The lettuce has won. Last week, when it became clear that the writing was on the wall for Liz Truss—now officially our shortest ever standing prime minister at 45 days in office—the Daily Star newspaper set up a lettuce on a live feed to see who could last longer, the PM or the vegetable. As of 1:30 p.m. today, Truss is out and the lettuce is still edible. More tinpot cretin than Iron Lady, Truss and her premiership were so short that a significant number of people in the United Kingdom spent a full 2 percent of her time in office standing in the Queue to see the Queen’s coffin. A book charting her surprise rise to power that was due to be published in December will now presumably have to be pulped.
Before she was prime minister, Truss had essentially no reputation in this country other than the popularity of a video from a Tory party conference in which she gave a bizarre, delighted pause after she announced that she was going to Beijing to “open new pork markets.” She’s been a background comic-relief character in the British government since then, noted mostly for her incompetence. News came out the other day that back when she was the justice secretary, her aides used to routinely make up the deaths of various minor family members to save her from having to speak in public. And yet the pickings of Tories that might passably be able to run the country were so slim that Truss managed to get voted into office by Tory party membership when Boris Johnson stepped down in the summer.
It’s real “hold my beer” stuff that Liz Truss was able to follow Johnson’s disaster premiership with something even more embarrassing. It’s going so badly that people online are sincerely expressing concern for her mental health.
U.K. politics has been cursed and grubby for many years, but it has rarely felt so crashingly stupid as it has in these past few weeks. She didn’t even turn up to Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament on Tuesday, for reasons that were stated by her team to be very real and not remotely made up but also secret for some reason, sorry. The cabinet were dropping like flies, and we’ve had three chancellors of the exchequer this autumn alone. There were unprecedented scenes in the voting lobby last night as the members of government who are charged with making sure people voted correctly on a fracking debate were seen physically manhandling people into the chamber, others yelling at people fuck off, the atmosphere of a brawl about to break out any moment. Pure pandemonium, with people at home wondering whether they would watch the football or actually just slap BBC Parliament on and roar at that instead.
What will Truss’s legacy be? Maybe some empty girl-bossery about the fact that she is a woman, as if she isn’t also a vampire who voted against abortion care, appointed the most rabidly right-wing cabinet in recent memory, single-handedly tanked the economy to the point where the Bank of England had to step in and achieved the lowest approval rating of any prime minister in history. A woman so toxic that our longest serving monarch died within 48 hours of shaking her hand for the first time.
And now what? A general election should be called, but won’t be, because the Tories know that Labour would wipe the floor with them at the moment. So another prime minister will be chosen exclusively by Tory party membership, a group of purple-faced pensioners who make up something like 0.2 percent of the population of the United Kingdom. It could be Rishi Sunak, an ex-chancellor of the exchequer who oversaw our disastrous “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign during the pandemic that provably contributed to a surge in coronavirus infections, a snivelling billionaire who has spent much of his time in the public eye standing strategically in photographs to pretend he isn’t 5’7. It could be Penny Mordaunt, an MP who Truss sent in her place to speak in the Commons when she couldn’t face it this week, and who had to explicitly confirm that the prime minister wasn’t “hiding under a desk.” Could even be Boris Johnson, who is now talking about standing for the leadership, which is far and away the funniest possible outcome of all of this and at this point, in the absence of anything useful happening in government in this country—the only sensible thing is to support whatever will result in the best tweets. Whatever comes next will be worse somehow, or I will personally go to Beijing and open a new pork market.
These are the moments that we have had to learn to savor in Britain, the precious hours of schadenfreude between the shame-faced resignation of a Tory PM and the swift election of another Tory PM even more terrible than the one that came before them. So lettuce (I’m so sorry) enjoy it, while we can.