Britain soaks in global ridicule as lettuce outlasts former PM Truss

Photo credit: John Nyaga | Nation Media Group

While some African leaders have previously been known to stay in power until they get into, well, a vegetative state, being beaten by a lettuce in a bizarre tabloid-inspired staying power contest has never been the distinguishing characteristic of a British Prime Minister.

But as she proved predictions right and resigned — before her competitor, the lettuce, went bad— just 44 days after taking over, Liz Truss not only became the shortest serving PM but also exposed the British political system to ridicule and scrutiny following an unprecedented high turnover at Number 10 Downing Street.  

The Westminster system of government has been held as a model across the world for decades, but the chaos and confusion in recent years, especially in the last few weeks, has had many gleeful watchers and commentators across the world.  With the European country (but no longer a European Union member) set to have its fifth prime minister since 2016, some commentators think “political stability” has “brexited” “Britain”.

The party in power, currently the Conservatives, has the right to choose the prime minister before a scheduled General Election—unless they opt for a snap poll that involves all voters when the prime minister quits, as Ms Truss recently did or Boris Johnson a few months ago, MPs and eventually party members typically vote for another.

The last General Election was held on December 12, 2019 and the next is slated to take place in early 2025 “unless Parliament is dissolved sooner by the King” as indicated on the British Parliament’s website. That means there is room for a couple more new faces at 10 Downing Street.

Nation columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo is among those who have jokingly observed that Africa should consider “lending” a leader to Britain “to stabilise things there”. In a tweet on Thursday, he provided a list of possible African presidents who can do the job, and keen readers noticed that he cheekily omitted the longest-serving African leaders.

“We need to give them one of the most experienced leaders,” quipped Patrick Rutagwera, light-heartedly supporting Mr Onyango-Obbo.

“Considering the high turnover of leaders they’ve had in the last couple of years, the old man with a hat (Yoweri Museveni of Uganda) could teach them a thing or two about longevity,” replied Henry Kuria. But the old man with a hat was, unfortunately for Britain, not in Mr Onyango-Obbo’s list.

But others like Dan Ojowa thought it was a good example Ms Truss set: “This is called democracy ... Kenya and Africa need to learn a lot; a President who can’t deliver is worth no additional day in office.”

Like a lettuce leaf in a sandwich, Ms Truss’ resignation offered fresh material for people to chew, especially on the humorous side.

One commentator made light of what it means to be the British Prime Minister these days, and it started with a tweet that read: “Can someone please check the duty rota to see if you are the prime minister this afternoon and make sure you are there if you are.”

One of the most liked responses to the tweet read: “Can the last prime minister in the building turn the lights out?”

The Daily Star, which was the tabloid behind the lettuce stunt (it was livestreaming the lettuce as a clock on the side counted down) had “lettuce rejoice” as its headline for the edition that covered Ms Truss’ resignation.

The Guardian, in an email sent out on Friday to call for financial support, had an interesting line as the subject: “Support journalism that lasts longer than a British prime minister.”

There is also a mock advertisement calling people to apply for the prime minister position, which says that applicants should not worry about having a low IQ and the successful candidate “must be lacking in integrity, moral fortitude and shame”.

“Not ready to make the change? That’s okay,” it says in part.

A day before she resigned, Ms Truss had said at a questioning session that she is a “fighter,  not a quitter”. But she would quit the next day, becoming Britain’s shortest-serving premier. The previous record holder had served for 119 days when he left office in 1827.

Other politicians before have used the same line but crumbled soon afterwards. They include Theresa May and Richard Nixon. It appears that by the time a politician says so, the trusses that are supporting his or her reign are on the brink of collapse.

So, if a politician tells you “I’m a fighter, not a quitter”, lettuce hope that you will Truss but verify.