‘At least it’s not the Tories’: Rain, apathy and surprises after UK vote

Pro-Palestine independent candidates and Farage’s far-right party each win four seats as Labour achieves landslide victory.

Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 5, 2024 Spectators take cover under umbrellas as rain delays play REUTERS/Isabel Infantes
Rain poured down across England as Britons woke up to news of a new government led by Labour's Keir Starmer, including in Wimbledon, where a tennis Grand Slam is being held [Isabel Infantes/Reuters]

“At least it’s not the Tories,” my neighbour says as she shields herself from the rain with an umbrella.

That’s the feeling among many in the United Kingdom on Friday after the Labour Party’s landslide election win, or perhaps more accurately the Conservatives’ landslide loss.

Experts are saying voter turnout could be the lowest in more than 20 years – a sign that many have given up on the political system.

The economy is struggling, the National Health Service is overwhelmed and the scandal-hit Conservatives have dampened trust in politicians.

They oversaw Brexit after a referendum campaign that deeply divided society and during which a Labour MP, Jo Cox, was fatally shot and stabbed. They lost support over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic when several Tories, including then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, broke lockdown rules imposed on the nation.

And during the election campaign, outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak upset many when he skipped an international commemoration for the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landing, known as D-Day, for a TV interview. To top it off, Conservative Party figures are suspected of placing bets on the general election date.

For many who chose Labour in Thursday’s elections, they voted for its simple slogan of “change” rather than for the centre-left Labour leader Keir Starmer, a 61-year-old former lawyer with just 10 years of political experience.

Jonathan Tonge, professor of politics at the University of Liverpool, presciently predicted an “apathetic landslide” earlier this week.

While the result may be clear, the future political landscape is far from predictable.

Soon after the results of an exit poll was announced on Thursday evening after voting ended, Rory Stewart, a former Conservative cabinet minister, said on Channel 4 that Britain is entering an era of more radical politics.

At the time of writing, Reform UK, the hard-right start-up, had won four seats.

All parties have campaigned for six weeks, but Reform’s push travelled at breakneck speed after the populist firebrand Nigel Farage announced his candidacy just a month ago – a surprise U-turn since he had earlier said he wouldn’t stand. After seven failed attempts at becoming an MP, he’s now finally heading to the UK Parliament to represent Clacton-on-Sea.

The Green Party secured four seats too – a symmetry that was not lost on commentators.

“The Greens have won four seats. Reform have also won four seats. Yet one party had 90 percent more mainstream media coverage than the other. Ask yourself why,” Evolve Politics, a British left-wing news and current affairs website, posted on X.

Four was also a key number for Labour. It lost four seats to independent candidates who ran on a pro-Palestine ticket. Other independent candidates came close.

“This is for the people of Gaza,” Shockat Adam, the newly elected MP for Leicester South, said after he was announced as the winner.

He unseated Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth by just 979 votes.

The British-Palestinian candidate Leanne Mohamed ultimately lost in Ilford North by a hair’s breadth – 528 votes – to Labour’s Wes Streeting.

Andrew Feinstein, a Jewish anti-Zionist and former South African politician who was trying to unseat Starmer from his London seat of Holborn and St Pancras, also made a dent. He came second to Starmer, whose majority of the vote since 2019 fell by 17 percent.

Starmer’s priority will be stabilising the economy. He will also be eager to restore trust in the political system and show the public that Labour is a united party for all.

“At least it’s not the Tories” is the mantra for now. In the coming months, Starmer might fear people saying, “Better the devil you know.”

Source: Al Jazeera