Let’s take a hard look at the Brits and maybe learn a thing or two

Saturday October 22 2022
British Prime Minister Liz Truss

British Prime Minister Liz Truss who has resigned after 44 days in office amid another Conservative government meltdown. PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL | AFP


Liz Truss, the woman who was British prime minister for 44 days, has resigned amid another Conservative government meltdown.

 “I am a fighter, not a quitter!” she had said. Well, a quitter she is, as have been a couple of her predecessors in a revolving-door scenario that speaks volumes of the inefficiencies of the British parliamentary system.

Now she is going to be sitting close to Kwasi Kwarteng, the African she sacked only five days before she was sacked in her turn. When she sacked Kwarteng, she was displaying the instincts of a certain scavenger animal that, upon noticing one of them bleeding, devour the wounded colleague rather than care for him or her. You could say that is rather the very nature of politicians anywhere in the world.

Very soon we will have another prime minister, and that one, too, may be as short-lived as Truss. The leader of Labour, Keir Starmer, thinks this is his party’s opportunity to go back into government, seeing as the Tories have shown themselves to be incapable of governing.

British politics

What I see as interesting, however, is the way the British have organised (sometimes disorganised) their politics, and what some of us, still fumbling about, could learn therefrom.


These frequent comings and goings of British leaders has its charm, although in the past two days or so Britishers themselves have been heard dubbing what happened since Wednesday night “ shambolic, “ “chaotic”, and other terms of self-derision. It certainly is unsettling when you have such transparent bickering and disorder among those who are supposed to provide clarity and stability in such times of extreme economic stress as these.

Be that as it may, one has to salute the healthy contempt with which the British system treats its political grandees. In more ways than one, I find their system of picking leaders quite interesting. It is of course very different from the system in presidential structures operating, say, in say France or the United States. Or in Tanzania.

Naming of a party leader

The naming of a party leader can be quite complicated, depending on how many contenders throw their hats into the ring and something close to a limited general election ensues, involving only the Tories. But, as Starmer sees it, there needs to be a general election.

This is a noisy conversation among a group of the political elite who have mastered how to turn the arcane rules of the contest to their advantage but whose cut-throat eliminatory processes fall well short of the literally murderous game of African politics.

Liz Truss was not Kwarteng’s boss, just like Boris Johnson was not boss to his ministers. The British prime minister is what they call primus inter pares — first among equals. He or she is chosen by his or her peers on the basis of personal abilities, prestige and status among the pubic and has to serve at the pleasure of those she leads.

If he or she shows bleeding, they eat him or her up to safeguard the interests of the hunting pack. I remember it as if it were yesterday, when a group of “certain gentlemen in grey suits” ganged up against Margaret Thatcher and, despite her ferocious reputation the Iron Lady, she could only coil and die — politically, that is. For once she looked feeble and beat.

It is a far cry from the African brand of politics, wherein an individual is catapulted to the top rung of political power, having shown very little or no special ability, but once at the helm morphs into a deity: Omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipresent, which really are attributes of God for those who believe in Him.


In this context, we see individuals who have merits outstripping their boss humble themselves before him — usually it is a man — and accept his insults on their persons and unacceptable stupidities generally, just because he can sack them. That appears as if it is a death sentence.

The kowtowing by these people so often in public makes one wonder whether they ever have families that would tell them, “Stop it, Dad, you are embarrassing us!”

Of course, one has to consider the substantial distance between our politicians and those serving in the UK in terms of personal ability to lead a life of usefulness after political office. It is not as if our politicians do not have the skills to do well economically, it is only because political office affords them illicit favours that they will not access once they are sacked.

Invariably they will use government facilities, including motor vehicles, as if they owned them personally, not bothering about the costs like fuel, maintenance and drivers’ remuneration. Others are simply drunk on being addressed as “Honourable.”

When an individual minister or high-level official considers all the privileges they stand to lose if they take a principled stand that the boss does not share, they’d better ruffle no feathers, rock no boats, and see no evil. In this way we are perennially stuck where we have always been: No movement.

So, I suggest we seriously study what the Brits are doing from now to when they pick the next prime minister.