Britain’s Back. But Nigel Serves Notice

“I believe this country is safer, stronger and more secure than it was 20 months ago,” Rishi Sunak said Friday, following an electoral wipeout of historic proportions for the Tories.

He’s right. The UK is immensely better off than it was 20 months ago. But that’s a pretty low bar.

When Sunak took over as prime minister, the UK was on the brink of calamity. Liz Truss’s premiership, such as it was, very nearly plunged the country into a financial crisis. She single-handedly blew up the UK government bond market.

Truss was (and, I’m sure, still is) an epic moron. She lost her seat in the election. Compared to Truss, Sunak’s a model of good governance. If we’re measuring from October of 2022, then virtually anyone could’ve made the UK “safer, stronger and more secure.”

Anyway, Rishi obviously resigned. It was kind of sad. Not in the sense that I’m sad to see him go, necessarily, it’s just that… I don’t know. He’s not a bad guy. I’ve said that I don’t know how many times over the past month.

After announcing that he was on his way to see the king, the very first words out of Sunak’s mouth were, “To the country, I would like to say first and foremost, I’m sorry.” “I have given this job my all,” he continued. “But you have sent a clear signal: That the government of the United Kingdom must change.”

Stop for a moment to consider: We live in a world where politeness is everywhere and always equated with weakness, where to apologize is to evidence timidity and where democratic decorum’s routinely spit on as though democracy never did anything for us. And yet here’s a guy — Rishi — who walks out in front of the second-most hallowed political ground on Earth (No. 10), looks straight into the cameras, resigns with whatever dignity it was possible to retain considering the magnitude of the Tory loss, apologizes for letting everybody down and then says, of Keir Starmer, “His successes will be all our successes. And I wish him and his family well.”

Good for you, Rishi. Thanks for reminding every other advanced democracy how this is supposed to work. If you lose, you step down with as much dignity as you can plausibly claim for yourself, you apologize to anyone who might be disappointed and you wish your successor well because, after all, success for your successor means success for the country. Sunak described Starmer as “a decent, public-spirited man who I respect.” (One’s reminded of John McCain defending Barack Obama: “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.”)

I gotta tell you: This is a good day for the UK. It’s very likely that investors will see in this election — and in Starmer’s apparently pragmatic leadership and Rachel Reeves’s seemingly clear-eyed approach to fiscal management — the dawn of a new era for a country that spent a decade and a half on a nightmarish roller coaster. Local stocks rose, gilts rallied and the pound ran its win streak to a seventh day on Friday.

The only blight on this election was Nigel Farage and his Reform party. As noted here on Thursday, when the votes were still being counted, Labour’s victory wasn’t quite the unqualified landslide that it looked on the surface. “Although the scope of Labour’s win makes for a stark juxtaposition with Europe’s shift to the far-right, Reform’s outperformance is a reminder that the undercurrent’s still there in the UK,” I wrote.

Farage is now an MP. It took him eight tries. Eight. Only Nigel wouldn’t be embarrassed by that. Addressing fans, he described “a massive gap on the center-right of British politics.” “It is my job to fill it,” he declared, on the way to sketching the contours of a plan to “build a mass national movement… big enough to challenge the general election properly in 2029.”

That’s scary. But it’s a distant prospect for now. Today, the UK celebrates a return to political stability. And not a moment too soon either, with the US and France flirting shamelessly with the far-right.

Sunak, in his final few words to the public from No. 10, said, “I leave this job honored to have been your prime minister.”


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8 thoughts on “Britain’s Back. But Nigel Serves Notice

  1. “(One’s reminded of John McCain defending Barack Obama: “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.”)”. One is reminded of what Mr. Obama dis that same summer shutting down the Press when he was asked about Sarah Palin’s daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Mr. Obama came out forcefully against such questions and somewhat embarrassed the reporter for even asking it. All class. Perhaps we can return to those days as well.

  2. “[W]ho walks out in front of the second-most hallowed political ground on Earth (No. 10)”

    Okay, I’ll bite. What do you consider to be #1? The Agora of Athens?

    1. One could argue that #1 is Independence Hall where the Continental Congress deliberated the birth of the nation, and where Articles of Confederation were ratified. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution are displayed there today. Agora of Athens and Roman Forum where the Senate of the Roman Republic usually convened would certainly be high on the list.

      1. Now that I think about it, it’s weird to call #10 number 2. It’s not Westminster where the Prime Minister works, it’s the home where s/he lives. Glancing at the Wikipedia page makes it seem, if anything, less impressive.

        I’m going to take it as metaphor rather than literal.

        Independence Hall crossed my mind. I’ve been there four times (because reasons), and it never fails to impart a sense of awe.

  3. Reform got the third highest share of the vote , 14.3%, but only 5 seats due to the first past the post voting process. I suspect that their seats will increase in the future.

  4. The sense of disenfranchisement amongst the electorate here was palpable. If Labour is smart they’ll realise that this was nothing like the endorsement that they received in 1997 and act accordingly. Deliver quickly on the manifesto commitments and then figure out what to do to restore faith in our institutions. We are lucky that unlike our friends in the US, only a small subset of politicians have thus far caved in to the siren call of populism, but that could well change during this parliament. Ironically the Tories probably need the new government to be successful almost as much as the Labour Party does.

    1. Their Manifesto promises were, afaict, “nothing’ll change, we’ll just be less buffoonish-ly incompetent and corrupt than the Tories”

      The UK needs a radical re-imagining and an act of industrial/economic recreation post GFC and post Brexit. IDK anyone know how to do that but that’s the task… Anything else and populism/fascism will keep on rising as people slide into poverty without understanding why.

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