“Oh dear, oh dear!” King Charles said when he received Liz Truss in audience last week. Did he know more than the others? At this point, the new prime minister still had her chancellor of the exchequer and her first interior minister. Nobody had any inkling of the new U-turn in terms of content, which in turn was only to last a few days. First came the political announcements, then the cabinet members, and finally Truss himself. On Thursday, after only six weeks in office, she announced her resignation.
Germany once had the Year of the Three Emperors – the British Isles now awaits its first year in which three Prime Ministers will have reigned at Downing Street. A successor will be chosen as early as next week. Labor leader Keir Starmer is calling for new elections, which is understandable given the turmoil of recent months: like Truss, the next prime minister will not have a direct mandate from voters.
But the Tories will be careful not to go that route. Instead, they will argue with the country’s difficult situation, which now needs stability and no elections – and at the same time squint at the polls that have led them to the basement under the basement in recent weeks.
Can the Tories avoid a snap election?
What is now to be expected is what Westminister euphemistically calls a “coronation” – not a lengthy election in which the parliamentary group first shakes out the field and then two candidates have to compete against the party base for weeks. If the parliamentary group agrees on a candidate, the base will no longer be consulted, Westminister said on Thursday. If there are two candidates at the end of the parliamentary group elections, the members can vote online. In any case, the winner should go to the king next Friday to be commissioned to form a new government.
Whether this can bring calm to the political system is uncertain. Starmer’s call for new elections will probably find a wide echo in the coming days. The Tory government seems so burnt out, so headless that not only a change in the Prime Minister’s office, but a turning point in a complete change of power seems necessary for democratic hygiene.
On Wednesday, Starmer made a joke in the House of Commons that, as it turned out a day later, still fell short of reality. He mentioned a book on the Prime Minister’s term in office, which is said to be “coming out by Christmas”. “Is that the publication date or the title of the book?” he asked to jeers from his faction.
A day later it was clear that Truss didn’t even make it to Christmas. Her record is now different: With 45 days so far, she is the prime minister with the shortest term in the long history of British Parliament – and according to a lightning search by the “Guardian” even holds the world record.
Another line from Starmers from Wednesday’s now historic Prime Minister’s Question Time also stuck. “We are a government on hold and you are an opposition on hold”. The only question now seems to be when the change will take place. Technically, the Conservative government could delay elections until early 2025. But will it withstand political pressure to hold earlier elections?