Starmer pledges to ‘reset’ Britain as Labor takes over after 14 years of Conservative rule

By Ivana Kottasová, CNN

London CNN  —  The Labour Party has won a landslide victory in the UK general election, sweeping into power after 14 years of Conservative rule on the back of a wave of public disillusionment.

Party leader Keir Starmer took over as prime minister on Friday after King Charles III formally asked him to form a new government, with the politician promising the British public he would steer the country towards “calmer waters.”

Starmer, 61, begins his term with what is one of the biggest parliamentary majorities in British history and is expected to introduce a program of far-reaching reforms.

Addressing the nation from outside 10 Downing Street for the first time as prime minister, Starmer had one overarching message: Change starts now.

“It is surely clear to everyone that our country needs a bigger reset, a rediscovery of who we are,” he said, cautioning that the national renewal he was promising would take time.

“Changing a country is not like flipping a switch, the world is now a more volatile place,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party recorded the worst result in its history, prompting some commentators to observe that the overall election result was as much about British voters booting out the Conservatives as voting in Labour.

The party lost more than 250 of the seats it had held in the 650-seat Parliament since 2019.  There were high-profile casualties, with the short-lived former Prime Minister Liz Truss and several cabinet ministers being booted out by voters.

Conservative leader and, as of Friday morning, former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took responsibility for the electoral wipeout, apologizing to voters in his farewell address.

“I have given this job my all, but you have sent a clear signal that the government of the United Kingdom must change; and yours is the only judgment that matters,” he said on the doorstep of the famous 10 Downing Street residence.

Sunak announced he would resign as the leader of the Conservative Party as soon as arrangements were made to find his successor.

“I have heard your anger, your disappointment. And I take responsibility for this loss,” he told voters as his wife Akshata Murty stood by.

The handover of power is a swift – and sometimes brutal – process in the UK, with the outgoing prime minister replaced within hours of losing the election.

In keeping with tradition, Sunak left Downing Street for the last time immediately after his speech and was driven the short distance to Buckingham Palace to meet the King and hand in his resignation.

Having conceded the election in the early hours of Friday, Sunak was out of the job by midday.

An hour or so later, election winner Starmer arrived for a brief audience with the King. Leaving the palace as the newly minted prime minister, he then headed straight to Downing Street.

The two politicians paid respectful tribute to each other, even though they did not meet in person on Friday.

Sunak called his successor “a decent, public-spirited man who I respect” on his way out, while Starmer praised his predecessor’s “dedication and hard work” and highlighted the significance of him being the first British Asian prime minister.

Many winners, as many losers

While the night was marked by a seismic shift in power from the Conservatives to Labour, other parties scored big wins.

The Liberal Democrats went from winning just 11 seats at the 2019 general election to securing more than 70. Traditionally the third-biggest party across the UK, the Lib Dems have in the past struggled to break through and convert their relatively high vote share into parliamentary seats because of the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system, which favors the biggest parties.

Reform UK, the insurgent rightwing populist party, won roughly 14 percent of the vote but took only five seats in parliament, having split the rightwing vote in many places and further hurt the Conservatives.

The grouping is led by Nigel Farage, the face of the Brexit movement and an ally of former US President Donald Trump. Farage himself was elected a member of parliament (MP) for the first time – after running unsuccessfully seven times in the past.

It was a good night too for the Green Party. While the party stood candidates in a record number of constituencies in this election, its official goal was to win four seats – and it succeeded in all four, managing to take two seats from the Conservatives.

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party, or SNP, had a disastrous night, suffering a near total wipeout and ending up with just nine seats, compared to 47 previously.

While that defeat might put the push for an independent Scotland on the backburner for now, in Northern Ireland the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin became the biggest party, overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP.

Sinn Féin advocates for a united Ireland and boycotts the UK Parliament, traditionally abstaining from Westminster politics. The DUP, meanwhile, wants a tighter relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Turnout nationwide was low, at just below 60 percent – only the second time in the past century that more than 40 percent of voters decided to stay home.

And although Labour won by a landslide in terms of seats in parliament, the popular vote showed the party’s win was not a resounding victory. Labour only increased its vote share by a few percentage points from its dismal 2019 showing.

Reform UK's Nigel Farage became an MP for the first time.

Government-building and soul searching

Starmer began to form his government on Friday, promising the public he would start working immediately. He appointed Rachel Reeves as the UK’s first female treasury chief and his long-time deputy party leader Angela Rayner as his deputy PM.

The new cabinet is expected to mirror Starmer’s former shadow government, although some Labour MPs might see their roles diminished following a poorer than expected showing in their individual constituencies.

Starmer also named David Lammy as Foreign Secretary and Yvette Cooper as Home Secretary.

The new prime minister begins his tenure with a strong personal mandate. The huge Labour victory is seen by many as his personal success.

His rise to the top job caps what has been a remarkable, and swift, transformation of the Labour Party since the last general election in 2019, when it suffered its worst loss in a generation under its former hard-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who, in another twist was re-elected as an independent after being expelled from Labour.

Starmer has moved the party back toward the center, promising sustainable public finances, no increases in income taxes and a green agenda.

King Charles III welcomed Keir Starmer during an audience at Buckingham Palace.

Labour’s tally ended up just shy of the record-breaking majority secured by Tony Blair in 1997. The party’s stance on the war in Gaza may have been a factor, as might weeks of opinion polls predicting a massive Labour win, which may have impacted turnout.

Several pro-Palestinian independent candidates took seats that were expected to fall into Labour hands. Starmer – a former human rights lawyer – said shortly after the October 7 attacks by Hamas that Israel “has the right” to withhold power and water from Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but added: “Obviously, everything should be done within international law.” The party has since become increasingly critical of Israel’s conduct in Gaza and now supports a ceasefire, along with the return of hostages held by Hamas.

Meanwhile, the Tories, as the Conservatives are often referred to in the UK, must now endeavor to figure out where it all went so terribly wrong.

The party has likely paid a price for what are widely seen as years of chaos and a worsening standard of living under its watch.

A notable trigger for that turmoil was the decision by the then Prime Minister David Cameron to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. What started out as Cameron’s attempt to shut down the Euroskeptic opposition within his own party brought on years of uncertainty and infighting followed by Brexit – while many voters still support the country’s departure from the EU, it has caused Britons to be worse off than they used to be.

The Brexit debacle was followed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Its handling in Britain was marked by a series of scandals involving top government officials, including Sunak and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who were fined for breaching the same rules they had imposed on citizens.

A cost-of-living crisis that hit much of Europe and the United States, exacerbated by energy prices sent soaring by the war in Ukraine, was made worse in the UK by the Truss government’s disastrous tax-cutting gamble, which caused a political and economic meltdown and sent the cost of borrowing skyrocketing.

But with turnout plunging to the lowest level in decades, one thing is certain: like elsewhere in the world, many people in the United Kingdom have become disillusioned with politics, losing their hope for a better future.

It will be up to Keir Starmer to convince them otherwise – a tough job given the sluggish economy, war in Ukraine and the Middle East and the unfolding climate crisis.

Related Articles

Back to top button