LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters Breakingviews) – British politicians like to look to America for inspiration. After a month of political and economic turmoil at home, they would be better off studying Italy and Greece. Those nations tackled previous crises by installing governments led by non-politicians. After four failed prime ministers in just over six years, it’s time for Britain to consider a similar experiment.
Technocratic governments tend to take charge after an elected administration has collapsed, and rule for a short period with a limited mandate. Former European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi, for example, is wrapping up a 20-month stint as Italy’s prime minister, despite never contesting an election. Previous holders of his office include Mario Monti, the former European Commissioner who took charge during the euro zone crisis in 2011. Lucas Papademos, the former governor of Greece’s central bank, was sworn in as head of his country’s caretaker government the same month.
These leaders would recognise Britain’s predicament. Prime Minister Liz Truss’s technosceptic administration recklessly attempted to boost growth by cutting taxes, startling investors and forcing the Bank of England to step in. The government has belatedly borrowed from the technocratic playbook by installing a new finance minister, Jeremy Hunt, who on Monday reversed the bulk of the policies. But Hunt is a relatively recent convert to strict fiscal discipline, and it’s far from clear that Truss will survive the U-turn.
The best way to resolve the impasse would be to hold an election. However, the Conservatives are desperate to avoid a national vote, which opinion polls suggest would lead to a devastating defeat. The ruling party could potentially cling to power for two more years. Putting a non-politician in charge for a limited period therefore begins to look more appealing. Britain could populate a cabinet with former central bankers, retired civil servants, business leaders and ex-European Commissioners. Many of them are already members of the House of Lords.
One objection is that, for more than a century, British prime ministers have had a seat in the House of Commons. Yet this is not insurmountable. For example, Alec Douglas-Home parachuted into a parliamentary seat shortly after becoming prime minister in 1963. Britain could surely find a vacant constituency for a reassuringly technocratic new leader.
A more fundamental concern is that technocratic governments undermine faith in democracy. They often lack legitimacy and fuel support for radical parties. However, Britain’s current government is hardly representative. Truss won the leadership by securing just 81,000 votes from members of her party. Any successor plucked from the ranks of Conservative lawmakers would lack even that slender endorsement. If Britain is going to replace another prime minister without an election, it could do a lot worse than a technocrat.
Follow @peter_tl on Twitter
(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Prime Minister Liz Truss on Oct. 17 apologised for threatening Britain’s economic stability after she was forced to scrap her vast tax-cutting plans and embark on a programme of “eye-watering” public spending cuts instead.
“I do want to accept responsibility and say sorry for the mistakes that have been made,” Truss told the BBC. “I wanted to act to help people with their energy bills, to deal with the issue of high taxes, but we went too far and too fast.” She added that she was “sticking around” and would later address her cabinet of senior ministers.
Truss watched silently in parliament on Oct. 17 as new finance minister Jeremy Hunt tore up the radical economic agenda she had proposed less than a month ago.
Editing by Liam Proud and Oliver Taslic
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.