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UK’s Labour sweeps to power as Rishi Sunak concedes election defeat

Keir Starmer will be Britain’s next prime minister with his centre left Labour Party expected to win a huge majority in a parliamentary election, ending 14 years of often tumultuous Conservative government by trouncing Rishi Sunak’s party.

With many results still to be announced from Thursday’s vote, centre-left Labour has already won more than 326 of the 650 seats in parliament, with an exit poll suggesting it would capture about 410.

On a humiliating night for Sunak, the Conservatives have so far only won 70 and were predicted to suffer the worst performance in the party’s long history with voters punishing them for a cost of living crisis, failing public services, and a series of scandals.

“Tonight, people here and around the country have spoken and they’re ready for change, to end the politics of performance, a return to politics as public service,” Starmer said after winning his seat in London.

“The change begins right here … You have voted. It is now time for us to deliver.”

Keir Starmer and Victoria Starmer

Keir Starmer, leader of Britain’s Labour Party and his wife Victoria Starmer attend a reception to celebrate Starmer’s win in the election, at Tate Modern, in London, Britain, July 5, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

Sunak conceded defeat and said he had called Starmer to congratulate him on his victory.

“Today power will change hands in a peaceful and orderly manner, with goodwill on all sides,” he said after regaining his seat. “There is much to learn and reflect on and I take responsibility for the loss to the many good hardworking Conservative candidates … I am sorry.”

Despite his convincing victory, polls have suggested there is little enthusiasm for Starmer or his party, and he comes to power at a time when the country is facing a series of daunting challenges.

Britain’s tax burden is set to hit its highest since just after World War Two, net debt is almost equivalent to annual economic output, living standards have fallen, and public services are creaking, especially the much cherished National Health Service which has been dogged by strikes.

He has already had to scale back some of Labour’s more ambitious plans, such as its flagship green spending pledges, while he has promised not to raise taxes for “working people”.

Much of the heavy damage to the Conservative support was inflicted by the right-wing populist Reform UK party, headed by Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, who had campaigned strongly on curbing immigration.

Starmer has promised to scrap the Conservative’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, but will be under pressure himself to find a solution to stopping tens of thousands of people arriving across the Channel on small boats.

Within the Conservative party, the recriminations and debate over its future direction immediately began, with some saying its failure stemmed from abandoning the centre ground while others argued Reform had won over voters who felt the party had deserted its roots.

Reform captured four seats, with Farage himself finally being elected to parliament at his eighth attempt, and won more votes than the Conservatives across swathes of the country.

“There is a massive gap on the centre right of British politics and my job is to fill it, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” a triumphant Farage said. “Believe me, folks, this is just the first step of something that is going to stun all of you.”

Keir Starmer and Victoria Starmer

Keir Starmer, leader of Britain’s Labour Party and his wife Victoria Starmer greet supporters as they attend a reception to celebrate Starmer’s win in the election, at Tate Modern, in London, Britain, July 5, 2024. 

Photo credit: Reuters

The rise in support for a populist alternative echoed recent similar results in Europe, where the far right have been surging.

But, unlike France where Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party made historic gains in an election last Sunday, overall the British public has plumped for a centre-left party to bring about change.

Starmer has promised to improve relations with the European Union to resolve issues created by Brexit, just as far-right politicians are enjoying success. However, despite opposing Brexit, rejoining the European Union is not on the table.

He may also have to work with Donald Trump in the United States if he wins November’s presidential election, but he has vowed to continue London’s unequivocal support for Ukraine.

The election victory would represent an incredible turnaround for Starmer and Labour, which critics and supporters said was facing an existential crisis just three years ago when it appeared to have lost its way after its 2019 drubbing.

But a series of Conservative scandals – most notably revelations of parties in Downing Street during Covid lockdowns – undermined then prime minister Boris Johnson and its commanding poll leads evaporated.

Sunak stunned Westminster and many in his own party by calling the election earlier than he needed to in May with the Conservatives trailing Labour by some 20 points in opinion polls, and his campaign then proved a disaster.

“We deserved to lose. The Conservative Party just appears exhausted and out of ideas,” Ed Costello, the chairman of the Grassroots Conservatives organisation, which represents rank-and-file members, told Reuters.

“But it is not all Rishi Sunak’s fault. It is Boris Johnson and Liz Truss that have led the party to disaster. Rishi Sunak is just the fall guy.”

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