Rishi Sunak Swept From Power in a Political Tidal Wave in the UK

Rarely in a democracy is there such a dramatic political turn-around as Britain is now witnessing. The Labour Party, after fourteen years in opposition, has achieved a landslide election win. Labour is set roughly to double the number of its Members of Parliament to 400 or more.

A prominent Labour figure has hailed this as ‘a historic victory’. And Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives are on course to lose almost two-thirds of their seats in Parliament, and when the counting is complete may have only around 130 MPs in the 650 seat House of Commons. That would be the party’s worst ever result.

The result bears out opinion polls which have pointed to a profound change of political mood. The Conservatives are seen as out-of-touch, divided and discredited; Labour are regarded as competent and trustworthy. The counting is continuing and it will be a few hours before the final results are in – but the outcome is beyond doubt.

When all the seats are declared, Rishi Sunak will go to meet King Charles to tender his resignation. Shortly after, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, will be invited to the palace and appointed Britain’s new prime minister.

For Sunak, it is a dismal end to his twenty months as head of government. He chose to hold the election several months early to catch opposition parties by surprise; but his gambit has backfired, and the Conservatives’ collapse is more severe than appeared likely even a few weeks ago.

This election defeat is likely to mark the end of Rishi Sunak’s career at the top of British politics. He will be remembered as the first person of colour to take the biggest political job – a landmark moment demonstrating beyond doubt that race is no longer a barrier to rising to the top. His achievements extend beyond that.

Also read: How Sunak, Great Hope of Multicultural Britain, Fell Flat and Is About to Fizzle Out

He restored integrity to the prime minister’s office after the shame and turmoil of Boris Johnson’s time in the job; he presided over a slow but sustained recovery in Britain’s economic performance; and he achieved a real diplomatic success in resolving a tangled problem arising from Brexit about the status of British-ruled Northern Ireland.

But throughout his time in office, Sunak seemed buffeted by the acute divisions within his party and appeared always to be struggling to assert his authority. He proved to be politically inept, stumbling from one row or policy meltdown to another. His six-week election campaign was described by one of his Conservative colleagues as the worst of recent times.

Sunak faced the huge problem of fighting a political war on several fronts. To his left was his main challenger, a revitalised Labour party; to his right was a new and insurgent political party, Reform UK, demanding much stricter measures to limit both legal and illegal immigration. While Reform UK will not win many seats in Parliament, it has taken up to 15% of the overall vote, most of it from the Conservatives. On top of that, a small centre party, the Liberal Democrats, has run a targeted – and successful – campaign to wrest seats from the Conservatives in some of the more prosperous corners of southern England.

What do we know about the new prime minister? Keir Starmer, a London lawyer, has reshaped the Labour Party, marginalising the party’s left-wing and trying to overcome its reputation as the party of high taxes. At 61, he is – by the standards of British political life – relatively old to enter 10 Downing Street for the first time. He is committed to modernising and improving the state-funded health service, building many more homes to meet an acute need for housing, and ending Rishi Sunak’s controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda in central Africa.

But Starmer is likely to be a cautious prime minister – keen to demonstrate both to the voters and to the country’s global allies that he will be a sound and reliable leader. There will be no lurches in Britain’s foreign policy. Under Starmer’s leadership, Britain will remain a staunch supporter of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion and a lynch-pin of the NATO western military alliance.

And although Starmer campaigned against Brexit, he has made clear he will not seek Britain’s readmission to the European Union. While Labour MPs have at times expressed concerns about creeping illiberalism in India, and about human rights abuses in Kashmir, a Labour government will want to maintain good relations with Delhi.

Keir Starmer’s emphatic election victory has come in spite of low personal popularity ratings. There is no groundswell of excitement about the changes a Labour government will usher in. It’s simply that Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives had lost any credibility. Sunak will now have to decide whether he stands down straight away as Conservative party leader, or whether he stays on for a few weeks while Conservatives consider where they went wrong and how they can regain political relevance.

Among those jostling to take over as Conservative party leader are at least two politicians of Indian heritage. Rishi Sunak may well not be the last desi to lead a major British political party.

  • The Wire

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