UK Election 2024

Starmer promises ‘sunlight of hope’ but daunting challenges lie ahead

Nothing can take away from the scale of the new prime minister’s victory, but Labour now has to deliver on its pledges to the British public

Artwork by Hyphen/Photo by Alishia Abodunde/Getty Images
Keir Starmer moves into 10 Downing Street with the burden of expectation on his shoulders. Artwork by Hyphen. Photo by Alishia Abodunde/Getty Images

Historic. Remarkable. Catastrophic. Disastrous. These are just a small sample of reactions on my phone through the night from politicians and advisers from different political parties. 

General elections are a brutal affair and the transition of power is either joyous or humiliating, depending on which side of the political fence you sit on. Unlike in other nations where there is sometimes a period of transition before power changes hands, prime ministers in the UK are quickly ushered out of 10 Downing Street, and the new occupants are sitting at their desks within hours of the result being called. The transfer of power is swift, rarely painless but always fascinating. 

This set of results is no different, with a number of fascinating stories worthy of analysis. While Labour celebrates a landslide victory with 411 seats, the Tories have had their worst result since 1832. The scale of the victory and defeat are beyond the realms of what could have been predicted just a few years ago. But politics moves quickly and now the onus will be on Labour to deliver. 

Keir Starmer now moves into Downing Street with the burden of expectation. Although Labour’s vote share wasn’t particularly high — it was, in fact, the lowest to ever win a majority — the party did get the most seats in England, Scotland and Wales. As the Labour leader said, the “sunlight of hope was … shining once again in a country with an opportunity after 14 years to get its future back”.

His immediate challenges include tackling the cost of living crisis, the economy and the NHS. Labour will need to drastically deliver on a scale expected from this landslide. One figure within the party said to me that although this was a hugely successful day, they were aware that there was now a lot of work to do to justify the size of the party’s mandate. 

But these were a complex set of results. Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, held his seat running as an independent in Islington North. In high Muslim population areas, a number of pro-Gaza candidates managed to stop Labour candidates winning seats. This included beating Jonathan Ashworth in Leicester South, who would have served in the cabinet. There were also a number of safe seats where Labour candidates had their huge majorities slashed, including Wes Streeting in Ilford North, Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Stepney and Jess Phillips in Birmingham Yardley — all constituencies with high Muslim populations. 

For the Tories there will now be a brutal election post mortem. This is a deeply humiliating result and the sheer number of experienced MPs lost will damage the party immensely. The former prime minister Liz Truss losing her seat was a shock, but Grant Shapps, Penny Mordaunt and Alex Chalk losing were not. In total, 11 cabinet ministers lost safe seats, a record number. Although that might be a bitter pill to swallow, it means the party has to rebuild without some of its best people.  

Some senior figures within the party have already pointed the finger squarely at Rishi Sunak. One told me that his decision to call the election early and run “the worst election campaign in living memory” is why the result is so bad. While another told me it was “delusional” to think Sunak or the past 18 months of Tory turmoil have anything to do with the result, blaming his predecessors instead. 

This difference of opinion is symbolic of the opposing forces the party must now deal with. While some will push for a centrist leader, others have already reached out to me to say they must move to the right and tackle the issue of immigration to take on an insurgent Reform UK. It is over the next few weeks when this battle of ideas will play out. 

The Tories will be incredibly worried about Reform UK. The party now has four MPs, exceeding expectations in a number of ways. Not only does Nigel Farage make his way into the House of Commons for the first time, but he has a handful of others with him. Farage will make for blockbuster viewing on the green benches and has become one of the best known politicians in Westminster. 

The results bring up a number of other advantages for Reform. The party came second in a number of seats across the country which are held by both Labour and the Conservatives. This allows Reform MPs to attack both parties over the next five years and heading into the next election. The party will know exactly which seats to target to increase its numbers. 

Bungee-jumping Ed Davey will also be delighted this morning with the Liberal Democrats’ best result since 2005. But owing to the scale of Labour’s victory and the fact both main parties are fearful of the threat coming from the right, the Liberal Democrats’ influence is likely to be somewhat diminished. There is, however, a lot for them to celebrate; the party managed to secure the former seats of three Conservative prime ministers, so perhaps five more years of Davey’s fun-loving publicity stunts will continue. 

In Scotland the decade-long domination of the SNP has come to an end. The Labour party has 37 MPs, up from only one seat last time round. While the SNP will blame Westminster, the party put independence front and centre of its election campaign. Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar now has a majority and the result puts a huge question mark on any future referendum on independence. For Starmer, this is great news as it settles the debate for at least the next five years. For the SNP, which is dogged by a number of controversies, it was a difficult night and one the party will look to move on from as quickly as possible. 

Nothing can take away from the fact that this is a historic landslide and a Labour victory on a scale we have not seen in a very long time. Keir Starmer now has significant control over Westminster. He will enjoy a short honeymoon but faces some daunting challenges. There will be little to no excuse if he does not begin to deliver on his pledges to the British electorate. 

Shehab Khan is an award-winning presenter and political correspondent for ITV News

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