by Ryan Hoi Kit Leung
Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who earlier announced his intention to run for the Conservative Party leadership, became the United Kingdom’s (UK) latest Prime Minister as his predecessor Liz Truss resigned over economic struggles. For all Britons, there has been a steady trend of replacements of national leaders and key officials for months. In the second half of 2022, Britain had two monarchs, three prime ministers, and four chancellors. Many senior officials, including Sunak himself, resigned earlier to protect their political careers before scandals and economic disaster, citing disagreements with the party leader. However, this frequent change of power indicates that the UK is going through a political crisis.
A similar struggle occurs in the country’s economy. The mini-budget launched by Truss and former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng promised a series of unfunded tax cuts, as the Bank of England came forward with a warning of economic recession. The market is also turbulent because of this extreme policy. The entire British economy faces a crisis not seen since the financial crisis of 2008. Under this dual crisis of politics and economic governance, the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party have again called for an early general election to replace the leadership by public, democratic means. But will this proposal actually develop in reality?
Conservatives will continue to rule
The new leader, who took office on the 25th October 2022, has confirmed in his first meeting with Conservative legislators that there will be no early election, promising to prioritise the stabilisation of the economy and deliver on economic promises made in the 2019 election mandate. The governing body is well aware that holding a general election is bound to face a major defeat. After all, the political turmoil in the past few months has destroyed public confidence in the ruling party. According to local polls, the support rate of the Conservative Party led by Truss has plummeted. On the contrary, the Labour Party has obtained more than half of the support rate as an Opposition party, leaving the Conservative Party by 33 points at its peak.
In addition, the long-term rule of the Conservative Party may lead to general apathy from the public. The British Conservative Party has held office for 12 years, during which it seemingly lost its way after the complete Brexit, while seeing its internal conflict intensify. Looking at its list of Prime Ministers, David Cameron first launched the Brexit referendum after a five-year coalition government and the unsatisfactory result split the party into two rows. Later, Theresa May took office and planned to clean up the mess, but stagnation in her Brexit work forced her to quit. Then, Boris Johnson won the majority of seats in the 2019 general election, which finally brought an end to Brexit, but finally fell due to scandals of the “Partygate” during the lockdown and a series of disciplinary misconducts at the party. Lastly, Truss resigned after 44 days in office due to her failure of managing the economy. The above-mentioned prime ministers tried to make a name for themselves but all ended catastrophically. British political parties themselves are rarely in power for more than a decade, and the Conservative Party, which has been in power for 12 years, is undoubtedly in a last-ditch battle.
In the face of this negative political performance, undoubtedly, the Conservative Party is really in dire straits. But the newly appointed leader has no option to quit. The next national election is already scheduled for January 2025, which means the Conservative Party still has more than two years to win back the hearts and minds of the British people. It appears his strategy to salvage its popularity can be seen in his insistence on using Johnson’s political blueprint for 2019. In addition, during the party leadership election, Sunak successfully predicted the fatal consequences of the tax cut economic policy that Truss vouched to implement. At least for Conservative Party supporters, his leadership may provide stability to the current economy.
What if the UK had an early general election?
Now, let’s assume that Sunak holds an early general election on the grounds of pursuing the spirit of democracy. What impact will it have on the entire British political situation? As mentioned above, the Conservative Party is bound to be defeated, losing more than half of its seats. According to current poll estimates, Labour will win a near-outright majority of 453 seats out of 650. They will also reclaim the “red wall”, Labour’s northern England stronghold that was lost in 2019. Under this absolute dominance, the Labour Party can pass any laws and completely control the entire British political stage. In the earlier Labour Party’s annual conference, Sir Keir Stamer, the party’s leader, promised to set up a state-owned energy company to deal with the energy crisis, increase investment in the public healthcare system, and set up a task force to deal with inflation. Conversely, the Conservatives will lose 274 seats, down from 365 in 2019 to 91. In Britain’s two-party system, losing such an amount of seats would severely damage the party’s political influence. Assuming Labour governed popularly, it will be even more difficult for the Conservatives to strike back. Hence, there is a real chance that a general election could destroy the Conservative Party’s foothold in British politics.
But it’s also worth paying attention to Labour’s internal politics. As a relatively centrist force in the party, Stamer has not yet been able to fully unify the left-wing forces influenced by the former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, leaving the Labour Party in a split state. If Labour wins the general election, the influx of new legislators may break up the power struggle within Labour. If the more realistic leftists led by Stamer succeed in consolidating power, they may be able to bring the image of Labour’s communism back to a near-middle political spectrum. But if Corbyn and others succeed in returning to power, their socialist policies could repeat a similar economic devastation to the recessing economy.