Yesterday, just after midday, the now ex-prime minister Liz Truss resigned her post, as monotone as ever, making her the shortest serving prime minister in history.
But the story of yesterday’s resignation should not be reduced to the disastrous mini-budget of Kwasi Kwarteng – who as it seems was dismissed to no avail for Truss’ reputation – or the sorry and pitiful manner in which Truss’ hastily assembled cabinet tried and failed to rail in the subsequent bangarang. That story should be told within the context of the hubristic politicking of a Tory party that have allowed twelve unimpeded years in office to lull them into a false sense of invincibility. As is so much the tradition of the universe, pride is invariably punished, and from the high striding strut with which the Tories emerged from the 2019 general election, the Conservatives now crawl broken and humiliated to select from amidst befuddled ranks a third prime minister in as many months.
The news cycle for the forthcoming days will be occupied with that leadership contest, but as the calls around the country for another general election grow louder, it behoves more perceptive observers to consider seriously how we got here.
It was Vladimir Putin of all who quipped last month at an economic forum in Vladivostok that the process by which Liz Truss was elected was ‘far from democratic.’ The state of Russian democracy aside, it cannot be ignored that large portions of British society have been dragged alongside Truss’ failed government into economic despair: a weakened pound, hiked mortgage prices, increased household debt. That circus show was put on with nearly 70 million people suffered to endure it, and only 160,000 fee-paying Conservative party members even eligible to have a say.
The brutal irony is that whilst entitled foreign policy analysts are unable to withhold their excitement at the prospects of democracy in Iran, eager as always to inspire regime change in country’s ‘over there’, there has on the European continent perhaps never been so little faith in the abilities of democratic elections to produce satisfactory outcomes, let alone representative ones. From France, to Germany, to Hungary, Italy and the UK, Europe’s democracies oscillate between populist dividers, and incompetent rule-breaking liars. The classical trade-off for democratic politics has always been to sacrifice representative outcomes for effective leadership. The career-driven rapaciousness and rank entitlement that have marred British politics in recent years have given us neither.
The present crisis is not just one of governance where casual observers can remark snidely that the leadership is clueless, but it is one of democracy too. Many Tories will look to Rishi Sunak to restore their shattered image and will attempt to hide the recent chaos behind a veneer of economic shrewdness. But within the world’s model Anglophone democracies, Trump, Brexit, Boris, and now Truss, serve as damning reminders for those who might forget it, that high-flying times are not guaranteed, and that democracies are not infallible. They are and ought to be subject to critique. If that critique is permitted in a serious way, the world’s peoples must be allowed to imagine alternatives for themselves. For far too long the vision of democracy as at the apex of human achievement has precluded, or at least obstructed, that endeavour.
Gandhi in the Hindu Swaraj referred to the British parliament as sterile woman and a prostitute. Its’ politicians are self-interested, prepared to impose upon the institution as they fancy in service of their self-interest. It is of itself but a tool, subject to the vice of ambition. There is an ethics, that he saw as having been gutted from Western civilisation, to be supplanted by the ineffable urges of a utilitarian ethics that could know no boundaries. Breaking promises, being hypocritical, and seeking aggrandisement are much of what has dragged us to the present condition.
The image of Truss hiding away from the Commons’ chamber behind the defensive stature of Penny Mordaunt is a dismally potent one, a shameful flee from responsibility that typifies the leadership British democracy has of recent years provided. Even in these conditions, there remains little confidence in a genuinely inspiring opposition agenda. If this goes to a general election, the British public will once again be called to make a grand decision between mediocre, and even worse.
These are problems. They ought to be pointed out. They ought to be made clear for the world to see. For those involved in media, or indeed politics, these points ought to be engaged with seriously, for these are dangerous times in the world. It may seem obvious to state it, but state it I must, if only so that those who speak, act, and propose imposition of it internationally may hear it: democracy is far from perfect.