New UK PM Starmer vows to 'rebuild Britain' after election win

Britain's incoming Prime Minister Keir Starmer and leader of the Labour Party, addresses the nation after his general election victory, outside 10 Downing Street in London on July 5, 2024, a day after Britain held a general election. PHOTO | AFP
 

What you need to know:

  • Starmer quickly went to work appointing his new cabinet, with Rachel Reeves becoming Britain's first female finance minister and David Lammy appointed foreign secretary.

London .Keir Starmer on Friday promised to "rebuild Britain" as he took office as the UK's new prime minister following his centre-left Labour party's landslide general election victory that ended 14 years of Conservative rule.

Head of state King Charles III asked Starmer to form a government during a meeting at Buckingham Palace, officially appointing the 61-year-old former human rights lawyer as prime minister.

Flag-waving crowds of cheering Labour activists lined Downing Street as Starmer arrived as the party's first prime minister since Gordon Brown in 2010.

"Now, our country has voted decisively for change, for national renewal and a return of politics to public service," he said in his first speech in the role.

"The work of change begins immediately, but have no doubt, we will rebuild Britain."

Starmer quickly went to work appointing his new cabinet, with Rachel Reeves becoming Britain's first female finance minister and David Lammy appointed foreign secretary.


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A sombre Rishi Sunak conceded defeat during a torrid night for his Conservatives that claimed the scalps of at least 12 of his senior cabinet colleagues -- and his predecessor Liz Truss.

Truss's disastrous 49-day tenure effectively sealed the Tories' fate with the public two years ago, when her unfunded tax cuts spooked markets and crashed the pound.

Before leaving Downing Street for the final time as prime minister, Sunak said "sorry" to the public and revealed that he would step down as Tory leader once formal arrangements for a successor are in place.

Labour raced past the 326 seats needed to secure an overall majority in the 650-seat House of Commons at 0400 GMT, with the final result expected on Saturday.

As of 1600 GMT on Friday, the party had won 412 seats in the House of Commons with only two results left to declare, giving it a majority of more than 170.

The Tories won just 121 seats -- a record low -- with the right-wing vote apparently spliced by Nigel Farage's anti-immigration Reform UK party.

In another boost for the centrists, the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats ousted the Scottish National Party as the third-biggest party.


World reaction 

The results buck a trend among Britain's closest Western allies, with the far right in France eyeing power and Donald Trump looking set for a return in the United States.

Congratulations came in from the European Council chief Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said Starmer would be a "very good, very successful" prime minister.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the two countries would "continue to be reliable allies through thick and thin".

Outside London's busy Waterloo station, 49-year-old engagement officer Ramsey Sargent called it a "momentous election".

"It has been very rocky over the last few months and years. I'm really excited to see what happens next," the 49-year-old engagement officer told AFP.


- 'Catastrophic' 

Sunak tendered his resignation to the king shortly after returning to London from his rural constituency in northern England, where the depth of his party's defeat quickly became apparent.

The Tories' worst previous election result was 156 seats in 1906. Former leader William Hague told Times Radio this was "a catastrophic result in historic terms".

But Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary, University of London, said it was "not as catastrophic as some were predicting" and the Tories would now need to decide how best to fight back.

Brexit champion Farage, who finally succeeded in becoming an MP at the eighth attempt, has made no secret of his aim to take over the party.

"There is a massive gap on the centre-right of British politics and my job is to fill it," he said after a comfortable win in Clacton, eastern England.


To-do list 

Labour's resurgence is a stunning turnaround from five years ago, when hard-left former leader Jeremy Corbyn took the party to its worst defeat since 1935 in an election dominated by Brexit.

Starmer took over in early 2020 and set about moving the party back to the centre, purging the infighting and anti-Semitism that cost it support.

Opinion polls consistently put Labour 20 points ahead of the Tories since Truss's resignation, giving an air of inevitability about a Labour win -- the first since Tony Blair in 2005.

But as the count neared the end, the gap was around 11 percent, with Labour looking set to win fewer votes than it did in 2019, partly reflecting a lower turnout.

Starmer is facing a daunting to-do list, with economic growth anaemic, public services overstretched and underfunded due to swingeing cuts, and households squeezed financially.

He has promised a return of political integrity, after a chaotic period of five Tory prime ministers in 14 years, scandal and sleaze.