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Thursday Briefing: What’s at Stake in Britain’s Elections

Britain goes to the polls today after a campaign that featured the same ingredients as other elections across Europe and the Americas: frustrated voters eager to reject the status quo, a deeply discredited government and a dash of populism — in this case, represented by the insurgent candidacy of Nigel Farage.

But Britain is likely to emerge from the election as an outlier. While the electorates in other countries are shifting to the right, British voters are expected to evict the Conservative-led government after 14 years, in favor of the center-left Labour Party. In today’s newsletter, I’ll explain why Britain is zigging while others are zagging.

The Conservatives, or Tories, have presided over a tumultuous era that began with David Cameron in 2010. It included harsh budget cuts after the financial crisis of 2008, the Brexit vote of 2016, the Covid pandemic and a revolving door of prime ministers. For many, it has been a circus that now needs to leave town.

Boris Johnson was drummed out of office after serial scandals. (Among other things, he held parties during a Covid lockdown he had imposed.) Liz Truss lasted less than 50 days after the financial markets turned savagely against her proposed tax cuts. The current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has steadied the ship but failed to give restless voters much of an argument for keeping his party in power.

Beyond the constant drama, Labour politicians claim the Conservatives have broken Britain. They say: Cuts have starved the country’s revered National Health Service, leading to overcrowded emergency rooms and monthslong waits for elective surgery.

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Last modified: 5 July 2024
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