Friday 5 July 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 5/7/2024

The Monocle Minute

UK Election: Labour landslide

The Labour Party has won the UK general election. The centre-left party returns to government for the first time since 2010 with leader Keir Starmer to replace Rishi Sunak as prime minister. Tune in to Monocle Radio throughout the day for expert commentary and analysis.

The Monocle View / Alexis Self

After a decisive victory, the UK’s Labour Party must restore the country’s confidence in politics

The large Labour majority delivered by the general election was a result that everyone saw coming but it is no less seismic for its predictability. No UK party has won such a commanding victory since 1997. Still, its size owes as much to the quirks of the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system as anything else – Labour only won about a third of the popular vote. But the system is partly designed to return strong governments and the new prime minister, Keir Starmer, will have a mandate to enact decisive change. Exactly what that change will be remains unclear beyond the obvious one of personnel – Labour dropped or watered down many of its major policy proposals and has been quiet on foreign affairs and defence (see below). That said, a fresh government will be welcomed in the UK and abroad. Fourteen years of rule exhausted the Conservative Party and led to a breakdown of trust between voters and government, as well as between the UK and its neighbours. One of Starmer’s main challenges will be to mend relations with both.

Red dawn: Keir Starmer delivers a victory speech to supporters

Image: Getty Images

Until now, Keir Starmer has kept his cards close to his chest. As prime minister, he will have to show his hand

While you might not know it from the behaviour of a few recent incumbents, being the prime minister of the UK is a serious job, not only at home but also abroad (writes Andrew Mueller). The UK is one of the UN Security Council’s permanent five, the world’s sixth-biggest economy and a significant military power, if arguably less significant than it should be.

Keir Starmer, the UK’s next prime minister, is a serious man. He has been at pains to depict himself as such to create distance from the circus he is now due to replace. But he has also been careful to say as little as possible about certain key issues. Starmer and his well-drilled Labour Party have adhered to the principle of not interrupting an enemy who is making a mistake – and their particular foes, the Conservative Party, have made little else in 14 years of dismal government or six weeks of hapless campaigning.

Starmer, therefore, still needs to establish his role on the world stage. He will have a few advantages as he does so. He cannot be blamed for the self-inflicted, still-suppurating wound of Brexit. He has been no less robust in Ukraine than his predecessors. It will be surprising if one of his first overseas trips does not involve a night aboard the sleeper train to Kyiv.

He might, however, have some hard thinking to do about the UK’s transatlantic and trans-Channel relationships. It is not impossible that, midway through his first term, the UK will find itself a centre-left redoubt wedged between a US and France that have both embraced far-right authoritarianism.

One of the few stumbles that Starmer made in his quest to win power was over Gaza, when he tried to avoid expressing a clear opinion on a divisive foreign-policy question. Once he’s given the keys to Number 10, that option won’t be possible.

The Opinion

On the rise: Marine Le Pen’s RN surges in the polls

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Jean Raby

For France, a break with the past might be a necessary evil

France has been in decline for much of the past 50 years, such that today, despite there being some bright spots, it can be considered the “sick man of Europe”. Public finances are in shambles (France’s last balanced budget was in 1974). Society feels fractured, while intolerance and insecurity are rising. The country’s byzantine approach to regulation stifles innovation, curtails employment and entrenches a deep-rooted inability to undertake reforms – the most vivid example being its retirement system, which was erected as a totem despite being disconnected from reality and is incapable of adapting to longer life expectancies and shifting demographics. Add to that an inability to cope adequately with its colonial past and a declining role on the world stage.

It is no surprise, then, that the upcoming French parliamentary elections have brought to the fore the likelihood of a real rupture with the past. At one end of the spectrum is the Rassemblement National, inaccurately described as “far-right” but in fact a combination of hard-right on identity issues and sovereign matters and left-leaning (if not populist) on economic and social-security issues. At the other end of the spectrum, if not outside of it, is La France Insoumise, advocating unsustainable policies such as confiscatory taxation, an open-ended social safety net and a levelling-down approach founded on the belief that individual success is inherently suspicious. What once would have been viewed as protest votes might now reflect a growing consensus about what could be a necessary evil: a drastic and real rupture with the past. After all, a country that has been on the decline for years needs first to hit bottom before bouncing back. Witness Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, derogatorily termed the “Pigs” in the wake of the global financial crisis, which, having little choice, undertook meaningful reforms that today serve them well. In many respects, they are examples to follow.

Make no mistake: I wish that the choices were different. Born and raised in Canada but having spent most of my professional career in France – and having been naturalised as a French citizen in 2005 – I have made the choice of France, I believe in France and I know that France can bounce back. But bounce back to what? When you’re in the middle of a storm, you don’t have the best vantage point to speculate on what lies beyond it.

That being said, after what could be a period of meaningful turmoil, I hope that a consensus will emerge among a substantial part of the electorate on preserving a distinct French identity, rejecting the idea of France becoming a community of communities; restoring the authority of the state in sovereign matters; significantly deregulating civil society; ensuring that immigration rhymes with integration; redistributing wealth in a manner that is fair to contributors and that can sustainably support a relatively expansive social safety net; and restating France’s commitment to Europe. Wishful thinking? Time will tell.

Jean Raby is a partner in a pan-European private-equity firm. He holds both Canadian and French citizenships and has been based in Paris for the better part of the past 30 years. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Image: Tranzito

Urbanism / USA

Los Angeles’ bus stops receive a shade-giving revamp

In summer, residents of Los Angeles rush to the beaches in search of cooler temperatures. For those trying to get across the city by bus, however, it can be a punishing season with only a quarter of stops offering any shade. Previous efforts to address this have had mixed results. Prototype sunshade La Sombrita, which debuted last year, was made from a perforated, skateboard-shaped piece of metal. Its main downfall was that it only cast a sliver of shadow.

So it’s refreshing to see the municipality go back to basics with a new bus-stop design. It features seating, sufficient sun protection and, in some cases, screens that track departure times. After a ceremonial opening of the first of these shelters, the heat is on to roll out 3,000 more at locations across the city. “Too often, the pavement has been an afterthought in a city where the vast majority of people travel by car,” says Monocle’s US editor, Christopher Lord, who is based in Los Angeles. “Upgrading infrastructure, from proper bus shelters to bike lanes, sends a message to citizens that alternative ways of getting around are being taken more seriously.”

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Mary Ellen Mark

Photo of the week / ‘Kissing in a bar’

Arles exhibition showcases the work of a pioneering US street photographer

The Rencontres d’Arles, an annual photography festival in the south of France, opened this week. The event, which has taken place every summer since 1970, transforms the small city into an arts hub. This year it has welcomed thousands of photo enthusiasts, artists and industry professionals. Encounters showcases the work of late US photographer Mary Ellen Mark, including some of her most in-depth personal projects and street photography documenting New Yorkers.

This week’s photo, entitled “Kissing in a bar”, captures the running theme of the exhibition: human emotions. In the show, Mark’s gift of storytelling is apparent not only in her photographs but also in her archival notes and letters from other photographers.

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Rebuilding Antakya

We assess the future of the Turkish city of Antakya – and delve into the proposed master plan that aims to rebuild the city following the catastrophic earthquakes that struck in February 2023.


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