The Future of British Politics
After just 44 days in office, Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned from her position in late October. Rishi Sunak, British billionaire and previous chancellor of the Exchequer, in assuming the role after Truss, made British history by becoming the first Asian prime minister. Truss left her position due to an incredibly turbulent and unsuccessful start politically and financially, which can be attributed to a failed economic strategy meant to restore UK markets. Many have been left wondering why the United Kingdom’s leadership has been so unstable and what’s to come for its future.
Truss’ start took a turn when her economic plan was met with backlash and disagreement, undermining her authority and resulting in Conservative Party MPs (Members of Parliament) revolting against her. Truss’ team believed markets would give the country the ability to restructure the economy with 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) of unfunded tax cuts.
This resignation left Truss as the shortest-serving PM in British history. However, she isn’t the first PM to receive widespread dislike. Predating her office, Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson had also been met with disdain from the British public.
Boris Johnson led a much longer path than Truss, but was also forced to step down after members of his Cabinet quit and one of his closest allies, Treasury Chief Nadhim Zahawi, publicly asked him to resign for the good of the country. Johnson’s infamously brash personality allowed him to execute Brexit—which many politicians believed an impossible feat.
Johnson won the 2019 election with the most considerable conservative majority since 1987. David Art, a political science professor and scholar on European comparative politics, noted that at the time of Johnson’s election, he was fairly popular and promised to get Brexit done, leading to a resounding victory.
The sudden lack of public support that contributed to his resignation stemmed from several elements of inadequate leadership. “What happened to Johnson was that a series of scandals sapped almost all of his support,” Art said. “When Donald Trump would have a scandal, voters dip by about 5 percent, but what’s special about British politics is once the confidence in the leader goes, it all crashes.”
Since David Cameron announced that he would implement Brexit in 2012, it has been a major destabilizing factor in British politics to which many other woes in British leadership can be connected. Art explained David Cameron was forced to resign when he lost the Brexit referendum, which he called himself. “[Cameron] could have been a long-standing prime minister, but Brexit cut his career short,” Art said. Theresa May’s inability to get Brexit done also cost her the prime ministry.
After all the political instability—mainly from tensions surrounding Brexit—Tufts students and faculty connected to British affairs are hoping for a leader who understands the people’s needs while following through on their responsibilities.
With the UK on the brink of a recession, economic turmoil has left many people worried. Ruhama Mulugeta, a sophomore from London, said, “It’s so extremely costly to live in London right now, because of inflation and tax increases, and on top of that there are minimal job opportunities available now.” She also described how inflation has caused the value of the British pound to dip to record lows against the US dollar. “You need someone who understands the economy and the financial side of it,” she said.
Mulugeta also feels the UK needs a prime minister for the people. “[The UK needs] someone who has the interests of the public. I feel like [past prime ministers] didn’t take into account all the communities, like the working class, as much as they cared for people trying to get their money up,” Mulugeta said. “A good prime minister [is one who benefits] everyone, which is hard because how can you benefit everyone?”
“The new prime minister, Rishi Sunak—no one really likes him,” Mulugeta said. She values representation in politics, but, despite Sunak being a person of color, she said, “[He] is worse than some. He’s all about making the rich richer and the poor poorer.”
Sophomore Ishika Gupta is also wary of Sunak. “Sunak is similar to Boris Johnson, and Johnson was all talk, no walk,” she said.
Like Mulugeta, Gupta also thinks that Sunak may not have the best intentions when it comes to alleviating poverty. “Sunak was basically evading his taxes and he and his wife got away with millions of pounds for nothing. He’s a billionaire.”
In April 2022, it was found that Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, had potentially evaded up to £20 million in UK tax by being non-domiciled and paid £30 thousand a year to keep the status.
In addition to economic matters, Gupta was dissatisfied with the past prime minister’s treatment of her home country of India. She is looking to Sunak to follow through on his word. Past prime ministers like Johnson “did nothing that he said, absolutely nothing,” Gupta said. This inaction with India contributed to Johnson’s low public approval at the time of his departure—which Art stated as 20 percent—already unheard of in American politics. Liz Truss’ rating was half of that when she resigned.
Sunak’s public approval rating is going to be guided by his handling of the British economic state. “Hopefully, Sunak just helps restore the economy,” Mulugeta said. “I think that’s what the future of British politics should look like because there’s a lot of classism in the UK, and I feel like that’s something that needs to be fixed.”
Sunak is considered politically left of Liz Truss, but they are both right-leaning, free-market conservatives. “The main difference between the two is that Sunak criticized Truss’ economic plan as a ‘total fantasy and unrealistic,’ that would result in a market crash. [Her budget plan] was called ‘trussonomics,’” Art said. This moniker was coined by critics, who pointed out that the current state of the financial market would not be able to make Truss’ supply-side and trickle-down-economics-based plan a success.
Sunak is a member of the Conservative Party. The opposing party, the Labour Party, hasn’t been in power since 2010. In November 2022, nearly 50 percent of British voters intended to vote for the Labour party in the next general election, compared with only 24 percent for the Conservative party. Prior to Boris Johnson’s resignation in July 2022, 29 percent of voters said they would go Conservative, with less than half, or 40 percent, voting Labour.
These results indicate a change may be coming in the next presumed election in 2025. “The Labour Party sometimes has dreamy, nice intentions; they are all about helping people, but it can be unrealistic,” Mulugeta said. “I feel like sometimes people think the reason why they vote conservative is that it seems more realistic, and it’s more focused on the economy, so it’d be nice to find a middle ground between both of them because I feel like [Labour Party] is more concerned with people, and the other one is more concerned with money.”
Mulugeta is looking to the UK for a leader who acts with the interests of everyone in mind. “Prime ministers don’t always take everybody into account, and that’s when things get messy. I hope that the future of Britain involves a means to support all walks of life in our diverse communities.”
With extremely low public opinion polls about conservative support in Britain, Sunak needs to rally support for the party through his leadership by the time of the next election in 2025. For the Tufts community, students like Mulugeta and Gupta are hoping for a better and brighter future in the UK that includes everybody, not just the rich and powerful.