Shortcuts / 11 July 2024

The UK’s new government

Why was this election such a big deal?
People have been doing it really tough in the UK due to the high cost of living, an overstretched healthcare system, and an economy that hasn’t recovered well after Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. Reports show there are a lot of people living below the poverty line and relying on foodbanks – all of which means people were keen to vote for change at the ballot box.

What was the result?
The British people voted overwhelmingly for a Labour government, kicking out the Conservative party – aka the Tories – who’ve been in power for the last 14 years.  

Got it. Who’s the new PM?
Sir Keir Starmer, the 61yo leader of the Labour party. He’s a former human rights lawyer and Crown prosecutor who’s described as “very sensible” and sometimes “boring”. But it turns out he’s a huge Arsenal fan, loves to cook, and learned to play the violin alongside Fatboy Slim.  

He’s a Sir – is he quite posh?
He’s the first British Prime Minister in over 60 years to have a Sir in front of his name, but he’s actually from working-class roots. His dad was a toolmaker, his mum was a nurse, and he was the first one in his family to go to university, first at Leeds and then at Oxford. 

What was he knighted for?
He was knighted for services to the law and made the decision to enter politics following severe budget cuts during the Conservative government’s period of austerity. 

What’s he like as a leader?
He’s been leading the Labour Party since 2020, and he’s brought it back from the left to be more of a centrist party, which has helped win votes from the Tories. He could be an interesting leader to watch because he’s known for prioritising time with his family…

Tell me more… 
Starmer is married to Victoria, a lawyer and Jewish woman, and they have 2 teenage kids. He previously had a strict rule of not doing work events on Friday nights so he could have dinner with his family – and he’s copped criticism for that, sparking a debate over leadership styles. 

What are some of the issues he’s facing as PM?
There couldn’t be a more difficult time for Starmer to take on the top job but in his first speech, he said he’s going to start by regaining the public’s trust through building “a government of service” and he said he knows that has to be done “through actions rather than words.”

How does he plan to do that?
The UK is the 6th largest economy in the world, so people will be watching closely what he does to kick-start that into life. He plans to start by cutting red tape and attracting foreign investment… Similar to our own government’s Future Made in Australia Bill, Labour is planning on investing heavily in renewables and green businesses.

What about the other issues?
Also on the agenda for Labour is improvements to the overstretched healthcare system. They’re also going to undo former PM Rishi Sunak’s immigration policy of sending illegal boat arrivals offshore to Rwanda for processing. Starmer is also keen to counter xenophobia and the rise of the hard-right Reform UK party.

Who are they?
They’re an anti-immigration, populist party headed by Nigel Farage – the TV personality and Brexiteer who’s good mates with Donald Trump – they won 5 seats and around 14% of votes in this election. That mirrors the steady creep of the far-right and populism – or anti-establishment politics – across Europe and particularly in France.

Remind me what’s been happening…
In the recent French election, the far-right National Rally party (known as RN) presented a very real threat, and they were only blocked from gaining a majority in France’s lower house by a last-minute alliance between left and centre-left parties. 

What might the RN have done?
The anti-immigration, anti-Europe, pro-Putin policies of the RN could have had a real impact on Europe and the rest of the world if their plans were put in place. We’re talking about things like restrictions on immigration and trade, revised climate targets and winding back support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia.

What will the new UK government mean for the world? 
A Labour government in the UK means that closer ties and trade partnerships with the European Union will likely be rebuilt, the UK’s existing climate targets will be honoured, and support for Ukraine against Russia will continue. 

And what about Australia?
It’s full steam ahead for the AUKUS defence agreement, which stands to create heaps of jobs both in England and here. Our PM Anthony Albanese is good friends with Starmer and was one of the first to call and congratulate him on the win. One thing Albanese might take notice of is that Starmer’s open support for Israel during the election campaign has resulted in losses in areas with high Muslim populations. 

Who won those seats?
They were won by independents who campaigned on the basis that they’d be a voice for Gaza and the plight of Palestinians. 

What’s that got to do with Albanese?
Western Australian MP Fatima Payman quit the Australian Labor Party last week after she was suspended for crossing the floor over a disagreement about when and how to recognise Palestinian statehood. The fallout has triggered concerns within the party over the potential loss of traditional Labor votes, which people will be watching in the lead-up to our next federal election. 

Squiz recommends:
Reading: This article in The Conversation: Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has a thumping election win – what does it mean for the UK and the rest of the world? gives a good account of the challenges Starmer is facing and what the change of government will mean for the world, including Australia. 

Listening: A podcast suggested to us by Squizer Cressida over Instagram – she said if you really want to get to know Keir Starmer, listen to his episode as a guest on Table Manners. It’s a bit of a long one, but it does give you the chance to get to know him in a casual setting.

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