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Starmer’s Labour wins UK election ending 14 years of Tory rule

Bloomberg • 6 min read
Starmer’s Labour wins UK election ending 14 years of Tory rule
Keir Starmer in London on July 5. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images
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Keir Starmer’s Labour Party won the UK general election and is on course for a huge parliamentary majority with votes still being counted, a result that upends British politics after Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives imploded.

Labour passed the magic number of 326 seats for a House of Commons majority just before 5 am on Friday, confirming a change of government that was predicted for months but is still a remarkable turnaround for Starmer’s party in a single electoral cycle. Based on the official exit poll, Labour is on course to win 410 of the 650 seats, the most since Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide victory. 

It comes with the Conservatives, who call themselves the natural party of government, facing a collapse unparalleled in their history. Some big Tory names have already lost their seats including Defence Secretary Grant Shapps. The exit poll puts them on course to win 131 seats, as Nigel Farage’s populist Reform UK Party took chunks out of the Tory support.

“You have voted, it is now time for us to deliver,” Starmer said in a speech after holding his Holborn and St Pancras constituency in north London. “People here and round the country have spoken. And they’re ready for change: to forget the politics of performance, and return the country to public service.”

Starmer will now replace Sunak as prime minister on Friday, ending the Tories’ 14-year grip on power. The Labour leader has rebuilt Labour since his left-wing predecessor Jeremy Corbyn led the party to its worst performance in more than eight decades last time. When Starmer took over in 2020, it was assumed the Boris Johnson-led Tories would be in office for at least another decade.

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But Johnson’s administration collapsed in scandal, and his successor, Liz Truss, roiled financial markets in her 49-day premiership. Since taking over in October 2022, Sunak tried a series of resets to shift the polls, including scrapping a high-speed railway line and backing away from the UK’s green agenda.

But the polls didn’t budge, and the UK was set up for a political whiplash.

Starmer capitalized on the Tory disarray by tacking to the political center ground where UK elections are traditionally won. He expelled Corbyn, and positioned Labour as the party of economic stability. Rachel Reeves, a former Bank of England economist who will be the UK’s first female Chancellor of the Exchequer, was key to Labour’s pitch for business to get behind Labour.

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“A page turned, a new chapter started,” Reeves said after winning her Leeds West and Pudsey constituency. “We will not let you down. I will not let you down. And I can’t wait to get started.”

Markets have been sanguine in the face of a projected Labour victory, sending gauges of volatility to near multi-year lows across currency and bond markets.

For Starmer and Labour, the result ends a miserable time on the political sidelines as the Conservative government imposed years of austerity and led the UK out of the European Union, triggering political turmoil. The pressure on Starmer to follow up — as Blair did — with future wins is immense.

Yet there’s unlikely to be the same Cool Britannia-driven euphoria that greeted Blair in 1997. Brexit is still taking a toll on the UK economy, and Britons have endured a historic squeeze on living standards in the aftermath of the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Starmer has said there’s “no magic wand” for a quick fix.

There were also some setbacks for Labour, as Corbyn — standing as an independent — held onto his Islington North seat. Shadow cabinet members Jonathan Ashworth and Thangam Debbonaire lost, reflecting how Labour had shed support on its left flank in some areas. Labour also lost out on the chance to take former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith, as an independent candidate split the progressive vote.

The big issue in these seats is Labour’s stance on the conflict in Gaza. Leicester East has the second highest proportion of Muslims for any constituency.

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But five years on from the Corbyn-led nadir in the 2019 general election, Labour is in a position almost nobody thought was possible, albeit aided by an ailing Conservative Party.

Labour’s resurgence was just part of a major political restructuring. In seat after seat, Farage’s populist Reform UK party split the right-wing vote and in many cases took second-place behind Labour. Reform had picked up four seats, with the exit poll suggesting more on the way. Farage himself won in Clacton, making him an MP at his eighth attempt.

“Much of the damage being done to the Conservative Party tonight is done by Reform, even if it is Labour that is the beneficiary,” polling expert John Curtice said on the BBC.

Liberal Democrat gains piled on the misery for Sunak’s Tories. Ed Davey’s party ran a targeted campaign in some of the Conservative Party’s most prized seats. It had picked up 23 and was on course for 61 seats, up from 11 in 2019. 

Meanwhile the Scottish National Party, the dominant force in Scotland for over a decade with its campaign for independence, is on course to take just 10 of Scotland’s 57 districts, down from 48 in 2019. The party has been in disarray after long-time leader Nicola Sturgeon stepped down, its partnership with the Scottish Greens collapsed and the police launched a probe of its finances. 

Past Labour governments have coincided with strong Scottish support, and Starmer’s party was the major beneficiary of the SNP collapse. Reduced to a single MP in Scotland last time, it was on 23 with 27 left to declare.

Labour went into election day with a 20-point lead in Bloomberg’s UK poll of polls, a rolling 14-day average using data from 11 polling companies. The gap to the Tories had barely narrowed since Sunak caught his own party by surprise when he called a snap summer vote rather than wait until the autumn.

It’s far from clear if the strategy could have made any difference, but an error-strewn campaign meant Tories were writing off their chances long before it ended. Sunak has said he will stay on as an MP even if he’s removed or steps down as Tory leader, but his party faces a fractious battle over how to recover.

“The British people have delivered a sobering verdict tonight,” Sunak said. “I take responsibility for the loss.”

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