In historic UK election, Conservatives face potential major defeat: Analysis

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(LONDON) — On the Fourth of July, Americans across the country will be taking much of the day to relax and take a break with family. But in the UK it’s Election Day.

The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak scheduled elections for the Fourth of July and it’s shaping up to be a historic moment.

“Start Here” spoke with ABC News’ Foreign Correspondent James Longman in London to break it all down.

START HERE: James, last time we spoke you talked about the two main parties, right? Conservative on the right, Labor on the left and you said Conservatives have been in power so long it would be difficult to find people in a country that’s so disappointed with this government to be like, ‘yes several more years of these people, please!’ Is that still the case or what is the state of play there?

JAMES LONGMAN: Brad, it’s absolutely the case. The story of this election hasn’t been who will win. It’s been a question of by how much the Conservatives will lose and it is truly astronomical. I mean, this election is turning into a historic one. We don’t often have these in Britain. There are watershed elections, where it’s not just a change of government but it upturns the entire system.

If Labour wins, the Prime Minister will be Keir Starmer, who is not a particularly colorful performer. He’s seen as a pretty boring individual. I think we spoke about this last time, a bit of a Mr. Bean. He was in the TV debates with Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, and it was generally considered that it was a draw, but that Sunak performed better because he’s kind of better in that kind of showman position, if you like.

Starmer, a former prosecutor, 61 years old, so older than most of our recent prime ministers in Britain. Although rather a lot younger than either of your two presidential candidates.

Just as a recap: There are 650 constituencies or voting districts in Britain. Each of those sends a lawmaker to Parliament. You need a majority to form the government, so you basically need 326 seats. Now, usually in our system each, you know, government will probably trade small majorities of maybe 330, 340 seats, you know. This is, you’re talking 20-25 seats in it.

The latest poll has Labor winning 484 seats and the Conservatives — and this is the real big story in this country– on just 64. That’s the lowest estimate.

When you think the last election, in 2019, Boris Johnson won the Conservatives 365 seats, that is an almost complete wipeout of the governing Conservative parties parliamentary presence. This puts it up there with some of our most extraordinary and consequential elections in British history.

START HERE: Pardon my American bluntness: Why have conservatives screwed it up so much, I guess? What is going on?

LONGMAN: Well, partly it’s an incumbency issue. I mean, you know, any government, any power, any party that’s been in power for as long as the Conservatives have– 14 years — are gonna struggle trying to sell another term in government and this is what often happens. If you look back, you know the Tories, when they took over from the Labour Party, that was after some 13 years in power for the Labour Party.

Then, when the Labour Party won what was that historic victory in 1997 from Tony Blair, they took over after the Conservatives have been in power, by then for 18 years. So, in some ways it’s part of a pattern. It’s just the scale of the Conservative loss which is truly extraordinary and that’s because people in this country feel there’s a massive cost-of-living crisis.

I know that the people are feeling that in the United States at the moment; inflation is something that’s hit around the world. There’s a sense that the stewards of this government, this country, have not dealt with that properly. We have an NHS, National Health Service, which people are very proud of in this country. But it is on its knees – waiting times for surgery are incredibly long, ambulances are lining up outside hospitals, we’ve got school buildings which are not fit for purpose, sewage is being pumped into our waterways, immigration is a massive issue here, prisons are overcrowded.

Brad, I could go on and on and on and on, but basically the feeling in this country is that nothing works and they want a change.

START HERE: But what’s so interesting to me, James, is that when you describe that Conservatives have been in power for 14 years, of course if people are upset they are the ones who are gonna pay.

But when you look at the rest of Europe, far-right parties, like ultra-conservative parties, are very much on the rise. So I’m wondering how high are the stakes in Britain and how does this figure in the kind of the larger scheme of Europe at this point?

LONGMAN: One of the big dynamics of this election, which wasn’t present the last time around, was we not only have the Labour Party taking away votes from the Conservatives on the left, we have a new insurgent right-wing party in Reform which is taking votes away from the Conservatives on the right.

They’re being squeezed from both sides and Reform would have quite a lot in common with a number of the far-right parties, which have taken Europe by storm really over the last few months. And we’ve seen in the European elections the AFD in Germany’s massive gains there; in France, of course, are National Front — the French are in the midst of an incredibly important election with the National Front may actually end up or actually, in all likelihood, will take control of the National Assembly. You have in the Netherlands as well a right-wing group there.

I think it’s, in part, if you look at this in the wider, European context, you’re looking at a situation where it’s anti-incumbency: whoever is in power, whatever the establishment is, people have had enough.

It happens that in Britain, the Conservatives to the right of the political spectrum have been the ones in power, but again we do have this extra right, this far right if you like, group in Reform, run by Nigel Farage, who is a friend of Donald Trump. He repeats it [that he’s Trump’s friend] any chance he gets. It is a dynamic in Britain, the far right, although it is not as powerful as it is in other parts of Europe, and Nigel Farage will not get huge numbers in this election, but he may well – for the 8th time of trying – become a lawmaker in the Houses of Parliament.

START HERE: That’s interesting, though, that just because Conservatives have been in charge doesn’t mean that Britain is getting way more left-leaning or way more progressive. It just means that it sort of ‘anyone but’ at this point. All right, James Longman, we’ll see what happens tomorrow. Thank you.

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