There is no doubt 2022 has been a very rough year for humanity, as the world struggles to keep up with a wide array of crises, including red-hot inflation, surging energy costs, increasing levels of food insecurity and the ever-looming prospect of a global recession. The United Kingdom has stood out among the Western world, as it has been more hard hit than other Western countries. The logistical challenges accentuated after the country’s departure from the European Union made British supply chains more vulnerable during the Coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, which in turn contributed to the country dealing with higher levels of inflation than its Western European counterparts. British energy bills have also been among the ones that have risen the most within the continent, and the value of the pound dropped to its lowest level in nearly four decades. In September, financial analysts projected the United Kingdom was already in the throes of a recession, and the outlook as winter approaches threatens to only get bleaker.
Politically, the country has seen no shortage of scandal and instability as well. Three years after procuring the biggest landslide victory for the Conservative Party since 1983, and achieving the largest parliamentary majority since Tony Blair’s New Labour, prime minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation after the heavy weight of his personal scandals finally caught up to him. Controversy surrounding Johnson hosting parties during the COVID-19 lockdowns at his official residence eventually triggered a mass exodus from Cabinet, which led to Johnson’s demise in July. He was succeeded by fellow Tory Liz Truss, who took office a mere two days before the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Truss’ time at the helm was only momentary, as her government failed to gain traction thanks to a financial meltdown following economic policy announcements and a loss of credibility upon walking them back. After a mere 45 days in office, which made her the shortest-serving prime minister in British history, Truss gave way to Rishi Sunak, who entered No. 10 Downing Street on Oct. 25. Albeit being a historic first, Sunak now faces the challenge of setting the United Kingdom’s affairs in order, and set the country on the right path after a brutally demoralising 2022.
In turbulent times like these, strong and stable leadership in the national interest is of the utmost importance. It remains to be seen whether the Sunak ministry can rise up to the challenge of the hour, but he enters office with record-low levels of popular support. YouGov polling indicated a whopping 82% of British adults disapprove of their government’s record to date. Only a dismal 6% said they did. Furthermore, polling found over three-fifths of the country is in favour of holding a general election. Evidently, the overwhelming majority of British people have lost confidence in the Conservative Party’s ability to deliver for them. What’s the holdup?
Constitutionally, the House of Commons is not due for another election until early 2025. To grasp the date’s distance, that is still beyond the next U.S. presidential election. It is likely a new president finds themselves in the Oval Office before the British people have the opportunity to renew their Parliament and change governments. Unlike the United States and other countries with presidential systems, the United Kingdom’s parliamentary democracy allows for elections to be held ahead of schedule at the incumbent prime minister’s discretion. In British political history, it is not uncommon for recently appointed prime ministers to call snap elections in order to strengthen their mandate with voter backing. Boris Johnson and Theresa May, two of Sunak’s recent predecessors, both did this in 2019 and 2017, respectively. Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown also considered doing so upon entering Downing Street in 2007, but ultimately decided against doing so. Considering prime minister Sunak landed the top job after running unopposed in a leadership election where only Conservative Party members of Parliament were going to have a say, clamouring for one is not out of left field. However, it would be catastrophic for him and the Tories, as they currently poll over thirty points behind the opposition Labour Party. It is therefore only natural for the freshly minted prime minister to stave off an early election as much as possible, to have time to carry out his plans for the country logistically, and to preserve the Tory’s survival politically. If he wishes to prove himself worthy of the office he inherited, Sunak must act, and act quickly. In the months that lie immediately ahead, Sunak must establish himself as a competent, capable leader.
The Conservative Party received the biggest mandate in over twenty years back in late 2019. The circumstances have greatly changed since, and a general election is the fairest chance to provide the British people to decide which way they wish to see their country go. However, considering the incumbent government has a large working majority, a hesitancy to get blown out at the polls, and over two years left from their previous mandate, one can only hope they manage to pull the country back from the precipice she finds herself in. As the market stabilizes and Sunak rolls out his agenda, this “land of hope and glory” ought to clutch any remaining bit of hope to see herself restored to all her glory.
Pablo Lacayo is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in finance while minoring in Chinese. He enjoys discussing current affairs, giving out bowl plates at the dining hall, walking around the lakes and karaoke. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.