Labour wins landslide UK election victory

By on 05/07/2024 | Updated on 05/07/2024
Image: Labour Party

The Labour Party has secured a landmark victory in the UK general election, with the party winning more than 400 seats as the Conservative Party lost power for the first time in 14 years.

Labour’s victory will see Keir Starmer become prime minister later today, with the cabinet of ministers to lead departments expected to be named ahead of a first meeting tomorrow.

In a victory speech in London, the incoming prime minister said the party was “ready to restore Britain to the service of working people”.

Starmer said that he would begin work immediately to “rebuild our country”.

He said the “sunlight of hope” is shining once again “on a country with an opportunity after 14 years to get its future back”.

Conservatives lose 250 seats

The Conservative leader Rishi Sunak said that the British people had “delivered a sobering verdict tonight, there is much to learn and reflect on, and I take responsibility for the loss” after winning his own seat.

However, 12 senior government ministers lost their seats as the Conservative party tumbled to its worst result in history. Defence secretary Grant Shapps and education secretary Gillian Keegan lost their seats, as did justice secretary Alex Chalk and technology secretary Michelle Donelan.

Other high-profile casualties on the night included former prime minister Liz Truss and former minister for government efficiency Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Despite Labour’s success on the night, there were a number of surprise losses for the party. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth lost his seat to an independent candidate campaigning on a pro-Gaza platform – one of four independent MPs to do so campaigning squarely on the issue. The former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn also won his seat in Islington North as an independent after being suspended from the party.

Elsewhere, the Reform UK and Green Party both made gains on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Reform leader Nigel Farage won his seat in Clacton – one of four seats gained for the party, alongside Great Yarmouth, Ashfield, and Boston and Skegness. The Greens also won four seats – retaining their seat in Brighton Pavilion and adding North Herefordshire, Waveney Valley, and Bristol Central.

Mission-driven government

Starmer has pledged to deliver an “age of national renewal”, with the party having set out five key missions for government – that it has warned could take a decade to deliver. These are:

  • Kickstart economic growth
  • Make Britain a clean energy superpower
  • Take back our streets
  • Break down barriers to opportunity
  • Build an NHS fit for the future

Speaking at an election event at King’s College London last night, Institute for Government director Hannah White said that succeeding with missions would require changing how government works.

“The whole point about missions is that they’re long term. They are objectives that you set and you don’t necessarily know precisely how you’re going to get there, but you build coalitions and you give the leadership.”

There was a political question about how long the British public would be willing to wait for turnarounds in these areas. “How long will people give them to try this missions-focused approach? It’s an admirable thing to try to do – to look long term and in a more cross-cutting way, but whether the public has the patience for that kind of approach is a question.”

Speaking this morning, former UK cabinet secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell said Downing Street would be a hive of activity as “policy starts now”.

Prime ministers come into Number 10 Downing Street applauded by civil servants, and are then briefed by cabinet secretary in the cabinet room.

This is when the prime minister realises the enormity of the job, O’Donnell reflected, with the cabinet secretary then running through intelligence matters as well as policy matters that need urgent action.

“It’s an amazing day,” he added. “You have to realise, of course, that the prime minister is only human, and hasn’t had much sleep, so you’re trying to make sure that they think hard about some of the really important decisions that will be with them for a long time.”

The prime minister will then work to appoint the cabinet, and O’Donnell said that civil servants will make sure that they can prioritise the key issues.

“There’ll be some issues [where] I think the country will expect [action]. One I would put forward to you is ethics. What we’re crying out for is a government that’s honest, and abides by the proper standards in public office. I hope that we see a package which really cements that and tells us actually they know that they need to operate to the highest level of standards, and Sue Gray [Starmer’s chief of staff and a former civil servant who was previously director-general of the Propriety and Ethics team in the Cabinet Office] will be very keen on that.”

Alongside the missions, Labour has set out a number of first steps that it will initially priortise in government, which focus on delivering economic stability, tackling NHS health service waiting lists and tackling illegal immigration and antisocial behavior.

WATCH: A guide to the manifestos in the UK general election

Day one with a new minister – and beyond

Ministers will have a similar transition as they are appointed. New ministers will arrive at the office, and will then commence a range of meetings, to discuss priorities – and their policy inheritance – with the civil service.

Kevin Cunnington, the former director general for the Government Digital Service, told a Global Government Forum event in June that civil servants would have worked to prepare for a new minister.

Civil servants will have been actively reading manifestos and pledges from across the different parties, figuring out how to implement various policies, which will now be slimmed down to priorities for Labour.

Cunnington also identified a significant number of problems, “coming down the pipe” at any new ministers, such as paying compensation for both the infected blood scandal and Post Office Horizon IT scandal. Add in the UK’s committed support to Ukraine in its war against Russia, and all this adds up to around £40bn. “To give you a sense of it, [it] is about 4% of the annual budget,” Cunnington concluded. “It is already limiting the headroom for the new chancellor as we go forward.”

A comprehensive spending review of public finances is expected to take place soon, when current spending plans end next March. Speaking at the King’s College event last night, the Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson said that he would recommend a one-year review before undertaking a more thorough review.

“They’re going to need more than a couple of months to really set the agenda on what they want to do. I think there’s a big choice, which is do they do a Spending Review for one year and then really put the time into having one for the rest of the parliament  later, or will they try and do it for a three- or four-year period straight off. I’m a gradualist, I would say take your time, do it for one year and then work out what you’re going to do, but I can see the case for doing everything all at once.”

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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