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How is the economic and political turmoil affecting Britons?

These are turbulent times in the UK. The cost of living is high, leaving many people struggling to make ends meet, and these past few months have been tumultuous in terms of politics. University lecturer Anne Heyer explains what impact this can have on people's political perceptions and participation.

The current political and economic situation is unique as you can tell by the reaction of the population, Heyer says. 'A good example is the story of the head of lettuce that lasted longer than former Prime Minister Liz Truss that went viral. Even people not interested in politics were talking about it. That shows this was an event that didn’t only concern experts.' 

Less confidence among the population

'The economic situation is also complicated for many people,' Heyer says. Families can no longer keep up with the cost of living. 'This is partly due to inflation, the war in Ukraine and Brexit. As a result, there are great concerns among the population.'  

This feeling - combined with the political turmoil - makes people have less faith in politics. 'Actually, the majority of people would have preferred to have a new election. However, the Conservative Party currently has a large majority in parliament and if they had called an election, they would certainly not have won,' Heyer explains.  

The importance of a functioning democracy

So while it was not in the Conservative Party's interest to call an election, a functioning democracy is an equally important consideration, says Heyer. Public trust plays a big role in this. 'Now the democratic system is being ridiculed,' she explained.  

How the population will deal with this could go two ways. 'On the one hand, it may make people decide to participate more actively in the democratic process by standing for election themselves or engaging in other ways. On the other hand, they may say that’s a waste of time because they can't change anything about it anyway. The result is that they then distance themselves from democracy even more,' Heyer says. She finds it difficult to predict which way the UK will go.  

In the UK, nothing is certain

If there is one thing we have learned from the UK in recent years, it is that nothing is certain. 'We didn't expect Brexit to happen, yet it did. And if you had told me that Boris Johnson would remain prime minister for so long in spite of scandal after scandal, I would never have believed that either,' says Heyer.

What we can be sure of, according to Heyer, is that the government has an uphill task to regain the public's trust. 'They have to make a lot of tough economic decisions,' she says. It remains to be seen whether people will respond well to these decisions. A special role is reserved for new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 'He has to show that he and his government are engaged in good, stable politics. He has a difficult task ahead of him because he has to start convincing the British people of that.'

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