Saturday, October 29, 2022

Matthew Birchall: Out of office

Another week, another British Prime Minister.

Just 44 days into the job, Liz Truss was forced into a humiliating resignation. After the markets balked at her not-so-mini budget, the Economist quipped that her authority had enjoyed “roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce.”

The good people at the Daily Star took the jibe a step further by launching a competition to see if she could survive longer than a 60p iceberg lettuce from Tesco. A webcam streamed the action to all and sundry. The lettuce won.

Such is the state of British politics.

Some pundits have suggested leaving the lectern outside 10 Downing Street to make the next resignation more efficient.

Others have brushed up on their graphic design skills, artfully creating fake Airbnb advertisements for the PM’s residence. The perfect place for a short-term stay has a nice ring to it. The ideal venue for the office Christmas party would be a fitting throwback to the halcyon days of Boris Johnson.

A personal favourite is a tweet by Alan McGuiness, assistant editor of digital politics at Sky News: “My son has lived through four chancellors, three home secretaries, two prime ministers and two monarchs. He’s four months old.”

And this from the mother of parliaments. Say what you will about the British, but they sure have a good sense of humour.

All of the pandemonium at Westminster prompted me to take a look at where this fits into the grand sweep of British history.

Remarkably, Truss can now lay claim to the title of shortest-serving PM in British history, supplanting the brilliant Tory statesman and orator George Canning (1770-1827). Canning didn’t have much choice in the matter, though, as he died from tuberculosis 119 days after assuming office.

Nor did another contender, the Canadian-born Andrew Bonar Law (1858-1923). He died of throat cancer after 211 days in the office.

This is not really the sort of company that you want to be keeping.

What about New Zealand?

Francis Henry Dillon Bell (1851-1926) takes the gong for his sixteen-day stint at the helm in 1925. Yet Bell was only ever a stop-gap PM following the death of William Massey, and he duly stood aside for Joseph Gordon Coates (1878-1943).

Sometimes lettuce is less frail than human fortune.

Matthew is a Research Fellow at The New Zealand Initiative, focusing on infrastructure and the housing market. This article was first published HERE

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