British Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned today. She will step down after a week-long emergency contest for a new leader of the ruling Conservative Party, which is an unusually short time frame for the process. In a brief statement outside her Downing Street residence on Thursday afternoon, she accepted that, given the situation, she could not deliver the mandate on which she was elected by the party’s rank-and-file on Sept. 6.
Truss resigned after only 45 days in office, the shortest prime ministerial tenure in British history. Her predecessor Boris Johnson, a mercurial figure, resigned in early July after a turbulent three years in office which were marked in the final months by scandals, including violations of Covid protocols. A series of ministerial resignations finally caused the collapse of his cabinet.
Truss’s downfall was caused by massive public backlash against her economic policies. Her team introduced deep tax cuts that were almost immediately reversed. Displaying an unprecedented unsureness of touch, she managed to alienate the Tory majority in Parliament and the public alike. Just as importantly, she lost the confidence of the markets, which went into a tailspin after her initial tax cuts were announced and which forced her to make a series of U-turns.
The least likely outcome of the political crisis is a new general election. Unsurprisingly, the opposition Labour Party is calling for one. But the Conservatives would be committing political suicide if they agreed to it right now. The Tories insist that Britain is a parliamentary democracy, that they won the 2019 general election with a resounding majority, and that whoever can win the support of the majority of MPs will have the mandate to govern for the remaining two years of this Parliament.
Judging by the immediate reaction of British political commentators, Boris Johnson’s return to the helm seems the most likely option. He remains the most popular Conservative politician among the public at large, and no other likely contender seems to have the capacity to unite the Party which is in danger of disarray. His past transgressions now seem to pale in comparison with the challenges which face Britain in the months ahead.
In these early hours after Liz Truss’s announcement, it may be noteworthy that British bookmakers changed the odds of Boris Johnson’s return to Downing Street from 20/1 to 3/1. Historically, this is a far more reliable predictor of the final outcome than the opinion of the commentariat.