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The U.K. has a new government with Sir Keir Starmer at the helm

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today a new era of British politics began under a new prime minister, Sir Keir Starmer...

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PRIME MINISTER KEIR STARMER: I accepted an invitation from His Majesty the King to form the next government of this great nation.

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CHANG: ...A man who once called for the monarchy to be abolished. Well, today that man shook hands with King Charles, who gave his blessing for Starmer to form a government. While much of Europe, especially France, watches the rise of the far right, Britains have elected a center-left government in a landslide. But Starmer inherits a state that's been hobbled by austerity, infrastructure that's been neglected and the worst cost of living crisis since World War II. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from London.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: In his first speech after moving into 10 Downing Street with his family, Prime Minister Keir Starmer pledged...

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STARMER: But we will rebuild Britain.

FRAYER: He vowed to lead a government of service on a mission of national renewal and to win back people's trust after Brexit, which polls show most Britons now regret, and Boris Johnson, who threw illegal COVID lockdown parties, and the brief economic roller coaster of his successor, Liz Truss.

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STARMER: When the gap between the sacrifices made by people and the service they receive from politicians grows this big, it leads to a weariness in the heart of a nation.

FRAYER: Starmer's new Cabinet includes the U.K.'s first female finance minister, Rachel Reeves, a former junior chess champion, who describes herself as a devotee of Janet Yellen. Reeves has a reputation for ironclad fiscal restraint and told the BBC today, she'll have to manage expectations...

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RACHEL REEVES: There's not a huge amount of money there, and so what we need to do is unlock private sector investment, and that's why...

FRAYER: ...Because government coffers are nearly empty after 14 years of conservative austerity and, many voters say, mismanagement.

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RISHI SUNAK: To the country, I would like to say, first and foremost, I am sorry.

FRAYER: Upon leaving 10 Downing Street, the outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued a blanket apology without taking blame for anything specific. But he acknowledged that voters have been pretty angry.

POLLY TOYNBEE: People are very, very angry about almost everything.

FRAYER: Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee says this election was much more about anti-incumbency, kicking out the Tories, as the conservatives are also called...

TOYNBEE: There is an extraordinary sense in the air of people really, really wanting to punish this government.

FRAYER: ...Rather than about any true embrace of left-wing ideas, she says. But with the far right on the march in much of Europe, Britain could end up looking better in comparison. Tom Baldwin is Starmer's biographer.

TOM BALDWIN: Maybe Britain could be a haven for stability. We haven't been in recent years. We've lost lots of investment because of it, but it's possible that Britain could become a haven for investors fleeing more populist regimes elsewhere.

FRAYER: Including even from America, he says - this country does have its own far-right party, though, led by the rabble-rousing Brexiteer and Donald Trump's friend, Nigel Farage.

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NIGEL FARAGE: That's all right. There's still plenty of beer left in the pub, mate.

FRAYER: That's him responding to hecklers who interrupted his news conference today. Farage previously ran for Parliament seven times and lost, but he finally won a seat last night as leader of the anti-immigrant Reform U.K. Party, which was the choice of nearly 1 in 6 British voters. Britain has a winner-take-all system in each district, similar to America, so it takes a lot for a third-party candidate to enter Parliament. But that happened a lot in this election. The centrist liberal Democrats multiplied their seats. The environmentalist Greens had their best ever showing. Rory Stewart is a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister.

RORY STEWART: All these other parties are now emerging, but our electoral system doesn't recognize them. People begin to ask, does this system really reflect the way that Britain operates and thinks? And I would say this is an argument for us to change our electoral system, but the two big parties have no incentive to do that.

FRAYER: A conversation about electoral reform could come out of this election. So could one about regional independence - the Scottish nationalists were obliterated, but Irish nationalists made big gains, possibly indicating a shift from a separatist push in Scotland to one in Northern Ireland. Those are all things Starmer may have to deal with. For now, though, he's celebrating his huge mandate on his first night in Downing Street. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.