News Editors Choice

UK’s Labour sweeps to power as Sunak concedes election

British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer at a campaign event in Crewe on June 13 2024.
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer at a campaign event in Crewe on June 13 2024.

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 yet to be announced after Thursday's vote, centre-left Labour has 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 and 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 time for us to deliver.”

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 daunting challenges.

Britain's tax burden is set to hit its highest since soon after World War 2, net debt is almost equivalent to annual economic output, living standards have fallen and public services are creaking, specially the much cherished National Health Service which has been dogged by strikes.

Starmer 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 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 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 finally 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  the first step of something that is going to stun all of you.”

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 EU to resolve issues created by Brexit while far-right politicians are enjoying success. However, despite opposing Brexit, rejoining the EU 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, and 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 three years ago when it appeared to have lost its way after its 2019 drubbing.

A series of Conservative scandals, most notably revelations of parties in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns, undermined then prime minister Boris Johnson and its commanding poll leads evaporated.

Liz Truss' disastrous six-week premiership, which followed Johnson being forced out at the end of 2022, cemented the decline, and Sunak was unable to make any dent in Labour's commanding poll lead.

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 20 points in opinion polls, and his campaign then proved a disaster.

“We deserved to lose. The Conservative Party appears exhausted and out of ideas,” Ed Costello, chair 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 who have led the party to disaster. Rishi Sunak is the fall guy.”