Rishi on the Lettuce Patch

Partha Chakraborty-

Partha Chakraborty

Few would celebrate if a livestream of half-wilted lettuce named Lizzy inside your home gathers the attention of over 2 million viewers. One contender is Edward Keeble, a video editor at The Daily Star, a London tabloid; he had the dubious honor of hosting the YouTube stream called “LIVE: Can Liz Truss outlast a lettuce?” Somewhere inside his residence, a pp60 lettuce from Tesco had the pride of place adorned with googly eyes and a blond wig, some crackers and a mug (“Keep Calm and Carry On”). On October 20, the evening of the resignation announcement of Liz Truss, The Daily Star declared glorious victory for the Lettuce, disco lights and “Celebration” by Kool Gang provided the background, sausage and prosecco were added to the offering, an image was projected on the side of the Palace of Westminister as the lettuce “made it to the Parliament”.

“I can’t divulge what exactly but there are further plans for the lettuce,” quipped Jon Livesey of the tabloid. With 10 days of shelf life, Lizzy is still good for a salad.

The Economist Magazine, whose commentary comparing lifespan of Liz Truss administration with that of a lettuce spawned the cheeky act by the tabloid in the first place, followed up with another coinage in its most recent weekly – “Britaly”. The idea was to compare the political instability of Britain with that of Italy, and that infuriated Italians, quipped Zany Minton Beddoes, its Editor in Chief. It is curious that all that circus happened under the rule of the Conservative Party, the oldest political party in the world, and known for its discipline in messaging.

At time of going to Press, the leading contender for the position is Rishi Sunak, Indian-origin former hedge fund honcho turned MP and former chancellor of the exchequer; he already secured 100 votes from Conservative MP’s needed to put his name on the ballot. Boris Johnson, former PM forced to quit after a series of embarrassments, tallied 65 votes and then dropped out. Things might still turn sideways, but as of now an Indian-origin British is on a clear path to be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Bravo!

Johnson appeals to a certain base of the Conservative Party. “Boris is a liberator from the moral tyranny of the people who think they know better than we do and tell us how to behave,” says Andrew Gimson, a biographer. “The very fact that some rather priggish people are outraged by his performances makes them all the more enjoyable for Merrie England.”  Johnson also showed the Party how to go for broke, his thumping victory in the generals of 2019 brought him a Knight’s welcome even if the Party went in fearing a ruin. The Economist commented that “With a stable leader such as Mr. Sunak the party faces a certain but not ruinous defeat at the next election, says an MP first elected in 2019. With Mr. Johnson at the helm, the result will be either a wipeout or a thundering victory.”

It is highly curious that the MP’s chose a certain but not-ruinous rout in 2025 over the possibility of a wipeout. I would be hail ascent of a Desi any day, but I am reserving my judgment for now. Rishi as PM does not necessarily bode well for diplomatic relations with India, even if it is a testament to how far Indians have come in the isles. Further, I am not sure if a technocrat with little charisma or vision will right the ship in post-Brexit UK – both for the country and for the Conservative Party.

There may be another reason to suspect Rishi is not on a clear path to success. UK Prime Ministers have acted Presidential of late, that might not suit Sunak. Starting with Lady Thatcher, there is a trend to amass power inside 10 Downing Street, echoing the great wars of the past. Both Thatcher and Tony Blair controlled foreign policy and education policy directly when they were convinced the Foreign Office and the Department of Education were too friendly to foreigners and too friendly to teachers, respectively. PM’s are no longer “first among equals”; they control both the message and the content in a country where increasingly general elections have turned to referendums on individuals or specific policies. All of it is happening without properly resourced “prime minister’s department,” the last few attempts were laughable in their scope. It was a match made in hell, with predictable results.

Presidential aspirations within a Parliamentary system can better function with a big majority, as is the current condition one would argue. One could also argue that Presidential aspirations require a unified command within the ruling party, a privilege Johnson frittered away with his guffaws and petty foibles that cumulatively amounted to a gross disregard for rules and tradition. Truss’ fall from grace competed, and lost, the race for a longer lifespan to Lizzy, the moment she announced a “min-Budget” with disastrous consequences for the markets in anticipation of the policies’ devastating impact. The policies have been reversed within a short order, human sacrifices were tendered, but the damage is done. Technically the majority still exists, but it is lost in the cacophony of bruised egos, bar-brawls inside the House of Commons, and petty sniping outside.

If and when, Rishi will take over a broken country with a defeatist governing coalition. It will be worse when the Labour takes over in 2025 with their misguided policies galore, but we do not know that yet. In all likelihood, Boris stepped out to let Rishi take the fall and be banished thereafter.

“I don’t know why anyone would want the job,” Queen Elizabeth reportedly remarked to Boris Johnson when appointing him the Prime Minister last time around. She obviously did convince Boris. The same cannot be said of Liz, Rishi, Ed, Keir, and other hundreds that will follow. Under the confused, even sorry, state of affairs as it stands today, leadership merry-go-arounds will be the norm, and not the exception.

That is very good news for the lettuce patch, there shall be more where Lizzy came from.



Related posts