Home Uncategorized UK parliamentary elections: Why Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party suffered a historic defeat

UK parliamentary elections: Why Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party suffered a historic defeat


Keir Starmer is set to become the next prime minister of Britain, as his centre left Labour Party is projected to secure a substantial majority in the parliamentary elections.
This victory will conclude 14 years of often turbulent Conservative rule. Calling it a “difficult night,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday conceded defeat in the UK parliamentary elections on Friday, saying the opposition Labour Party had won.
“The Labour Party has won this general election and I have called Sir Keir Starmer to congratulate him on his victory,” Sunak said after winning his parliamentary seat in northern England.
The landslide win of the Labour Party is a seismic realignment in the UK politics. Here are some of the factors behind the Conservative Party‘s historic loss.
Voter fatigue and historical trends

  • As per a Wall Street Journal report, one major reason for the Conservative Party’s loss is voter fatigue. No British political party has ever won a fifth successive term in office.
  • British politics tends to work in cycles, with the two main parties usually getting a run of between 10 to 15 years before the public votes in the opposition.
  • The Tories ruled from 1979 to 1997, Labour from 1997 to 2010, and the Tories since then. Voters are simply ready for a change.

Economic record and policy missteps

  • The Tories are also being undone by their economic record. The tax rise and record levels of immigration have led to the return on Britain’s political scene of Nigel Farage, a populist who pushed for Brexit and who is now back with a new party called Reform UK.
  • Polls show Reform claiming about 15% of the vote, draining support from the Conservatives. Farage has said he wants to take over the Tories after the election.
  • “It’s obviously been extremely difficult,” says Steve Baker, a Conservative lawmaker. Some lawmakers fret a much-shriveled Tory party could dissolve after the election, or submit to Farage.

A series of scandals

  • The collapse in Conservative support is a brutal denouement to a political arc that started in 2010. Successive scandals, including Boris Johnson being caught at parties during Covid-19 lockdowns and Liz Truss causing a market selloff with unfunded tax cuts, have eroded voter trust.
  • Sunak, brought in to limit the damage, struggled to connect with the public. On a talk show last week, a woman asked him, “How can a prime minister who is richer than the king relate to any of our needs and struggles?” Sunak replied, “Sophie, when it comes to food banks, I am always incredibly grateful to those who support them.”

Rise of the Labour Party

  • Under the leadership of Keir Starmer, the Labour Party has presented a compelling alternative vision, promising to address the cost-of-living crisis, invest in public services, and provide a more competent and ethical government.
  • Starmer moved the party back to the more electable centre ground, purging Jeremy Corbyn and rooting out anti-Semitism.
  • Dominic Grieve, who as Conservative attorney-general worked closely with Starmer as DPP, said he “inspires loyalty because he comes across as being so transparently decent and rational”.
  • “These are quite important features even if you disagree with a policy. And he comes across as man of moderation,” he told The Times.

Rishi Sunak: The ‘fall guy’

  • Sunak shocked many, including those within his own party, by calling for an early election in May despite the Conservatives trailing Labour by around 20 points in opinion polls. He had hoped the gap would close, as was typical in British elections, but instead faced a disastrous campaign.
  • The campaign began poorly with Sunak getting soaked by rain while announcing the vote outside Downing Street. Further issues arose, including a gambling scandal involving aides and Conservative candidates, and criticism over Sunak’s early departure from D-Day commemorative events in France.
  • Ed Costello, chairman of the Grassroots Conservatives organisation, told Reuters, “We deserved to lose. The Conservative Party just appears exhausted and out of ideas. But it is not all Rishi Sunak’s fault. It is Boris Johnson and Liz Truss that have led the party to disaster. Rishi Sunak is just the fall guy.”

The wider political context: Is UK an outlier in Europe?

  • The shift of UK to Left and win of Labour Party comes at a time when Europe is broadly in the grip of what some call a right-wing populist surge. The European elections held last month saw an unprecedented number of representatives from hard-right and far-right parties securing seats in the European Parliament.
  • This week, a government consisting of far-right individuals was established in the Netherlands.
  • Meanwhile, Italy is currently under the leadership of the most right-wing leader since the reign of fascist wartime leader Benito Mussolini. The electoral successes and the likelihood of populist right-wingers assuming power are no longer considered surprising in European nations.
  • The UK appears to be bucking this trend. But for how long?
  • Despite the expected seat count, the British right is far from dead. Reform UK, led by Nigel Farage, is set to exceed polling expectations and will influence the debate on the future direction of the Conservative Party.
  • “It is possible that Farage’s splitting of the right has actually helped Starmer increase his majority in parliament,” a CNN report said.
  • “Britain suffers from many of the same problems as other European countries. If Starmer falters as prime minister, there is every chance that the popular right could continue to capture the public’s imagination, as it has elsewhere in Europe,” the CNN report said.

What they are saying

  • “I am sorry. I take responsibility for the loss,” Sunak said while concede defeat. “Today, power will change hands in a peaceful and orderly manner, with goodwill on all sides. That is something that should give us all confidence in our country’s stability and future.”
  • Labour leader Keir Starmer proclaimed that the UK was “ready for change”. “The change begins right here, because this is your democracy, your community and your future. You have voted. It is now time for us to deliver,” he said after being re-elected to his seat in north London.
  • Nigel Farage, the leader of the right-wing, pro-Brexit Reform UK party, secured four wins in the recent elections, including a seat for himself. “There is a massive gap on the center right of British politics and my job is to fill it, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do” he said.
  • “What is crystal clear to me tonight is it is not so much that Labour won this election, but rather that the Conservatives have lost it,” defence minister Grant Shapps said after he lost his seat.

What next

  • The Conservative Party will need to rebuild and possibly redefine its identity in the wake of this electoral defeat.
  • The rise of Reform UK indicates that the hard-right sentiment remains strong among a significant portion of the electorate. Farage’s influence could drag the Conservative Party further to the right, complicating the political landscape for Labour and reshaping the UK’s political dynamics.
  • As Labour takes the reins, they will face the challenge of addressing the economic and social issues that contributed to the Conservative downfall while managing the growing populist sentiments within the country.

(With inputs from agencies)

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