Why the UK has a constant change of Prime Ministers

Liz Truss joined a long list of British Prime Ministers who have left office unceremoniously. In fact, she became the third Prime Minister to leave office in four years and plunged herself into the books of history as the shortest-serving PM. She was in charge of the United Kingdom for just 45 days.  

Before Truss, there was former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who resigned after losing support from his party following a series of scandals. Boris took over from Theresa May who resigned in July 2019 after being unable to pass her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. She had been in power for 3 years and 12 days.

The others are David Cameroon who resigned after the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, he was PM for six years and 64 days, Gordon Brown (Labour) resigned as PM and leader of his party after losing the 2010 general election and was PM for 2 years and 319 days.

The quick stays at the have largely been blamed on among other factors the effects of Brexit which has placed a lot of pressure on the country’s economy.

To understand the chopping and changing at No. 10 Downing Street, you have to review the process of choosing a Prime Minister.  

Choosing a PM 

Unlike many government leaders in Africa, the British people don’t directly vote for a PM but the public chooses between delegates of each party to represent their local area, known as a constituency; just like our Members of Parliament (MP).  

The party that wins the most constituencies wins the election, and the leader of that party typically becomes the prime minister. 

In September, just a small fraction of the country’s 67 million people voted for Liz Truss. Around 160,000 people had the final say in choosing the new leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore the next prime minister. 

The initial stages of a Conservative leadership race take place among the party’s members of Parliament, from whom all the potential candidates are drawn.   

The candidates are then narrowed down by MPs via a series of secret ballots, where the candidate receiving the fewest votes in each round is eliminated until only two remain. Each needs the nomination of 20 fellow lawmakers to reach the first ballot.  

In the second round, the final two candidates are chosen by card-carrying grassroots party members.  Anyone in the UK is able to join a party as long as they pay a membership fee, which for the Conservatives is £25 (KES 3,387).  About 200,000 people belong to the Conservative party. 

The Conservative Party holds the majority and has been in power for 12 years.

To date, Tony Blair remains Labour’s longest-serving PM.  

Could the country go to the polls? 

Not unless the new Prime Minister calls for it. The next general election is scheduled for January 2025. But the country has set out plans to install a new PM by 28 October, three days before the scheduled fiscal event. 

Why UK keeps changing its PMs?  

The revolving doors at No.10 have been busy since the Brexit vote of 2016, the fastest turnover in a century.  

The political anarchy in Britain began with Cameron, who proposed a vote on leaving the European Union, and the rapid change in prime ministers began. Cameron anticipated that the 2016 election would maintain the Conservative Party in power by putting an end to a rift over Britain’s relationship with Europe inside his own party. 

The error in judgement was obvious when the British people narrowly but firmly decided to exit the EU. An outcome that not only emphasised the country’s savage differences but also altered the direction of its foreign, economic, and trade policies. Most political scientists and economists projected that this island nation would become poorer and less relevant politically as a result of quitting the EU. 

It became evident right away that the people behind the Brexit decision, including its most successful campaigner, Boris Johnson, had no genuine strategy for severing decades-long ties to the EU in terms of both law and commerce. Political anarchy ensued.  

After the referendum, Cameron resigned, and May took over as prime minister. She made a serious error of judgement when she called a snap election in 2017, which resulted in her party losing control of the House of Commons. 

May had a good start as prime minister, but she lost strength after a disastrous general election campaign in 2017 produced a hung parliament. She consistently failed to pass the Brexit agreement she had negotiated through the House of Commons while leading a minority government supported by the DUP of Northern Ireland.

In September, Truss succeeded Johnson and campaigned on a platform of tax cuts for the wealthy and companies to jumpstart the economy. Truss’ idea alarmed financial markets, collapsed the pound and caused mortgage rates to surge amid 10% inflation here and rising energy costs as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.

Each of these politicians has tried to make Brexit work to no avail. Theresa May tried soft Brexit plus austerity. Boris Johnson tried hard Brexit plus fiscal expansion. Truss tried hard Brexit plus fiscal expansion.  

The challenge will still be awaiting the new Prime Minister.  

Foreign Policy 

The changes at No. 10 have often brought with them a barrage of sweeping claims to shift the foreign policy.

When Boris assumed power, he set forth an ambitious goal to surpass both the United States and France in terms of the amount of money invested in Africa within the next two years, which would require an increase of more than 90 per cent.

Currently, South Africa accounts for 30 per cent of the U.K.’s foreign direct investment in Africa, which totalled $15 billion in 2018.

The relationship between the UK and Africa has been on a decline amid a rise of Chinese and Russian influence on the continent. For example, Africa’s share of UK imports has fallen from 2.1 per cent to 1.7 per cent over the last 10 years.

The environment for trade, aid, and financing in Africa is also changing. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), whose trading began in 2021 despite delays in its negotiation and implementation, presents a significant chance for many African nations to transform their economies and develop regional value chains, reducing reliance on trade and investment with the UK and other traditional partners.

Africa still reels from a UK foreign policy that classifies the continent as an afterthought, prioritising Europe, America, and the Caribbean. Perhaps the best illustrator of this is the fact that since 1989, there have been 21 ministers for Africa, an average tenure of just over 18 months.

Making such investments will remain difficult given the current difficulties the British economy is facing.

However, this opens the door to developing new alliances on the continent and gives African nations a greater chance to expand commerce with the UK as it continues to forge alliances throughout the globe.

Maybe it’s time African states that make up 25 per cent of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the 19 African Commonwealth members used their power to negotiate as a bloc and leverage their power as a unit. 

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