UK Politics 2016-2022: A Turbulent Era of Unrest and Instability


Amidst the blurry whirlwind of the political landscape of the United Kingdom, the sheer magnitude of turbulence that occurred between 2016 and 2022 can be best summarized by a former government official’s cutting remark: “We lost our minds.” This tumultuous period, marked by seismic shifts and political upheaval, was a collective meltdown in a nation once recognized for its stability.

The commencement of this era of upheaval was marked by a pivotal referendum; a game-changing event that dramatically tore apart the prevailing established order of the past 40 years. It culminated six years later with the exit of the country’s fourth Prime Minister in as many years. This climax, however, did not arrive without an intense journey that included two general elections and a global health crisis that ruthlessly tested the resilience and capabilities of the government.

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In the occupation of No. 10 Downing Street, the rule of law was brazenly broken and the silent, unspoken agreements that held the political structure together were trampled underfoot. The “permanent” secretaries, the titans of Whitehall, turned out to be not quite as steadfast as initially believed; evidence of the soaring temperatures between the civil servants and elected politicians.

The turmoil did not stay contained but instead leaked into the heart of the Conservative Party, igniting a fierce internal political conflict whose sparks are still smoldering today. The question of how the ostensibly steady cruise of UK politics become a catastrophic high-stakes rollercoaster ride that left the civil service depleted and the Conservative Party in a state of tumultuous disarray is one desperately needing answers. There is a more pressing question, however; how close did the British state come to total collapse under this mounting pressure and how did its long-standing traditions, safeguards, and incumbent power structures fare under the most grueling period of strain modern UK politics has experienced in a generation?

To address these questions, I turned to the thoughts and experiences of senior politicians, staffers, and former top officials. These individuals were at the very eye of the storm, involved in the crucial decision-making processes that directly affected us all. The shocking revelations unearthed by this endeavour are shocking, painting a vivid picture of a country spiralling out of control.

The pace of events predictably gained momentum and the political controversies grew more volatile. The quiet clashes of the Theresa May era erupted into public scandals, becoming full-blown confrontations in Boris Johnson’s court. Johnson’s reign was followed by the chaotic, alarmingly brief tenure of Liz Truss, the last straw that sent the country spiralling. As our leaders were distracted by infighting, massive challenges were left unattended.

To outsiders, the referendum result of 2016 was far from unexpected. Yet, for the political establishment that holds the reigns in this country, the result of this referendum was a visceral shock that left Westminster and Whitehall disoriented and unstable. This served as the starting gun for a gruelling marathon of managing Brexit and the pressures from the pandemic, a Herculean task on par with the challenges of World War Two, plaguing these corridors of power.

The tumultuous politics that marked 2016 to 2022 did not culminate into a silencing wind-down but rather resulted in an escalating conflict within the Conservative Party, carving the political landscape into divisive factions. The relentless cycle of political maneuvering, the drastic measures adopted by some officials, and the disastrous strategies of others has come together to create a haunting picture of an era marked by unrest, disorder and instability at the very foundation of the UK’s political establishment.

The fledgeling feud within the Conservative Party developed into a troublesome habit of disagreement, resulting in the creation of dangerous political forces that rocked the country to its very core. The result of which was an intensified search for political weaponry and the manufacturing of controversy becoming a more appealing option. The aftermath of this turmoil has left many of the country’s most pressing issues at a standstill, as Conservative hopes of advancing innovative solutions for social care and housing have been stalled by the bitter legacy of the past six years.

The chaos that reigned, despite being quelled under Rishi Sunak, has not fully dissipated and has left a significant impact on its wake. The economy and public finances have suffered, the civil service has been left battered, and an air of distrust lingers in the political atmosphere. After all the drama and turmoil, many citizens are left questioning if any party or leader would truly prioritize their needs and keep their promises.

The entire political system has been shaken to its core, and the era from 2016 to 2022 will probably be a subject of intense debate for many years to come. Despite the towering challenges, the legacy this era leaves behind is one of unimaginable internal strife and conflict, a dark period from which it may take some time for the country to recover, politically and otherwise. From the slow decline of Theresa May to the abrupt exit of Liz Truss, the battle lines were eternally redrawn and the potential for effective governance seems more elusive than ever.