I have never seen such a sadly entertaining mess in a Western democracy – and must I remind you where I come from?Wikimedia Commons

When a Frenchman tells you that British politics are out of control, things have gotten serious. What pops in your head when I say French politics? “Strikes”, “Protests”, or “Revolution”? Because I am French, and therefore obsessed with my country, I typed “Why do the French…” into my search bar. Following results about snails and smoking were “...strike so much”, and “...protest so much”. Yes, I come from a nation that is famous for shutting down at the slightest inconvenience. When I talk about politics with other students here in Cambridge, it usually doesn’t take more than a minute or two until I’m lectured on how we always take it to the streets.

I used to think that agitation in British politics was limited to playground squabbles in the House of Commons, kept in check by John Bercow’s calls for “order!”. Like many foreigners, though, recent political turmoil in this country has made me wonder whether something more sinister is at play. I simply have never seen such a sadly entertaining mess in a Western democracy – and must I remind you where I come from? I find it unreal that all four of your last prime ministers have quit the job outside of general elections. In France, our heads of state haven’t resigned for the past five decades. Sure, our constant protests make us seem like we’re only a misstep away from another revolution, but they rarely weaken the President.

Our presidents have struggled in approval ratings in recent years, with the last two both reaching record-breaking levels of unpopularity. François Hollande hit the lowest approval rating of any French president since 1958, which plummeted to an astonishing 4% by the end of his presidency. Despite protests over the El Khomri labour law attended by over a million Parisians, Hollande was never bullied out of the presidential palace. As is always the case, the whole country shut down. I remember it vividly as I was unable to travel to see my family. Such expressions of mass public discontent have not disappeared under current president Emmanuel Macron’s leadership, as you’ll remember the “Yellow Vest” protests broadcasted around the world and which sent shockwaves to nervous politicians in Westminster. But our presidents simply aren’t quitters. The Yellow Vest crisis has barely affected Macron, who took a strong stance against reversing his policies.

Britain doesn’t just suffer from political instability: it is plagued by a lack of democratic representation

It’s a completely different story in this country. That the UK has seen its four past PMs ousted due to perceived unpopularity outside of general election cycles without experiencing public protests anything like we see in France is startling. The Liz Truss fiasco was an impressive piece of political history, where a Prime Minister and her policies were so disliked that she left office faster than a lettuce takes to wilt. At her lowest, she was twice as popular as Hollande, and yet everyone knew that she was going to leave. If we look past clichés, then, there appears to be greater stability within the French political system than in the UK. Could Britain fix itself by borrowing from France’s playbook?

When our head of state resigns, our constitution calls for a new presidential election within the next thirty-five days. In the UK, the incumbent party gets to decide whether a general election should take place. Until then, party members vote to appoint their leader. This often results in cases like Truss, who was effectively placed into power by 0.2% of the country’s population, or even Rishi Sunak, who ended up running unopposed. Britain doesn’t just suffer from political instability: it is plagued by a lack of democratic representation.


Mountain View

Beware the daughters of Thatcher and hair bleach

If you are living in Britain, I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with the idea that you sit on the throne of chaos along with the leaders that have failed you. But let me end on a more reassuring note: while you may not be able to elect a new leader, you still have more political agency than in most countries. In France, protests occur on a scale unimaginable in the U.K. Videos of violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police often flood social media feeds. But because resignation leads to a general election straight away, quitting is riskier, so presidents don’t. The one advantage of the British system is that if you have a truly incompetent PM, it is easier to get them to go away, either by pressures from within the party, the financial markets or the electorate more broadly. Our presidential system might be more stable, but yours is, in practice, more responsive. Celebrate the small wins — or grab your pitchforks and torches and fight for a few more.