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On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Liz Truss declared that she was not a quitter. The next day, she quit.
And four days later, a new prime minister was announced.
Truss is leaving after only 45 days in office, the shortest tenure of any British leader in history. Her time in office was shorter than the period it takes for a head of lettuce to spoil, a British newspaper gleefully noted as it live-streamed a contest: “Lettuce Wins,” it declared Thursday.
The good news for her is that for her trouble, Truss will receive a pension and an annual $130,000 expense account, the Washington Post reported. The irony is that her premiership ended largely because her botched plan to cut taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations and hike spending on energy subsidies and other programs ballooned public debt and threatened to destroy the country’s pension system, as the Associated Press explained.
Truss’s plan caused the value of the British pound to plunge to its lowest level ever and interest rates to spike, rattling the funds that make sure British retirees can keep the lights on, turn on the heat and live in dignity. As the Financial Times wrote, the funds have their problems but Truss pushed them over the edge as chaos broke out in one of the world’s largest and usually most stable economies.
“She and her first chancellor of the exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, gambled their futures — and the well-being of the country — on their blind faith in the wisdom of free markets,” wrote Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post. “Those markets immediately decided Truss and her cabinet were nuts.”
Now, opposition leader Keir Starmer of the Labour Party as well as Ed Davey, the leader of the country’s third-largest party by votes, the Liberal Democrats, are urging Truss to decline the pension and the perks, the Guardian reported.
Truss would be ideologically consistent if she opted to forgo them. Her economic plans were concocted in secretive think tanks whose analysts seek to implement free-market, libertarian reforms that label the public sector and regulations as the source of all problems in modern Britain, argued openDemocracy. Writing in an op-ed column in the New York Times, British journalist Peter Oborne described these ideas as “detached from reality.”
Meanwhile, members of Truss’s Conservative Party are now preparing to install their new leader Tuesday. Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor of the exchequer – or finance minister – who lost to Truss in part due to scandals involving his wife’s taxes and for being fined for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules, is set to take the helm.
That’s a relief for some who believed that Boris Johnson, the former prime minister who preceded Truss and resigned in disgrace, was set to return. He left office following many scandals that made his premiership untenable, CNN explained. But on Sunday, he announced he wouldn’t run for the position after failing to get enough support.
Meanwhile, Sunak, 42, a former investment banker and one of the country’s richest people, will become the UK’s first prime minister of color – he has South Asian roots. The new leader will face enormous challenges – from stabilizing and also shoring up an economy headed toward recession, to attempting to unite a divided party that has fallen far in public opinion polls, the Associated Press noted.
He admitted as much on Monday, speaking for the first time as the prime minister-designate: “The United Kingdom is a great country but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge. We now need stability and unity,”
At the very least, he might be able to rein in the chaos, for a little while.