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On Monday, hundreds of thousands of Britons lined up and millions more tuned in to say farewell to their queen. It was a spectacle full of pageantry befitting the reverence reserved for this beloved monarch who died this month aged 96 after serving for 70 years.
But the loss of the queen comes at a time when the UK is already at a crossroads, is being tested, is starkly divided, and now left without its unifying, stabilizing force, columnist Martin Kettle wrote in the Guardian.
“Do not underestimate the upheaval in British life that this dynastic moment will trigger,” he said. “Elizabeth II spent 70 years as a low-key but extremely effective unifying force in a nation that is visibly pulling itself apart. Her passing will remove that force…”
And as the mantle of the kingdom passes to Charles III, so too does the leadership of the country. In fact, one of Queen Elizabeth’s final acts was to accept the resignation of the scandal-plagued prime minister, Boris Johnson, and welcome his successor.
The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, is already breaking with the past. For example, she is fielding a cabinet where either women or men of color – not white men – sit in the top four positions. Kwasi Kwarteng will be Chancellor of the Exchequer, Reuters reported. His parents hail from Ghana. James Cleverly, whose mother is from Sierra Leone, will be Foreign Secretary. Suella Braverman, the child of Kenyan and Mauritian immigrants, will serve as Home Secretary. It’s an extraordinary development in the new Conservative prime minister’s administration. Whether or not that diversity signifies any policies that might be popular among non-white Brits remains to be seen, however.
As the New York Times reported, those three ministers graduated from swanky schools, worked in prestigious law firms or served as high-level military officers. They are “typical of generations of high-achievers” in the Conservative Party, suggesting that Truss will likely be struggling to deal with the same post-Brexit problems that bedeviled her predecessors – Conservative ex-prime ministers Theresa May, Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
Since the United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020 – at around the time the Covid-19 pandemic started – life has been hard in the UK.
After controversies over lockdown-flouting garden parties and other scandals took down Johnson, for example, the most recent crisis involves skyrocketing energy rates that, as CNN explained, stem from spikes in global commodity prices, market disruptions from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and poor political management of the energy sector.
According to Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen, Truss has the character to tackle these problems. She wasn’t born rich like the typical Conservative, argued Olsen. But she was smart enough to get into Oxford University (like her three predecessors.)
But the typical Briton’s electricity and gas bill in October is expected to increase from around $2,270 to almost $4,100 a year, a huge spike that obviously will hurt the economy. Truss is already considering a very un-Conservative plan – to cap those bills at around $2,900, the BBC wrote.
In Conservative fashion, however, Truss also aims to slash taxes and has ruled out a windfall levy on oil companies, the Associated Press added. Her rivals in the left-wing Labour Party immediately lampooned her for trying to have things both ways: More spending and lower taxes.
Environmentalists fear that she will seek to fund her policies by unleashing more oil and gas production in the North Sea and ditching any green initiatives that might cost public money, the Guardian noted, adding that climate change deniers are also within her cabinet.
Cameron, May and Johnson faced similar impossible choices that required them to muddle through by mixing and matching conservative and progressive policies. None survived politically.
And now, Truss takes the helm untested, and also with low levels of popularity and no real mandate – she won the position by fewer than 100,000 votes and without a majority of Conservative Members of Parliament, the Washington Post wrote. At the same time, the public’s trust in government is at an all-time low.
She’s also facing forces unleashed by the queen’s death – namely the future of the 56-member British Commonwealth of Nations, with some countries murmuring about leaving, noted USA Today. Meanwhile, relations are rocky and thorny issues remain unresolved in the wake of the split with the EU, problems that have outlasted two prime ministers.
The issues facing Truss and the UK are numerous and existential. And now, the divided country will face them without its unifying, stabilizing royal force.