British PM Sunak concedes defeat, will hand government to Labour Party in major political shift

"Nothing has gone well in the last 14 years," said London voter James Erskine. "I just see this as the potential for a seismic shift, and that’s what I’m hoping for."

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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says the British people have “delivered a sobering verdict" as he conceded that the left-of-center Labour Party has won the general election.

He said he took “responsibility” for his party’s loss, and that he had called Labour leader Keir Starmer to congratulate him on his victory.

Voters in the U.K. cast their ballots Thursday in a national election to choose the 650 lawmakers who will sit in Parliament for the next five years.

With more than half of all seats counted, Labour, led by Keir Starmer, has gained at least 326 seats, enough to have a majority in Parliament.

An exit poll suggested that after 14 years in power under five different prime ministers, Sunak ’s Conservatives are set to have their seats in the 650-seat House of Commons cut down to 131. That would be the Tories’ worst result in the party’s two-century history and one that would leave the party in disarray.

A jaded electorate delivered its verdict on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010.

"Nothing has gone well in the last 14 years," said London voter James Erskine. "I just see this as the potential for a seismic shift, and that’s what I’m hoping for."

While Labour’s win would appear to buck recent rightward electoral shifts in Europe, including in France and Italy, many of those same populist undercurrents flow in Britain. Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, who won a seat in Parliament for the first time, has roiled the race with his party’s anti-migrant "take our country back" sentiment and undercut support for the Conservatives.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer
AP Photo/Kin Cheung
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks to his supporters at the Tate Modern in London, Friday, July 5, 2024.

Britain has experienced a run of turbulent years — some of it of the Conservatives' own making and some of it not — that has left many voters pessimistic about their country's future. The U.K.'s exit from the European Union followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine battered the economy, while lockdown-breaching parties held by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff caused widespread anger.

Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss, rocked the economy further with a package of drastic tax cuts and lasted just 49 days in office. Rising poverty and cuts to state services have led to gripes about "Broken Britain."

The first part of the day was sunny in much of the country — favorable weather to get people to the polls.

In the first hour polls were open, Sunak made the short journey from his home to vote at Kirby Sigston Village Hall in his Richmond constituency in northern England. He arrived with his wife, Akshata Murty, and walked hand-in-hand into the village hall, which is surrounded by rolling fields.

Former Labour candidate Douglas Beattie, author of the book “How Labour Wins (and Why it Loses),” said Starmer's “quiet stability probably chimes with the mood of the country right now.”

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