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A landslide victory in Britain for a party that hasn’t been in power since Tony Blair

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A landslide victory in Britain for a party that hasn't won an election since Tony Blair.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The next British prime minister will be Keir Starmer, from the center-left Labour Party, who spoke early this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEIR STARMER: Change begins now.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Literally true. There's no transition in the U.K. He becomes prime minister almost immediately. Yesterday's election was a near wipeout for the incumbent Conservatives, their worst defeat in the party's nearly 200-year history.

FADEL: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in London and has followed this through the night. Good morning.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So tell us about the new British Prime Minister.

FRAYER: Keir Starmer's a human rights lawyer and a prosecutor. As a young man, he actually called for the monarchy to be abolished, but later knelt before the monarch to get a knighthood, and today, he's meeting with King Charles to get his ceremonial nod to form a new government. And as Steve said, he'll move into 10 Downing Street this afternoon. You heard a bit of him at the top there. Here's more of what he said in a victory speech before dawn here in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STARMER: Walk into the morning, the sunlight of hope - pale at first, but getting stronger through the day, shining once again.

FRAYER: He's speaking in pretty poetic terms there about what he sees as a huge mandate, a new era for the British government, power changing hands for the first time after 14 years of Conservative rule, but he faces a lot of challenges - a state hobbled by years of austerity measures, government coffers near empty.

FADEL: Now, incumbent Conservatives didn't just lose; they were obliterated. Why?

FRAYER: Yeah. The one thing that I've been hearing over and over again from voters is that they feel like Britain is in decline, and they're blaming Conservatives who've presided over it. It's been a tumultuous few years of politics here, through Brexit, which most Britons now regret, through a sort of musical chairs of Conservative prime ministers, the worst cost-of-living crisis since World War II. Here's one voter I spoke to at a polling station yesterday. His name is Nick Bailey (ph).

NICK BAILEY: We've had five prime ministers in 14 years. We've had Boris Johnson, who was a complete disaster, Liz Truss, and, you know, we need a change, basically.

FRAYER: He mentioned Liz Truss. She was prime minister briefly in 2022. She lost her seat in Parliament last night. That's really rare, for a veteran prime minister to not even get back into Parliament. Lots of big names in Conservative politics here, including cabinet ministers, lost their races.

FADEL: What about the incumbent prime minister, Rishi Sunak?

FRAYER: He retained his seat. He won his local district in northern England. He also came out and spoke in the middle of the night, and here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RISHI SUNAK: There is much to learn and reflect on, and I take responsibility for the loss.

FRAYER: There will be some introspection in his Conservative Party. This is the party of Margaret Thatcher, that's dominated U.K. politics for more than a century, but British voters have roundly rejected it now.

FADEL: Now, we've been focusing on the two main political parties in the U.K., but there are smaller parties, too. How'd they do?

FRAYER: There are. Britain has sort of a winner-take-all system in each district, kind of like America, so it's a real feat whenever a third-party candidate wins a seat, and that happened a lot last night.

FADEL: OK.

FRAYER: The centrist Liberal Democrats multiplied their seat count. The environmentalist Green Party had its best showing. So did the far-right anti-immigrant Reform U.K. party. And Nigel Farage, who's this sort of rabble-rouser Brexiteer, will enter Parliament. It's his eighth try. But what's notable here is that is the exception. Unlike what we're seeing in France and elsewhere in Europe, with the far right really ascendant, Britain in general took a big turn to the center left with this election.

FADEL: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thank you, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.