In the U.K., Starmer Has a Long To-Do List and Not Much Time

In the U.K., Starmer Has a Long To-Do List and Not Much Time
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks on stage at the launch of party’s 2024 general election manifesto in Manchester, England, June 13, 2024 (AP photo by Jon Super).

Even when a British election’s outcome is not surprising, the sudden handover of power that can follow immediately afterward can be a jarring experience for participants as well as observers. In the case of the polls held on July 4, within 24 hours of securing a huge parliamentary majority, a Labour Party that had looked hopeless for almost a decade was already projecting an image of total control under the leadership of Prime Minister Keir Starmer. By contrast, the Conservative Party, whose factional infighting has shaped the course of the U.K. for the past 14 years, was suddenly plunged into a state of irrelevance.

Such a swift transition can, however, divert attention from economic and social challenges that might eventually threaten a victorious party’s long-term prospects. The Conservative Party’s implosion meant that Labour could use the specificities of the U.K.’s “first past the post” electoral system to accumulate a massive 412-seat majority, out of a total of 650, with only 33.7 percent of the vote. But strong showings from the far-right Reform Party, the centrist Liberal Democrats and the left-leaning Greens hinted at how quickly Starmer could come under pressure from the right, center and left if his government proves unable to repair public services in ways that are tangibly felt by Britons in their everyday life. 

For their part, Labour party strategists are acutely aware of how policy failures and political blunders can fatally erode a seemingly impregnable electoral position over the course of a single parliamentary term. Through big domestic policy announcements and meetings with partners in the European Union, Ukraine and U.S., Labour’s leadership is doing its best to prove that it understands the gravity of the succession of crises that, combined with the blunders of their incompetent Conservative predecessors, nearly pushed the British state to the breaking point. For all the strength of purpose these messaging efforts are trying to signal, what remains unclear is whether Starmer’s new government has the resources and political will to sustain complex policy efforts whose long-term benefits might not become visible to an impatient British public before the next elections in 2029.

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