigned as Home Secretary only on Wednesday after falling out with Truss.

Sunak is seen to be the front-runner -- a safe pair of hands and the least bad choice in a field crowded with mediocrities. But at the moment, it's all up in the air, and nobody has a clue as to what will happen.

Meanwhile, from the moment Truss was elected after a two-month-long bitter Tory Party leadership election, she never gave the impression of being in control. Right from the outset, she didn't have the support of the majority of MPs, having been elected as per party rules by a coterie of mostly old and right-wing grassroots activists who didn't like her rival Rishi Sunak although he had the support of a larger number of MPs. Apparently, they didn't fancy his tax-and-spend economic policy. The colour of his skin was also said to be a factor.

So, Truss started with the handicap that most party MPs were not behind her, and waiting (even plotting) to see her fall. But instead of reaching out to them, she alienated them further by keeping all Sunak supporters out of the government. But ultimately, she was brought down by her fantasy vision of Britain as "Singapore on the Thames"-- a small-state, low-tax, higher-growth economy based on the idea of trickle-down neoliberalism. The so-called "Trussonimics" spooked the markets and as the economy crashed she was forced to sack Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. But pressure mounted on her taking personal responsibility for the mess her policies had created. After resisting for a week, she finally gave in on Thursday prompting calls from the opposition Labour party for fresh general elections.

It is nearly 30 per cent ahead in polls and if elections were to be held "tomorrow", Tories will lose.

(The author is a senior journalist based in London)

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