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A leader for life and a prime minister merry-go-round – there’s a worldwide master class in how not to govern this week.
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Liz Truss announced she would resign after just 45 days on the job. She couldn’t survive in power after pushing a fringe tax cut plan that roiled markets and spooked her Conservative Party colleagues. Read CNN’s full report.
So much drama
It’s a story of a leader’s failure to launch and a public humiliation that includes the sacking of her longtime ally, a blistering resignation letter from her Home Secretary and allegations of the literal manhandling of members of Parliament by Truss aides as they tried to block a ban on fracking.
Truss had the shortest-ever run as prime minister, and she’s the second straight leader to fail since the last British election after the disgraced Boris Johnson announced his resignation back in July.
Truss won the monthslong fight to succeed him, but now Johnson is among the Conservatives who could try to succeed her. He is weighing asking Conservative Party members for his job back. Meet the contenders.
The details of who exactly will choose her successor are not yet clear. It could be that Conservative MPs whittle the field to a few candidates and party members pick the next prime minister.
Fewer than 150,000 Conservative Party members voted when Truss was elevated to the top spot in September. That’s part of the British system, where the majority party and not the people pick the prime ministers.
A new leader is expected to be announced on October 28. Many millions of British voters don’t get a say for years, until the next general election takes place in January 2025 at the latest.
When will the British people get a say?
The Conservative prime minister, whoever it is, could call for a new election, but he or she is not likely to when faith in Conservatives is shaken. The British House of Commons could force an election, but that would require the majority Conservatives to turn on their own government.
Johnson called for that last general election, in 2019, at a moment of power for Conservatives. To call for one now, before they have to, would likely hand over control of the government.
The opposition, led by the Labour leader Keir Starmer, can only gripe.
“They do not have a mandate to put the country through yet another experiment,” he said. “Britain is not their personal fiefdom to run how they wish.”
But under the rules, the Conservatives could get another two-plus years before the people get their say.
No alternatives in China
The current British predicament might seem chaotic and messy, particularly to the vast majority of voters who may not have a say in picking the leader of the country until 2025 at the latest.
But the instability of not having a strong prime minister and the ugliness of open failure are certainly preferable to having a leader for life, which is what the Chinese people may be seeing in the autocrat Xi Jinping.
The Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing 20th Party Congress is likely to install Xi as China’s leader for a third five-year term after he earlier engineered the changing of party rules to remove term limits.
One party. No dissent
In China’s hierarchical one-party system, nearly 2,300 delegates are chosen from more than 96 million party members to attend the Congress. CNN’s Simone McCarthy explains that their vote to select a leader is seen as a formality, and the real decision-making is done by an elite circle behind closed doors, long before the Congress begins. Read more from CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter.
There’s little doubt about the outcome of the Congress and little room for dissent in a country that strictly censors protest and speech.
Protest is rare
CNN did report on banners protesting Xi’s continued Covid-19 lockdowns and authoritarian rule that were unfurled from overpasses in Beijing, according to postings on social media.
From CNN’s report:
Public protest against the top leadership is extremely rare in China, especially in the run-up to important political meetings, when authorities turn Beijing into a fortress to maintain security and stability. … Xi, the most powerful and authoritarian Chinese leader in decades, has waged a sweeping crackdown to crush dissent, both within the party and in wider society.
Chinese stocks tumbled in New York and Hong Kong in part because Xi, in two-hour opening remarks, did not back down from the strict zero-Covid policy that has halted daily life in China, arrested growth in the country and continued to warp worldwide supply chains.
The expansion plans of autocrats
Xi also struck a more aggressive tone toward Taiwan, the democratically run island China views as its own.
The US has said it respects the One China policy whereby China views Taiwan as part of China, but President Joe Biden has also made clear the US would respond if China was to invade Taiwan.
The distinctions take on new importance given Russia’s war on Ukraine. Another country led by an autocrat – Vladimir Putin, who changed the rules to stay in power – Russia this week declared martial law in Ukrainian areas it claimed after sham referendums.
Looking at China and Russia, which are not free, Americans can be thankful they have a say in their government at all.
Looking at the UK, a free democracy where voters are likely locked out of choosing their leader for the next few years despite the tumult of multiple leadership changes that read like a farce, Americans might be thankful for their regular elections. There’s one coming up in November! Please vote and feel free to protest!
Markets calling BS on Reaganomics
Speaking of the US election, on Wednesday, I wrote about how Republicans would address inflation if they win control of the House or Senate.
I did not speak to the University of Michigan professor and economist Justin Wolfers in time for that report, but I did catch him just after Truss announced her resignation. He saw some important economic lessons to draw from the spectacular failure of her tax cut plan, which was rejected before it could be enacted.
Here’s what Wolfers said:
“What I found most interesting is that she sort of tried to implement a – supply side would be one word, Reaganesque would be another word – set of policies. That, of course, is very much what certain wings of the Republican Party are very interested in. And one typically claims that markets will like that. You would expect markets to like it. But actually even financial markets thought that these claims that these big tax cuts pay for themselves was just absolute bollocks.
I think it changes the terms of the debate around big tax cuts. The claim that you’ve often heard, particularly in the US, has been the more we give rich people tax cuts, it will spur so much entrepreneurship they’ll pay for themselves.
We heard that talk before with both the Bush and the Trump tax cuts.
And you’ve got the actual people betting billions of dollars here saying that seems like BS.”