Keir Starmer becomes UK PM as conservatives suffer record defeat in huge Labour landslide

Written by on July 5, 2024

Britain’s Labour Party leader Keir Starmer delivers a speech during a victory rally at the Tate Modern in London early on July 5, 2024. — Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) — A change election in the United Kingdom has taken place as the center-left Labour Party won a huge landslide, putting a crushing end to the 14-year rule of the Conservative Party, which suffered a record devastating defeat — perhaps the worst in its history.

Voters have inflicted a historic wipe out on the Tory party that led Britain through Brexit and, with almost all results called, Labour has won over 400 seats, gaining a huge majority of more than 190, comparable to Tony Blair’s sweeping victory in 1997. The Tories meanwhile have lost hundreds of seats, on track for the worst result since the party’s founding in the 1830s.

Labour’s Keir Starmer became prime minister Friday morning after Rishi Sunak resigned in front of King Charles III and Starmer met him immediately after to ask for permission to form a government, a formality that was granted by the reigning monarch.

Starmer is now the first Labour leader to win an election since Tony Blair.

The result is notable as a win for centrist progressives amid the far-right populist surge in the U.S. and many other major Western countries as the British electorate voted overwhelming to sweep out the Tories, blaming their anger at the crumbling state of Britain’s public services and years of political chaos following Brexit.

Starmer only became the Labour leader in 2019 and has dragged his party back to the center ground, wrestling it away from the influence of Bernie Sanders-like left-wing former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer ran on a platform to “end the chaos” and to begin slowly reinvigorating Britain’s services and infrastructure. He has also promised to move away from culture war debates, including Brexit, saying the U.K. will not rejoin in his lifetime.

The Tories, meanwhile, are now enduring what one of its leading figures described last night as an “electoral apocalypse.”

Many of the party’s best-known figures lost their seats on Thursday, including a record number of cabinet ministers, including former Prime Minister Liz Truss who was unceremoniously swept aside, as well as a lead campaigner of Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held his own seat but led a weak campaign after choosing to call the snap election six weeks ago, making repeated gaffes — most damagingly returning home early from D-Day commemorations to do a TV interview. Sunak, the last of five consecutive conservative prime ministers since 2016, lasted just 18 months in the job.

Labour has a number of challenges in front of them now as they attempt to govern the country as the Tories suffered such a massive defeat, in part because of the rise of a far right anti-immigrant populist party, Reform, led by Brexiteer-in-chief, Nigel Farage, who finally was elected to parliament, took huge chunks of the Tory vote.

Also concerning for Labour, despite their enormous majority, the party won a record-low proportion of the total popular vote, only around 35%. That suggests despite a strong desire for change and to give Labour a chance, there is little overall enthusiasm for Starmer.

Starmer now faces a challenge to meet the potential of his huge majority. Unlike when Blair came to power, the U.K. is facing a far more difficult economic outlook and ominous state finances, making fixing Britain’s struggling public services daunting.

Starmer, however, has acknowledged as much, saying throughout the campaign — and following his victory — that improvement will be slow and hard at first. He has promised to hit the ground running, pledging to cut short parliament’s summer recess to start work on his agenda, with Labour saying they will focus immediately on issues like housing, as well as confronting an urgent crisis of overcrowding in prisons.

The more modest promises reflect the more difficult realities Britain faces, but is also a marked change in tone from right wing populist forces rising elsewhere across Europe.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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