'Change begins now': Britain's new premier, Keir Starmer, wins huge mandate to be 'boring' (2024)

LONDON − The backdrop was noticeably light on celebratory Union Jack flag-waving. The jubilation detectable but restrained. The speech enthusiastic and self-certain. Also understated. The priorities? Heal, restore, build up.

"We did it," new British Prime Minister Keir Starmer said at a victory rally Friday morning inside the towering Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern art museum in central London. "Change begins now."

Starmer's Labour Party just ejected the Conservatives from power after winning an election landslide. Labour secured its biggest parliamentary majority since Tony Blair's prime ministerial days a quarter of a century ago. A government viewed by many Britons as hectic and incompetent − all rhetoric, no policy − was shown the door.

Five consecutive Conservative prime ministers, capped off with Rishi Sunak, was apparently more than enough for a nation where leadership of late has been an overcaffeinated (or more) revolving door.

Starmer is the country's fourth prime minister in less than two years.

"Now we can look forward. And walk into the morning," Starmer said under the glare of the cameras at 5 a.m. as he promised to work for better times in Britain. "The sunlight of hope, pale at first, but getting stronger through the day, shining once again on a country with the opportunity, after 14 years, to get its future back."

U.K. voters punish Conservatives:Keir Starmer's Labour Party wins election landslide

While Starmer spoke inside about the possibility of sunlit uplands, outside it threatened rain, a reminder that Britain is, for quite a lot of people, what the opinion columnist Andrew Marr said of his country in a piece for The New Statesman magazine: "beaten-down, demoralized and (in a) rackety condition."

There's a lot to do.

Despite 14 years in government, economists say, the Conservatives failed to achieve any notable economic growth. A cavalier pledge to take Britain out of the European Union to "take back control" over immigration failed spectacularly. Arrivals are now higher than before Brexit, as that geopolitical divorce is known. The nation's welfare services are struggling. There are not enough teachers. The prison system is a mess. The public feels drained by scandal and division. Few in the working and middles classes feel buoyant about their prospects.

"The country is in a complete and utter state, and people haven't been up front about it," said Baroness Louise Casey, a former British official who has advised Labour and Conservative governments on social welfare issues as well as police reform. Casey spoke at an election night event Thursday night at King's College London. She is a member of the House of Lords, Britain's unelected second chamber, which scrutinizes legislation.

A comparison to when Labour last won a landslide, the 1997 election that ushered in Blair's time in office, could not be more high-contrast. “A new dawn has broken, has it not?" Blair said chirpily, addressing a cheering crowd of supporters as the sun rose over London, after he won that vote for Labour.

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Then, too, more than a decade of Conservative rule in Britain was coming to a sudden, sharp end. Overnight, Britain's political landscape was transformed. Blair's was the largest majority of any Labour government ever. A record six Conservative cabinet members, all party grandees, lost their seats.

Within months, the country changed in ways big and small: Hong Kong sovereignty was transferred back to China. Important steps were taken that led to the Good Friday Agreement − peace in Northern Ireland. The first of author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books was published. Private gun ownership was banned almost entirely after a school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland. Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris.

But unlike now, Britain's economy 27 years ago was booming. Its deregulated financial markets were the envy of Europe. Employment was on the rise. The worker strikes that had dominated Margaret Thatcher's tenure as the Conservatives sold off nationalized coal and steel industries to private owners were a distant memory.

Blair was boisterous and kinetic. Starmer is managerial and gray.

Still, Starmer, a bespectacled 61-year-old former human rights lawyer whose oratory provokes more drowsiness than hope, more may be just what Britain needs, according to political scientists and former officials.

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"What do we want? We want boring. When do we want it? We want it now. It's a very British type of regime-change," said Richard Whitman, a professor of politics at the University of Kent.

Whitman said that after years of Conservative governments under colorful but chaotic leaders such as Boris Johnson, Britons were tired of political "soap operas." He said they were "sort of yearning for basic political competence from politicians who just get on with the business of governance without squandering resources."

Peter Hain, who served in various Blair cabinets and is now a member of the House of Lords, said Starmer's hyper-disciplined political style and personality may not quicken the pulse.

"But I think people across the political parties are pretty sick of excitement. A government that brings a bit of stability and common sense to our national affairs, instead of wild oscillations, will help confidence."

Starmer himself appears to agree with that assessment.

"We will rebuild Britain," he said in his first speech outside No. 10 Downing Street, his official office and residence, on Friday afternoon after he formally became prime minister. He did so after being invited to form a government by King Charles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace known as the "kissing of the hands."

"You have given us a clear mandate," he said, addressing the British nation. "We will use it to deliver change, restore service and respect to politics, and end the era of noisy performance."

Starmer would, he said, "navigate" Britain toward "calmer waters."

He may get an assist from continuity, of the feline variety.

After more than a decade as "Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office," Larry the cat, a 16-year-old tabby who is cared for by staff at No. 10 Downing Street, could been seen wandering the grounds near Starmer's new office Friday. His tenure has endured longer than any recent prime minister. Starmer is his sixth. In fact, in the run-up to the vote, surveys showed, Larry had a much higher "favorability" ranking than Sunak or Starmer.

Larry stays even if Starmer goes.

'Change begins now': Britain's new premier, Keir Starmer, wins huge mandate to be 'boring' (2024)


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