Zoë Elyse is briefly serving as The Statesman‘s foreign correspondent in Manchester, U.K.
Across the Atlantic, thousands of miles away from Stony Brook, the British government is not doing so well. The Wikipedia page for “2022 British Government Crisis” lists not one, not two but three crises listed for this year alone. That’s without counting the death of the beloved Queen Elizabeth II and subsequent rise of the less beloved King Charles III.
Back in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned after a string of economic, public health and personal scandals. In British politics, when a prime minister resigns, the replacement is chosen by members of parliament from the same political party as the resigning Prime Minister. This is how Conservative Party member Liz Truss was chosen as Britain’s next prime minister.
Unfortunately, the economic system only worsened. The value of the British pound collapsed. Votes became chaotic and confusing. Members of both the Conservative and Labour Parties were unimpressed. Truss resigned after the shortest term of any prime minister in British history.
British citizens, especially youth and university students, made Liz Truss into an internet meme. Viral tweets spawned joking about the fact that she was the first prime minister to not have an airing of the long-running BBC show “Doctor Who” air during her term since the show’s inception. British news outlet The Daily Star left a head of lettuce out to see if it would wilt before Truss resigned (it did not). As a result, Truss earned the nickname “Lettuce Liz.”
After Truss’s resignation, there were a few days of curious whispers questioning who the next prime minister could possibly be. A popular theory was that Boris Johnson would come right back. Some people demanded that the system be changed and a public vote be enacted rather than only allowing Conservative members of parliament to vote.
The result was rather anticlimactic. Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak became prime minister of the United Kingdom. Two facts about Sunak have spread all over the internet like wildfire: first, that he is the first person of color to be prime minister of the U.K. Second, that he and his wife are even wealthier than the King.
Many British students have strong opinions about the current state of affairs. Tom Edmiston, an 18-year-old student studying international disaster management and humanitarian response at Manchester University, believes that Truss’s brief term was a disaster.
“When she got in, I think she had an element of shock and simply couldn’t co-ordinate the task at hand, alongside having a poor team around her advising the decisions, and a far too one-sided cabinet to ensure the decisions wouldn’t divide the party like they ended up doing,” he said.
Edminston went on to state that Sunak is “the best placed candidate to unify the [Conservative] Party”, further elaborating that Sunak holds many values that are core to the Conservative Party’s belief, hopefully reconnecting members of parliament who felt ostracized by Truss’s decisions.
On the other hand, Jed Simister, a 22-year-old student at Manchester University working on his master’s degree in politics, disagrees that Sunak is the best option.
“He’s completely out of touch and has no mandate,” he stated when asked for his current opinion on the prime minister.
When asked about their thoughts on having a non-white prime minister for the first time in history, both students agreed that it was about time.
However, Simister still disagrees with Sunak’s politics.
“He still represents elitism,” he said.
While having a non-white man as the face of Britain could be helpful in increasing needed diversity in politics, Simister is of the opinion that the improvement is only skin deep.
“Class divides are still present in the U.K. and [Sunak] as Prime Minister epitomizes them … with his personal wealth being so large I don’t think it represents much of a change within the Conservative Party,” he said.
“I think it’s important students take note of what’s going on in the U.K., as in a world as interconnected as ours it is highly likely what is affecting us right now will be happening in your country soon,” Edminston said. “We are starting to see a Parliament that was once full of old, wealthy, white males becoming more diverse to represent the nation — hopefully other democracies replicate this soon.”
Simister agrees. ”I believe that students, and young people in general, need to be more politically engaged because as a group we can make a difference. Even if it’s just turning up to vote, students can hold a lot of power if they just exercise their right,” he said.
At a time when Stony Brook students are voting for their own local government, it is important to pay attention to the politics of other nations and how they can reflect back on the American system. All over the world, students show their power when they use their voices.