Conservatives Routed in Worst Election Result for 200 Years

Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images
Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images

LONDON—The Conservatives, the world’s winningest political party, were booted out of power in dramatic style on Thursday after 14 years of chaotic and divisive rule.

The Labour Party had secured a landslide victory, ending an era of Conservative rule over Britain that stretches back to 2010; the year that the iPad and Instagram were launched and Lady Gaga wore that meat dress to the MTV music awards.

In that time, the Conservatives have cycled through five leaders, each of them dragging the party lower and lower in the polls. It was Rishi Sunak who was finally defeated by a huge margin after running the worst election campaign in living memory. “Devastating night for the Conservatives,” said former leadership contender Andrea Leadsom.

Keir Starmer smiling

Keir Starmer arrives to vote on the morning of the election.

Jakub Porzycki / Getty

Sunak’s campaign ended in similar style to the way it began: with extremely unfortunate optics. One of his local district rivals, independent candidate Niko Omilana, snuck up as he made a generous concession speech, holding up a large “L” sign behind his back.

Unaware of the visual diss, Sunak nonetheless accepted personal responsibility for the historic defeat. “The Labour Party has won this general election, and I have called Sir Keir Starmer to congratulate him on his victory,” the prime minister said. “The British people have delivered a sobering verdict tonight, there is much to learn and reflect on, and I take responsibility for the loss. To the many good, hard-working Conservative candidates who lost tonight—despite their tireless efforts, their local records of delivery and their dedication to their communities—I am sorry.”

The campaign had got off to an equally awkward start when the prime minister shocked the country—first by announcing a snap general election—and second by doing so standing outside No. 10 in a torrential downpour which left his expensively tailored suit soaked through. His words were also drowned out by an old Labour election anthem being blasted into Downing Street by an enterprising protester.

Rishi Sunak got caught in a downpour without an umbrella or an overcoat.

Rishi Sunak got caught in a downpour without an umbrella or an overcoat.

Henry Nicholls / Getty Images

Incredibly, the campaign went downhill from there. Sunak blundered by leaving early from a D-Day memorial event in France where President Joe Biden and President Emmanuel Macron stood shoulder-to-shoulder to salute the final major anniversary likely to be attended by survivors of World War II. Voters were appalled despite Sunak’s apologies and, subsequently, Nigel Farage was able to appeal to traditionalists and right-wing voters with his insurgent, MAGA-inspired Reform party. The exit poll suggested a major breakthrough for Farage’s party that secured them at least four seats in parliament.

The exit poll also predicted that Labour would win a whopping 410 seats (eight shy of what Tony Blair won in 1997) and just 131 for the Conservatives, which is the lowest in the party’s near 200-year history. Since it was founded in 1834, the Tories have become the most successful party in any competitive multi-party state in the world but this is the lowest ever vote share and number of seats.

As the recriminations began within the Conservative Party, veteran lawmaker Michael Fabricant said: “Never in the history of general elections have so many been let down by so few.” A few hours later, he lost his own seat, along with a record-breaking swathe of Cabinet members who were kicked out of office, some on huge swings to Labour or Reform. Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the House of Commons, and one of the favorites to replace Sunak as party leader was among those ousted.

The shocks culminated in Liz Truss losing her own seat less than two years after she was prime minister. She had an enormous majority to defend in her district but the voters turned decisively against her after her disastrous 49 days in office.

Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images

Rishi Sunak cast his vote on Thursday morning hoping to avoid losing his own seat.


Britain’s new prime minister will be Sir Keir Starmer, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Starmer has taken a cautious approach—labeled the “Ming vase strategy”—as he tried to carry his delicately assembled coalition of voters over the finishing line.

After the party underperformed the polls in elections in 2017, 2010, and, famously, in 1992, when everyone expected them to return to power, Starmer became just the fourth Labour leader to take his party from opposition into power in the century since it was founded.

Starmer spoke at a victory rally at 5 a.m. local time (midnight EDT). “We can look forward,” he said. “Walk into the morning. The sunlight of hope—pale at first—then getting stronger through the day. Shining once again on a country with the opportunity, after 14 years, to get its future back.”

With the economy struggling and the budget deficit sky-high, Starmer knows the task ahead of him is extremely challenging. He won a huge majority on Thursday, but the share of the vote nationwide was below 40 percent, meaning support for the Labour Party was wide, but shallow. Despite the headwinds, Starmer allowed himself a smile broader than any seen on his face since he entered parliament nine years ago.

“We have to return politics to public service, show that politics can be a force for good. Make no mistake: That is the great test of politics in this era,” he said. “I don’t promise you it will be easy. Changing a country is not like flicking a switch. It’s hard work, patient work, determined work, and we will have to get moving immediately.”

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who was watching the speech in central London, said Starmer had pulled off a miracle. “In four and a half years, he’s taken us from our worst result to our best result,” he said. “He said it could be done… and it’s come true.”

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