The Glass Cliff in British Politics
There appears to be an alarming trend in British politics in which women and people of colour are only elected as Prime Minister in dire circumstances and during times of political unrest, this phenomenon can be described as a 'glass cliff'.
The term "glass cliff" was coined in 2005 by two professors at Exeter University. The researchers, Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam, refuted a report that claimed that when companies in the FTSE 100 - Britain's benchmark stock index - appointed women to their boards, share prices often suffered. Ryan and Haslam discovered that women were more likely to be appointed and thus fail during times of crisis. In addition to gender, the glass cliff has been shown to affect other minority groups, including those based on race and ethnicity.
Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, serving from 1979 to 1990. She is widely regarded as one of the most divisive figures in British political history. Thatcher's policies were not intended to create mass unemployment; rather, it was aside effect of her inflation control policies. Looking at what led her to become PM, however, demonstrates the glass cliff theory in action. The United Kingdom's economic difficulties under the Labour government swung public opinion back in the Conservatives' favour, necessitating IMF credit in 1976 and resulting in extensive trade union strikes over pay demands in the winter of 1978-1979. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the general election of May 1979.
Theresa May was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2016 to 2019. Brexit, or Britain's exit from the European Union, is a textbook case of the cliff. David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister after calling the referendum and Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party's most vocal Brexit supporter, withdrew his candidature to succeed David Cameron. Theresa May was ultimately chosen over another woman, Andrea Leadsom. Nearly half of voters were against it, and many supporters had unrealistic expectations after a campaign based on ambiguous slogans and dubious promises, with commentators expressing they would express their displeasure with whatever she manages to achieve.
Boris Johnson's position began to deteriorate in late 2021, following a series of scandals involving parties during Britain's coronavirus lockdown. Following Boris Johnson's timely resignation as Prime Minister, Liz Truss was elected as the next Prime Minister, leaving her to attempt to fix a government that was already in trouble. Inflation, interest rates, and household bills are all skyrocketing, with significant increases in domestic energy prices. When she took office, the Conservatives were consistently trailing the opposition Labour Party in most polls, and several polls suggested that voters thought Labour leader Keir Starmer would make a better prime minister.
Rishi Sunak was a key figure in the Conservative Party scandal, and he was forced to resign in July 2022. Sunak, who finished second to Truss in the race to replace Johnson as Prime Minister, has now been elected as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom following the resignation of Liz Truss. Sunak will be the UK's first ethnic minority Prime Minister, as well as the country's youngest in more than 200 years, at 42 years old. As we enter a new year, nearly no individual or organisation in the United Kingdom has escaped the cost-of-living crisis. Strikes have paralysed the country as workers struggle with the impact of inflation on real wages, as well as pre-existing underinvestment and backlogs that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. In his first public speech since winning the election, Sunak stated that Britain faces serious economic challenges and requires stability and unity.
As the fifth Conservative government since 2010 takes office, pressure is increasing on ministers and civil servants to address the country's most pressing issues before the next general election. The difficult choices and trade-offs involved in governing a country are more visible than ever. Governments around the world are dealing with geopolitical tensions, pandemic-related health and economic consequences, and climate-related pressures. For over a decade, the United Kingdom has faced domestic challenges. Political unrest has almost become a normal occurrence in politics. So, should we see the election of women and people of colour to important positions of power as a victory amidst a disadvantageous political backdrop? Or is it done on purpose in order for women and POC to fail?