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Why there is turmoil in UK politics

Xn Iraki
 British Prime Minister Liz Truss when she met supporters as she arrived to attend a Conservative leadership election hustings at the NEC, Birmingham, England on August 23, 2022. [AP]

Politics has become a harmless entertainment in the United Kingdom (UK), our former colonial master. If we thought our politics was a comedy, we should think again.

After 45 days, Liz Truss has given up and resigned as Prime Minister, a record tenure in UK history.

But there is more than meets the eye. It’s not just about 45 days.

The last time I visited the UK, I travelled by rail and road to Manchester, Norfolk and London. I would have loved to visit Ireland and Scotland.

I got the impression that the UK is still a very conservative society; reluctant to change despite the winds of change. They confirmed that with Brexit.

They still keep left on the road. In the cities I visited, gentrification is gentle. The old order is preferred to the new order.

The best encapsulation of this old order is the monarchy, the symbol of longevity and resilience of the British society.

Unwilling to change, the British Isles may have to change in a distressing way. That could cost the country its image and global reputation.

The past grandeur of the empire has faded. The retreat from Europe was popular but another attachment to the old order.

Long before Brexit, the UK was a changing society, but reluctantly. Demographically, it was becoming more diverse. You notice that on the streets of London.

This was triggered by immigration from the former colonies. The rules were lax after World War II when labour shortage was a magnet.

The mysticism of Great Britain covered in colony textbooks was another attraction.

The end of the Cold War brought more immigrants but this time richer. Who has been buying the most iconic symbols of British culture, football teams? Without big waves, lots of rich immigrants have been making the UK home. That fact has emerged lately with the appointments to the cabinet.

Think of Kwasi Kwarteng with roots in Ghana, Suella Braverman or Rishi Sunak with roots in Kenya and India. Add Zahawi Nadhawi with roots in Iraq. James Cleverly, the UK Foreign Secretary, is the son of a father from the west of England and a mother from Sierra Leone.

Old order

Could the political chaos be driven by the contest of this diversity? Could 'outsiders' finally lead the UK? That would mark the end of the old order. UK is becoming more like the US in terms of diversity.

But I have the impression this diversity is unwelcome for now. Would we have an Obama in the UK? Remember the prince marrying a black woman?

The other change has come from the death of Queen Elizabeth II after reigning for 70 years. Could she have left a vacuum that politics is filling?

Some could argue that embracing Trump’s populism in a conservative society like the UK was bound to destabilise the political system.

Add the internal forces that pull the country apart. One is the unease in the mostly Protestant Northern Ireland, which chose to remain part of the United Kingdom instead of joining the mostly Catholic Republic of Ireland after their independence in 1921.

Scotland has toyed with the idea of independence. Her distinct culture and voting to remain in the European Union mean the UK government has to keep thinking about that. Remember the Church of Scotland and the Anglican Church in Kenya?

One media outlet has even made a joke of the UK, calling it Britaly because of the emerging political systems that mimic Italy and her short-lived governments.

Let’s not get lost in what precipitated the latest crisis that sent Ms Truss home. It was economic.

The new prime minister came to power amid an economic crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine. To try and jump-start the economy, the new chancellor of the exchequer decided to cut taxes without another source of funding.

This sent bond prices soaring and the pound depreciating. It seems the economy makes or unmakes leaders in developed countries. We shall soon be there, if not already there.

The new chancellor was sacked after 45 days on the job. Sacking the messenger did not solve the problem. Unable to recover her political credibility, Ms Truss finally resigned.

The world is watching the circus at the 10 Downing Street. Even former colonies like Kenyan cannot believe it.

Another prime minister will be chosen, and it's unlikely Conservatives want a general election that would send most of them home.

The reports of leaders partying as Covid-19 was ravaging the country may have irreversibly damaged the credibility of Conservative leaders. That makes it hard to pick a new leader acceptable to all.

Could self-preservation make the Tories close ranks? The party elects the leaders, and they are never vetted as we are doing in Kenya with our ministers or in the US under Senate confirmation.

Could that be why Tories have a crisis of leadership? Could they be tired after leading the UK for 12 years?

They are likely to rally behind whoever is chosen to save their political offices. Who could that be?

I would love to see Sunak or Bravernman; the colonies indirectly have their day at the helm of the British leadership, finally.

That would mark the start of New Britain, perhaps replacing 'Great'. More open to outsiders, more American and more innovative. Will the old order give way to this order? We shall know by the end of this week.

Should we lose sleep over who will be the next UK prime minister? I think not, nothing drastic will change no matter who becomes the premier.

Would we handle such a revolving door of UK prime ministers if Kenya became a parliamentary democracy?

I doubt but we can learn a few lessons from an empire whose sun once never set.

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