The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Britain ‘exasperated’ by head-spinning political changes after Truss quits

People chat at a pub near the British prime minister's office and residence on Downing Street in London on Thursday. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

LONDON — “Quite scary.” “Fed up.” “Just unbelievable, really.”

That’s how Britons describe their attitudes toward the country’s head-spinning political changes, a day after Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister resigned.

“It just feels so confusing,” Louise Barclay, who works in finance, said outside the London Bridge subway station. “We’ve always felt like we had a kind of stable system, and the last few months have been absolutely crazy.”

Many Friday-morning commuters appeared to be grappling with the thought that their political landscape was more shambolic than they had imagined, a little over a month since the death of Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. And politics aside, they voiced similar concerns about the future.

“We don’t feel that anybody’s actually taking action,” Barclay said. “And we’re getting to winter, and the bills are just going up and up and up.”

Liz Truss’s abrupt resignation Thursday, only six weeks into her term, once again opened the race for someone to lead the country through record inflation, forecasts of a recession, and policy questions about immigration, climate change and the war in Ukraine.

How Liz Truss became the shortest-serving prime minister in U.K. history

“It’s a worrying time. They spent the summer going through this campaign of who was going to win, and chaos ensued as soon as she came into office,” said Lucy Waller, who works in event planning and has two children. “And now I worry about what the next few days are going to look like.”

Race for British prime minister is on (again) after Liz Truss quits

The British papers blasted Truss’s brief spell in office. “THE WORST PM WE’VE EVER HAD,” one headline screamed.

Others had already moved on from Truss, featuring the tumult in the Conservative Party, and photos of her predecessor Boris Johnson, whose July resignation after scandals piled up was no less dramatic. Speculation about his return to the helm now has triggered another shock wave.

The left-leaning Mirror plastered the words “GENERAL ELECTION NOW” on its entire front page — a demand the Labour Party and other opposition politicians have called for.

On his way to get a flu vaccine, Jeremy Evans, a painter, echoed the sentiment.

“Thank goodness that she’s gone,” he said. “We need a general election. We just feel exasperated and just really tired of never-ending tumult. They won’t let us have a say, it’s kind of incredible.”

Seething or celebrating? Prospect of Boris Johnson comeback divides U.K.

Under current rules, Britain is scheduled to hold its next general election by January 2025. An older petition for a general election “to end the chaos of the current government” was quickly gathering more votes Friday, going over 700,000 signatures.

Truss took office after being elected by members of the Conservative Party to replace Johnson, rather than a contested general election. She will remain in place during another leadership selection, which her party has said will be done in days, a much shorter timeline after the last contest took around two months.

For Waller, the event planner, it seemed “everything got gradually worse and worse and worse” in recent months while infighting distracted the country’s politicians.

“Food costs are rising, wages aren’t increasing,” she said. “I’m trying to move house, and what would have been quite affordable even six months ago is now really unaffordable.”

Some were more optimistic, like David Ogbechie, a consultant who hoped Truss’s departure would prompt a financial rebound.

Truss had scrambled to reverse her vision for growth, quickly sacking her finance minister after a policy that included tax cuts for high-earners and corporations ended up spooking markets and sinking the pound.

“Maybe things will start to pick up after their erratic leadership,” Ogbechie said. “You can’t really do much worse in a short period of time. They kind of helped bring the U.K. to a bottom already, so the only way is up.”

Michelle Bree, a chef, was less critical and hoped the bid for a new leader would not drag on. “I think there was pressure on her and it was too much,” she said.

But British media was not sympathetic. Late Thursday, the popular BBC program “Newsnight” showed a recap of Truss’s tenure in just under two minutes, set to Rihanna’s “Take a Bow.”

The montage’s background music included lyrics such as “you look so dumb right now” and “now it’s time to go, the curtain’s finally closing.”

The U.K.'s new prime minister

The latest: In his first speech as British prime minister, Rishi Sunak warned his country that tough economic times — and tough decisions — were ahead. The day also marked the end of Liz Truss’s tenure as Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister, after just 49 days in office.

Who is Rishi Sunak?: He competed against Truss to lead Britain’s Conservative Party after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his scandal-induced resignation in July. Loyalists point out that his candidacy received the most support from his parliamentary colleagues. And many of his economic ideas have turned out to be prescient, those backers say.

Why did Liz Truss resign?: Truss came to office with a vision for a low-tax, small government state. Her financial plan tanked the British economy and politicians from the ruling Conservative Party called on her to quit. According to new polling, only 10 percent of the country viewed Truss favorably.

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