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Great Britain’s former ‘natural party of government’ is currently held together only by the will to preserve power and privileges"

Prof. Dr. Klaus Stolz, professor for British and American Social and Cultural Studies at Chemnitz University of Technology, gives an interview on the current developments in the United Kingdom with regard to the resignation of Liz Truss and her succession by Rishi Sunak as the new prime minister.

Prof. Dr. Klaus Stolz is professor for British and American Social and Cultural Studies at Chemnitz University of Technology and an expert on the United Kingdom. In the interview, he analyzes the current developments surrounding the resignation of Liz Truss, her succession by Rishi Sunak, and the current political and social conditions.

Professor Stolz, Liz Truss left office after only six weeks. What were the main reasons for her quick departure?

In my view, there are primarily three closely linked reasons for this: Firstly, there is the purely ideologically motivated economic and financial policy orientation of Prime Minister Truss. A prime minister who acts with outdated neoliberal concepts against all economic expertise and who has already had to hear in inner-party competition that her policies would drive Great Britain to ruin, who is then punished accordingly by the markets, makes a complete U-turn and finally has to make Jeremy Hunt, a proven opponent of her policies, finance minister, has lost all authority. Secondly, there is the division within the Conservative Party. The former ‘natural party of government’ of is currently only held together by the will to retain power and privileges. In addition to economic and financial issues, it is primarily European policy, for example the Northern Ireland issue, that continues to divide the party. Above all, however, a multitude of personal animosities has developed in twelve years of government and post haggling that continues to deepen the rifts enormously. Even a new prime minister will have a hard time with this.

And thirdly...

... Liz Truss never had the necessary qualities for her office. A good head of government doesn't need a Nobel Prize for economics, but complete ignorance of economic contexts is a no-go. Politicians also need negotiating skills and a talent for persuasion above all else. They should be able to talk well and some charisma wouldn'tgo amiss. She completely lacked all of that. That was already known when she took office, but for the 150,000 or so members of the Tories who put her in office, that didn't seem to matter in the end.

After May and Johnson, Truss is now the third prime minister to leave before the end of the regular legislative period. New elections would be appropriate. Why are the Tories resisting this?

This is quite easy to explain. First of all, the flexible British constitution allows it. The idea of a 'responsible party government' is that the population expresses confidence in and mandates a party to govern, which is then allowed to implement its program relatively undisturbed for a legislative period. Currently, there is no sign of the Tories' 2019 election program - or any other coherent program, for that matter. The real reason is the Tories' fear of an expected electoral defeat. This is not just about losing the mandate to govern. Given the current mood, the majority of Tory MPs could also be facing existential issues - namely the loss of their mandate and with it, their job.

What are the implications for British democracy?

Of course, this once again strengthens the dissatisfaction of the British people with politics and with the once highly praised British parliamentarism - and is thus grist for the mill of the populists in and outside the two major parties. But if Labour plays its cards right now, it could also lead to a long-overdue change of government and thus confirm, at least at first glance, that the system is fulfilling its function. However, it is too easy to place the blame for the current crisis solely on the central protagonists, that is, Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, etc. The British system of government is in considerable need of reform. The flexible British constitution was based on a broad consensus among the elite about the rules of the political game and about what one should do in office, but above all what one should not do. This consensus has been shattered, and not just since Boris Johnson's lies and ego trips. The full extent of the misery, however, becomes most obvious in the fact that a return of Johnson was actually seriously contemplated.

As of yesterday (October 24, 2022), it is clear that Rishi Sunak will be the new British prime minister. What signal does his success send to the citizens?

I think that the new appointment alone will have little signal effect. It will depend on how the prime minister does in the next two years, which he theoretically still has available. It is important to remember that he cannot govern alone. Although he was able to rally around 200 MPs behind him when he was nominated, he also has strong opponents in the parliamentary group who still hold him responsible for the fall of Boris Johnson. In addition to the various national and international trouble spots, his greatest challenge will be to unite his own parliamentary party..

Sunak was Treasury Secretary under Johnson and is considered a financial expert due to his professional background. Is it hoped that the financial markets will calm down after they reacted very negatively to Truss' policies and plunged the country into crisis?

The hope is for calm at all levels, which would be a very difficult task for any prime minister. In doing so, he will not be able to avoid imposing further privations on large parts of the British population. But this will be a special task for him in particular. Labour will certainly not tire of pointing out that Sunak himself is a multi-millionaire and that his wife pays tax on the profits from her company holdings abroad.

What can Europe expect from Prime Minister Sunak?

The same applies here: Unlike Johnson, for example - and Truss, too - Sunak personally stands for a course of solidity and contractual fidelity, for example with regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol. However, it remains to be seen how he will deal with the hardliners in his faction - or how they will deal with him.

With regard to universities and research institutions: What is the current situation regarding cooperation between Germany and the EU and the United Kingdom?

Formally, of course, Brexit has destroyed many institutional cooperation opportunities or at least made them much more difficult. The British withdrawal from the Erasmus program, which was not mandatory, is also very regrettable. British colleagues complain about being increasingly cut off from European research funds.

What effects of the current situation are you personally feeling as a researcher?

Personally, I am only marginally affected by this. Research stays at British universities are still possible, even if they are somewhat more difficult to organize. Informal relationships and the exchange of content anyway. As far as Erasmus is concerned, I don't think Chemnitz University of Technology will lose too much. Here it was difficult to organize stable exchange relationships with British universities anyway.

Thank you very much for the interview.

(Translation: Brent Benofsky)

Matthias Fejes

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