So the Tories are out. What now?

After 14 years of Tory rule, there's a new party in power. “Change begins today,” says Keir Starmer. But with successes for both Reform UK and the Green Party, which way will Labour bend to stay in power beyond the next five years?

It’s over,” Suella Braverman told a group of MPs two days ago. Her warning was prophetic (that is, if something so blindingly obvious could be viewed as prophetic).

Across the country, votes for the Conservatives have plummeted, with the party wiped out of Cornwall, inner London and Wales entirely. Among the senior Conservative figures to lose their seat was Liz Truss – the first former prime minister to do so in almost a century.

It was a historic election in more ways than one. The Labour Party, in opposition since 2010, now has 412 seats – the largest since Tony Blair in 1997. With Labour being in power for only eighteen out of the past 50 years, and after 14 years of Conservative rule, Starmer’s manifesto is rooted in one fundamental promise: change.

Ten thousand fewer votes were cast for Keir Starmer in his own constituency of Holborn and St Pancras than in 2019”

On paper at least, the UK has elected a centre-left government that many hope will turn the tide on the Tories’ legacy of destruction. And it will come to power during a period in which the political dial in Western democracies has been shifting steadily rightwards.

Labour’s pledges – to ban zero-hour contracts and new oil and gas licences in the North Sea, scrap the Rwanda scheme and end the VAT exemption on private schools – do appear to signal an improvement on the last 14 years of Tory rule. But there are also signs that the basic landscape of politics is changing: everything is up for grabs and once-safe constituency majorities are fleeting. Politicians can no longer take voters for granted – and nowhere was this more obvious than in the subtle acts of resistance against the Labour party.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting clung on to his seat in Ilford North by just 528 votes. Pro-Palestine independent candidates won four seats from Labour, despite well-oiled operations to prevent them from doing so: Shockat Adam in Leicester South, Adnan Hussain in Blackburn, Iqbal Mohamed in Dewsbury and Batley, and Ayoub Khan in Birmingham. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who stood as an independent candidate in Islington North, won over the opposing Labour candidate by 7,247 votes. Meanwhile, by running against its former candidate Faiza Shaheen, Labour effectively split the vote in Chingford and Woodford, assisting a Tory gain and Iain Duncan Smith’s return to the House of Commons.

This fractured support for Labour is exemplified by its feeble vote share relative to previous elections (33.8 per cent, only marginally greater than its share in 2019, when it suffered one of its worst ever losses). The turn towards candidates such as the above isn’t solely a consequence of their stances on the Israel-Gaza conflict, either. It’s also an indictment of the party’s policies, with some Muslim voters citing the party’s refusal to drop the two-child benefit cap.

Ultimately, there’s a feeling that the party has forfeited its progressive credentials in favour of attaining power: not putting up a fight” in Clacton, where Reform UK’s Nigel Farage has been elected as an MP for the first time; Starmer singling out people coming from countries like Bangladesh” in an election event for readers of The Sun. It is unsurprising that Starmer’s approval ratings – while higher than Sunak’s – remain strikingly low for a new PM. Ten thousand fewer votes were cast for him in his own constituency of Holborn and St Pancras than in 2019.

Instead of being drawn by the rightward pull of a Tory opposition and Reform UK, Labour should now strive to provide a true alternative”

Into wider voter disillusionment have stepped other parties. The growth in the Liberal Democrats, with 67 seats, is a reflection of voters’ dissatisfaction with the two dominant parties and their appetite for change. And the entirely predictable collapse of the Conservatives has seemingly paved the way for Reform UK, led by Nigel Farage, self-proclaimed leader of the opposition” and purveyor of truth. The party now has four seats, with 14.3 per cent of votes – more than the Liberal Democrats, despite the fact that they won significantly more seats.

That same collapse – as well as the record-breaking standing down of MPs before yesterday’s election – will give space to more unrestrained figures within the Conservative party, too. Former women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch – who all-too-often launches attacks on the very concept of equality – is already being tipped as a future party leader. And following Reform’s success, it’s highly likely the Tories will lean even harder to the right to claw back power.

But while the rise of the right will inevitably take centre stage over the next five years, the success of the Green Party – who won all four of their target seats and quadrupled their vote – is extraordinary, surpassing the two seats predicted by the exit poll. They now have the same number of seats as Reform, in spite of receiving a fraction of their media coverage. With more support, particularly from young people, the party has the potential to become a force for real, tangible progress.

Labour, perhaps, could learn a thing or two. Instead of being drawn by the rightward pull of a Tory opposition and invariably noisy Reform MPs, the party should now strive to provide a true alternative, encouraged by the support for the Green Party to return to its progressive roots. Freed from the stranglehold of Tory politics, Labour need to be bold, confident and inspiring in the face of the far-right. Fighting against the toxicity of modern politics shouldn’t mean adhering to regressive politics – it should mean pushing for progress.

It is time for change,” claimed the Labour Party’s manifesto. Now, more than ever, it needs to actually happen.

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