By Ofwono Opondo
British politics is such that daggers are continuously held to the back of a leader, and so it isn’t wholly surprising that the brand new Prime Minister Liz Truss has fallen spectacularly within 44 days. Six prime ministers in six years. Three-Boris Johnson, Truss, and the incoming in two months. So, Labour Leader is right to describe the current acrimony as the “revolving door of chaos,” instigated by raw ambition, scandal, ineptitude, and backstabbing by close allies.
In decades past, Margaret Thatcher was toppled by Chancellor John Major. Tony Blair by his Chancellor Gordon Brown and David Cameron lost the Brexit vote, at which point his Home Secretary Theresa May was installed. She was dogged by rancor over Brexit settlements and got toppled by Boris Johnson her Foreign Secretary.
During turbulent 45 days in office during which the mini-budget crashed the sterling, markets, Kwasi Kwarteng-the first ever black Chancellor of the Exchequer got dumped, and Truss lost two ministers and the confidence of MPs. The torrid politics meant that Truss, a NATO hardliner couldn’t find time to fight Russian president Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.
In her stint, Truss looked more like a ghost, and many saw a Prime minister in name only (PINO), although only Wednesday she boasted in parliament “I’m a fighter, not a quitter,’ much like Kwarteng, who a day before the forced resignation said, “Am not going anywhere.”
And now, the Tory club, rather than the mob, is likely to choose the next PM for Britain because, from opinion polls, the people’s verdict could be very harsh, and some would say it’s perhaps a low moment in British politics.
Having reached a destruction point without any coherence, consistency, or principled leadership, Truss by this week no longer stood for anything because much of her plans had been shredded in the many policy U-turns.
The resignation of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary on Monday for using a private email to transmit an official document became additional fodder for the dagger-men because, within minutes, Grant Shapps was appointed to replace her.
Braverman used her ousting to write a letter taking aim at Truss in which she said she had lost trust in the direction government was taking on high-profile policy issues including in her docket, immigration, contrary to election manifesto commitments.
“Not only have we broken key pledges that were promised to our voters, but I have had serious concerns about this government’s commitment to honoring manifesto commitments, such as reducing overall migration numbers and stopping illegal migration, particularly the dangerous small boat crossing,” she wrote in her resignation letter. In her short stint at Home Affairs, Braverman had vowed to toughen and relocate African asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Quite serious if one thinks about politics where allies hold daggers to each other’s chest, and those closer actually drive and twist the dagger even deeper. Shapps, the man Truss installed at the Home office, is a Rishi Sunak supporter, who, during the just concluded Tory conference was a leading voice of dissent against Truss, saying “she needs to go by tomorrow. She shouldn’t have been made prime minister.”
Last week Shapps said Truss ‘needs to thread the eye of a needle with lights off.” In Hunt and Shapps, Truss was probably trying to coble a broader base but couldn’t save her career.
Hunt, the new Chancellor was Culture, and Health Secretary, and previously campaigned twice to be elected prime minister, including last August, finishing eighth out of eight candidates with just 18 votes among conservative MPs, probably the reason he has now quickly ruled himself out the contest.
In typical British politics, Hunt didn’t waste time twisting the dagger into Truss’s flesh by shredding off most of the economic planks Truss campaigned on, and the mini-budget announced by Kwarteng is now gone.
With Truss seemingly under the arms of her captors, many, even those seen as supporters became evidently seen jostling as credible next alternative while gently ridiculing her.
Peggy Mordaunt was defeated in August, but on Monday asked to stand in for PM’s question time in parliament had to tongue-in-cheek tell MPs that Truss couldn’t come to the house but “wasn’t hiding under a desk,” which sent the British media to derisively ask if Truss was probably hiding under the bed or in Boris Johnson’s fridge.
The revolving door of British parliamentary politics appears to suggest that due to personal ambitions, leaders eagerly accept to share their existential futility, often willing to attach their fate to someone even so wounded.
The times of the now-ditched Johnson and Truss leave that impression so ingrained in the minds of many watchers of the ongoing British politics.
As the jostling to replace Truss kicks off in earnest, it’s strange that grown-up women and men can fathom a Johnson electoral comeback so soon when they sent him parking while screaming loudly over scandals only two months ago. But perhaps, maybe, he’s being lured to be finished completely.
The Writer is the Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre