The UK is facing a serious test of democracy that comes after voter apathy has steadily increased over the years (Picture: Getty/Reuters/Rex)
The country faces a stern test of trust in democracy as the Conservative party sets about finding a new leader after the resignation of Liz Truss.
Ms Truss’s departure from No10 leaves behind faith in politics that is said to be ‘toxic’ at a time when ‘government is needed more than ever’.
Her calamitous 44 days in office were set by the ill-fated mini-Budget after which she sacked her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng as her tenure fell apart.
As Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson are linked to the latest Tory leadership race, the issue of the public’s faith in democracy has come to the fore.
Political commentators told Metro.co.uk that a ‘staggering’ level of voter apathy and disenchantment will only increase if some form of stability is not found in coming weeks.
Dr Matt Cole, a professor of political history at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘Our faith in democracy and trust in politicians has been in decline for some time, in terms of membership of political parties, turnout at elections and trust in politicians.
‘You can go back to Tory sleaze, the war in Iraq, tuition fees, the expenses scandal, there have been a series of episodes in which politicians have seemed to demonstrate their distance from the public interest.
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Liz Truss announces her resignation in a speech outside 10 Downing Street (Picture: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock)
‘The current crisis throws this declining trust into sharp relief on a colossal scale. at a time when government is needed more than ever.
‘One of the problems that the public has is that sometimes the behaviour of politicians makes us despise politicians, but we need politics and we need politicians at a time of crisis.
‘We are at a toxic point of public distrust that could prompt reforms for it to be cleared away or last for generations to come.’
Mr Johnson’s touted comeback comes despite 76% of respondents telling YouGov that they find the last prime minister untrustworthy in a poll covering the period up to August 8 this year.
A bookmaker takes bets for the next British prime minister after Liz Truss’s resignation (Picture: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Dr Cole said: ‘At the current time we have the lowest trust in at least the politicians who are governing us and the greatest inability of them to carry out their functions, and yet the country is facing a combined series of challenges which we have not had for decades.
‘Once we have got through the current crisis there is a long-term job of examining the way we are governed, not just the people who govern us.’
Ms Truss became the shortest-serving prime minister in British history yesterday, when she gave her resignation speech outside Downing Street.
Her successor’s in-tray will include the cost of living crisis, financial volatility and the war in Ukraine. This will come after a week in which the frontrunners, also including Penny Mordaunt, take part in a compressed leadership race involving rival camps who clashed in the final days of Mr Johnson’s time in Downing Street.
Dr Matt Cole said that the incoming prime minister faces a high level of public distrust in politics (Picture: Dr Matt Cole/University of Birmingham)
Dr Laura Gelhaus, a teaching fellow in politics at the University of Warwick, said: ‘We find ourselves in an incredibly serious situation including an economic crisis and war in Europe with Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
‘We can draw parallels between Boris Johnson holidaying in the Caribbean and the Winter of Discontent, when Prime Minister James Callaghan became associated with the “crisis what crisis?” headline.
‘There is a very short turnaround of a week to find our third prime minister this year and unless it is Boris Johnson there will be another prime minister who isn’t democratically legitimated.
‘The most serious thing is the lack of democratic legitimacy in the process, which can further alienate the electorate.
‘There are already staggering levels of voter apathy; in 2020, about a quarter of people surveyed thought democracy was working badly in the UK and I don’t think these numbers have improved.
‘In the global context, if there’s a fight between autocratic regimes and democratic countries and voters in the democratic countries are increasingly disillusioned with democracy at home then that is a grave concern.’
In her resignation speech, which followed a series of financial shocks and policy U-turns, Ms Truss said: ‘I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party’.
She will remain in post until a successor is chosen through the leadership contest, scheduled to be completed by next Friday.
‘The Conservatives need to find a unity candidate who can turn the party away from this democratic backsliding,’ Dr Gelhaus said.
‘Voter apathy is part of a longer process which has increased in response to politicians’ actions and how transparent and serious they are perceived by the public to be. The current crisis is a test of how strong the constitutional order and the relevant institutions really are.
Dr Laura Gelhaus said the leadership content is taking place against a backdrop of huge voter discontent (Picture: Dr Laura Gelhaus/University of Warwick)
‘There are so many moving parts and, although it’s difficult to say, there’s a question of whether we will see large-scale protests at some point.
‘With a crisis like this, there’s a question as to why this has not already happened in London and other cities. However, with the legislation on protesting as it stands at the moment, I am not sure that is what we will see.
‘What is clear is the country stands at a crisis point where the Conservative party will need to win back some faith in the democratic system.’
Labour has demanded that an immediate General Election is held to give voters the final say in who leads the country.
A petition on the parliament.uk website demanding a poll is fast approaching a million signatures as of this afternoon.
The process to replace Ms Truss is underway with nominations being taken before the deadline of 2pm on Monday.
Candidates will need at least a minimum of 100 nominations from Conservative MPs, with a maximum of three going forward before the winner is declared on October 28.
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The next prime minister is said to be facing ‘toxic’ levels of public apathy and distrust in politics.