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Britain’s opportunity

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The tectonic plates of British politics have shifted as they do only once every couple of decades. In one parliamentary term, Labour has gone from defeated hard-left rump to landslide centre-left victor. Its breakthrough reflects, in truth, more a humiliating rebuke across the UK of the Conservatives’ 14 years in power than an enthusiastic embrace of Sir Keir Starmer’s party. But the scale of the majority it has secured under Britain’s electoral system bestows on Labour an extraordinary opportunity, and a great responsibility: to rebuild integrity in UK politics, and to demonstrate that competent, moderate government can still deliver for voters.

Labour’s 400-plus seats give it a crucial opening to sweep away years of chaotic and self-serving rule, particularly in the final Tory term under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. A period of calm stability, of respect for convention and rule of law, of what Starmer called government “unburdened by doctrine”, could begin to unlock the investment so vital to rekindling growth. The party’s parliamentary strength gives it room to enact its programme without being in hock to its hard-left wing.

Labour’s turning of the tables against the Scottish National party is a chance to reinforce the union with Scotland. And, with President Emmanuel Macron weakened in France and Donald Trump bidding to return to the White House, the overwhelming election of a moderate, non-Eurosceptic leader can help the UK to reclaim its role as a voice of democratic rationalism on the world stage.

There is little of the swirl of excitement that greeted Sir Tony Blair’s New Labour, with a comparable majority, in 1997. Starmer’s Labour confronts an exhausted and resigned electorate, with little belief in rapid improvement. The new government’s inheritance is trickier than Blair’s, or that of the post-financial crisis Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010. The squeeze on public finances is more vicious, the tax burden and borrowing far higher, public services in far worse shape.

Labour also confronts a more fickle and less tribal electorate, more adept at tactical voting. A government with a 170-plus majority could once be confident of more than one term in office. Labour’s own single-term renaissance proves that era is past. While the surge in Nigel Farage’s Reform UK reflected in large part the splitting of the Conservative vote, and its deceptive populist narrative, the nationalist party is now second-placed in almost 100 seats.

The responsibility for Labour, then, is to seize its chance and govern decisively from the centre. It must be ready to make hard choices in the national interest. It needs to rapidly pull the levers it has prioritised to kick-start growth, above all planning reform. It should fast-track legislation to restore integrity and ethics in office. It must hold firm to its pledge to be the party of wealth creation — and resist a self-defeating urge to put all the burden of paying to revive public services on to the wealthy and the wealth creators.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, should draw the right lesson from their collapse. Their vote plunged not because they were insufficiently right wing, but because voters saw them as both arrogant and inept. As Labour has shown, the path back to power lies not in veering further to the extremes but in marching back to the centre ground.

Starmer is coming to office with a lower vote share than any postwar government. Yet, along with the revival of the Liberal Democrats, there is some reassurance that after all the turmoil of the post-Brexit Tory years, the centre in Britain — unlike across the Channel — has broadly held. The true yardstick of success for Labour will be whether it still does so five years from now.




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