While the past six years of British politics have brought almost unrelenting chaos, Wednesday was one for the history books — or maybe an occasion to throw the history books in the bin. Suffice it to say, the word shambolic is getting a good workout in the British press.
In the morning, Conservative prime minister Liz Truss, who is clinging to her job after a disastrous first six weeks in office, appeared at the crucible that is prime ministers’ questions. There, she was roundly jeered by her Labour opponents as she tried to explain why she has almost completely reversed her economic agenda with its centerpiece of massive tax cuts, which she was forced to do amid a revolt in her own party and a jittery response by financial markets. She deflected calls for her to resign, declaring that she was “a fighter and not a quitter.” But her political weakness was obvious and ripe for mockery. Even Labour leader Keir Starmer, not known for his comedy stylings, got off a legitimately good joke at her expense:
A few hours after that grilling, Truss sacked her home secretary, Suella Braverman, purportedly for using her personal email address to send an official document — the second cabinet secretary to get the heave-ho during Truss’s brief tenure. (Last week, she fired Kwasi Kwarteng, her chancellor of the Exchequer, for the offense of trying to carry out her policies.) On the way out, Braverman issued a rebuke of the PM, writing in her (forced) resignation letter, “Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.”
Next came a truly chaotic vote, called by the Labour Party, on whether to ban fracking. Although the 2019 Tory manifesto came out against fracking, Conservative leadership initially framed the vote as a referendum on Truss’s leadership. So senior Tories cajoled — or perhaps even forced — members into opposing the Labour measure and, thus, their own platform. There were numerous reports of Tories getting physical with their colleagues:
And allegations of bullying reached the Parliament floor:
The vote went down in defeat, and Tory leadership denied any bullying.
On top of everything else, Truss’s chief whip, Wendy Morton, and deputy chief whip, Craig Whittaker, were reported to have quit — but later it turned out they had not. (During the fracking vote mess, Whittaker had reportedly announced, “I am fucking furious, and I don’t give a fuck anymore.”)
The entire day was summed up by Conservative member of Parliament Charles Walker, who delivered an elegant and furious soliloquy on his side’s failings. “This whole affair is inexcusable,” he said. “It is a pitiful reflection on the Conservative parliamentary party at every level.”
Wednesday’s events left Truss in an even more precarious position than she was at the start of the day. A Tory committee that could set a leadership change in motion is set to meet Thursday. At this point, it seems not a question of when she’ll go but whether she’ll outlast a head of lettuce. Right now, the lettuce has to be getting decent odds.