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Opinion | The UK Election Puts Britain in New Political Territory


With the far right ascendant and the Conservative Party battered, Britain has entered new political territory. What centrist forces in Britain have earned is not so much a victory as a brief reprieve; how long it lasts depends on how well they use it.

The Conservatives deserved the rebuke they got. They were in power for 14 years, with little to show for it other than a damaging exit from the European Union. After winning by a landslide in 2019, the party burned through three prime ministers, lurching from the feckless populism of Boris Johnson to the reckless 49-day libertarianism of Liz Truss to the uninspiring technocracy of Rishi Sunak.

After its own disastrous showing in the 2019 election, Labour embarked on a transformation. Mr. Starmer took over from Jeremy Corbyn — a veteran of the party’s left, a critic of liberal economics, free markets and Israel, and a passionate opponent of the U.S.-led global order — and committed the party to reduced public spending and lower debt, no increases to income taxes and backing President Biden’s position on the Israel-Gaza conflict. Mr. Corbyn, who was suspended from the party in 2020, was blocked from standing as a Labour candidate in this election.

Squint at these results, and you can just about see a picture of a moderate landslide. But there are two things to bear in mind about Labour’s win. First, British voters had a limited sense of Labour’s platform — in part because Labour, so far ahead in the polls going into the election and determined to avoid unforced errors, has presented them with very few policies. The second is that Britain’s “first past the post” electoral system, which, like America’s, awards parliamentary seats to the candidate who wins the most votes in each individual race, rewards parties with concentrated voter bases. Labour, which secured 33.8 percent of the popular vote, has 412 seats, while the far-right Reform, with its base spread thinly across the country, has won four seats and received about 14 percent of the vote.

For a decade at least, the world has seemed to be tilting from democracy to strongmen, free trade to protectionism, intervention to isolation. The liberal global order is in retreat. The American and European response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was initially impressive, but the decade is better defined by the failures in Syria, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the conflict in Israel and Gaza and the nine military coups in Africa since 2020.



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