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Britain swings to the center-left in a historic U.K. election landslide

Labour Leader Keir Starmer celebrates winning the 2024 general election with a speech at Tate Modern in London on Friday.
Ricky Vigil
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Getty Images Europe
Labour Leader Keir Starmer celebrates winning the 2024 general election with a speech at Tate Modern in London on Friday.

LONDON — An earthquake in British politics.

With far-right politics ascendant across the English Channel in France, the United Kingdom has swung in the opposite direction. Official election results Friday showed a landslide victory for the country’s center-left Labour Party — its first victory in 19 years, since under the leadership of Tony Blair.

Incoming Prime Minister Keir Starmer hailed his win as historic, saying early Friday: “Change begins now.”

“We can look forward again. Walk into the morning,” Starmer told supporters before dawn. “The sunlight of hope, pale at first, but getting stronger through the day.”

For the Conservatives — the party of Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson and the incumbent Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — it was the worst defeat in their party’s nearly 200-year history. Prominent lawmakers including former Prime Minister Liz Truss, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Penny Mordaunt lost their seats in the U.K. parliament. Sunak retained his seat but resigned Friday as Conservative Party leader, and apologized to the country.

“I am sorry. I have given this job my all but you have sent a clear signal, that the government of the United Kingdom must change,” Sunak told reporters as he and his wife left the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street for the last time. “I have heard your anger, your disappointment and I take responsibility for this loss.”

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak delivers a speech after retaining his seat as MP for Richmond and Northallerton in Northallerton, north of England, early Friday.
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Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak delivers a speech after retaining his seat as MP for Richmond and Northallerton in Northallerton, north of England, early Friday.

After 14 years in power, the Conservatives were punished at the polls for all the tumult that occurred on their watch: Brexit, which most Britons now regret; Johnson’s Partygate scandal, in which the then-prime minister threw parties while the country was under COVID-19 lockdown and lied about them; and the disastrous 2022 budget of Johnson’s successor Liz Truss, which sent shockwaves through financial markets. Britain now has more children in poverty than any other wealthy country, according to the United Nations. Without London, it’s poorer than Mississippi.

This election also upended the U.K’s two-party system, with surging support for smaller parties. The environmentalist Green Party had its most successful election night ever, winning a record four seats — up from one in the previous parliamentary session. The centrist Liberal Democrats multiplied their representation in Parliament.

And the far-right, anti-immigrant Reform UK Party will enter Parliament for the first time, with four seats — among them, one for its leader, Brexiteer Nigel Farage, who ran and lost seven times previously.

In Scotland, the once-hegemonic Scottish National Party — which has lobbied for Scottish independence from Britain — was decimated, with Labour taking most of the SNP’s seats.

In Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K, the nationalist Sinn Fein party — which wants Northern Ireland to gain independence from Britain and join the Republic of Ireland to its south — won the most seats, becoming the region’s biggest party in the U.K. Parliament.

It wasn’t a full sweep for Labour, though. The party lost four former strongholds to independent, pro-Palestinian candidates,as anger over the war in Gaza led to some shock losses for the party in what was otherwise a triumphant night.
Copyright 2024 NPR

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Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
Fatima Al-Kassab
[Copyright 2024 NPR]