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“Wide But Thin Mandate”: Why U.K. Labour Party’s Landslide Is on Shaky Ground

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Labour’s landslide victory in Thursday’s U.K. election gives the party a “wide but thin” mandate, says Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik, who says the new government of Prime Minister Keir Starmer has to work hard to solidify its gains “if it’s not going to be a temporary win.” She also discusses her new piece, “Pro-Palestine votes aren’t 'sectarian'. Dismissing them would be a dangerous mistake for Labour.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Also with us to discuss Thursday’s election in Britain is Nesrine Malik, author and columnist for The Guardian, where her latest piece is headlined “Pro-Palestine votes aren’t 'sectarian'. Dismissing them would be a dangerous mistake for Labour.” Her book is titled We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent.

Your assessment of what happened in Britain, as you speak to us from Nairobi, from Kenya?

NESRINE MALIK: It was definitely a striking landslide victory. That is nothing to be disputed. It’s a 170-seat majority and one of the biggest landslides in British political history, biggest majority in 25 years. But there is an interesting story underneath that landslide narrative. There’s a reduced voter share. There’s reduced turnout. And seats previously held by the Tories, which were then won by Labour, were sometimes won not necessarily by a huge number of votes. So, the story of the election is Tory collapse, a Labour landslide, but a sort of wide but thin mandate that Labour really needs to solidify over the next five years if this is not going to be a temporary win for the party.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about the new Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s positions on domestic issues, like the dire condition of public services, unemployment, and then, as well as — and you took this on in your latest piece — Gaza?

NESRINE MALIK: Starmer is a politician that has pivoted very clearly from a left-wing policy base to a centrist one. Specifically on the economy, he has embraced growth as the lever of prosperity, very much embracing trickle down, or, as they would call it, float up — so, the tide will rise, and all the boats will float up with it. He has embraced a sort of austerity that implies that there will be either cuts or maintained reduction to investment in public services. And he has broadly — and, actually, resoundingly — rejected “the logic” — and I quote — “the logic of tax and spend.” And so, in that sense, he is very much a politician that has embraced the sort of conventional, mainstream, centrist, capitalist wisdom on the economy, which is problematic in a country that is now suffering the consequences of 14 years of austerity. Public infrastructure is on its knees. Schooling, housing, the National Health Service, public services for youth, for maternal services, for families has all been decimated. And so, it’s a curious position on which to stand in a position of power where the problems that have been presented or the problems that you’re going to inherit all need some sort of serious spending. So, that’s where he is domestically.

So, in terms of foreign policy, they have embraced something called progressive realism. The foreign secretary, David Lammy, has been coiling and repeating this concept of progressive realism, which he states or he explains as treating the world or finding the world as it is, so therefore being realistic about what can be achieved. This is something there’s also going to be a difficult balance if your approach to foreign policy is “it is what it is, and there’s not much we can do.” Then there are a lot of domestic pressures vis-à-vis Gaza, that have already cost the Labour Party votes, that they’re going to have to negotiate or navigate very carefully in the next few months.

AMY GOODMAN: Nesrine Malik, you wrote of Rishi Sunak, the previous prime minister, who called for this snap election. You write, quote, “Sunak could not clean up the wreckage because he was the wreckage.” Why do you think this election even took place?

NESRINE MALIK: I think Rishi Sunak was trying to reduce the damage. It was clear that the Tory party was finished. And the question was: Finished how badly? How many seats were they going to lose? Rishi Sunak had received some good news about inflation and decided that was maybe the moment to try and capitalize on that good news and maybe not lose as many seats as they did. There was never going to be a good time to call the election. Maybe in six months’ time they would have lost more seats, but, essentially, the Tory party is in the hinterland of power for the next five, 10 years, arguably, at least. So, it was a bad time. He thought it was the best time. But there wouldn’t have been a good time, anyway.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, as you speak to us from Nairobi, Kenya, from your perch there, though you’ve been writing extensively for The Guardian about the U.K. elections, any final thoughts on what’s taken place in Kenya, with more than 40 people killed in these protests calling for the president to resign, after he tried to push through this very unpopular tax bill, a real youth uprising?

NESRINE MALIK: It has been a really remarkable time in Kenya. It’s taken everyone by surprise. Protests against the government had a very different profile in the past. They had a very different class profile. They had a very different tribal profile. And there was a lot of astroturfing or manipulation of protesters based on the agendas of politicians who wanted to get in power. This is very much — or, was very much an organic, spontaneous movement, cross-class, cross-demographic, and something that really rose up from the belly of the kind of Kenyan state and the Kenyan people.

The government reacted really unwisely and didn’t quite assess correctly the sort of scale of the anger and responded with violence, which only triggered people further. And then something remarkable happened, which rarely happens in these sorts of scenarios, which is the president conceded and said that he conceded, said the word, “I concede,” and withdrew the tax bill that the people were protesting against. But that was not enough to defuse anger, because things had sort of gone a bit too far by then, and too many people had been killed, and too much violence and provocation on the part of the authorities had taken place.

And so, there is still a lot of anger. There are still protests here and there. And there is still a sort of underground security operation happening against members of those protest movements and their leaders. So, it’s a confrontation that has broken or cracked open something quite new in Kenya, and it’s not over yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Nesrine Malik, we want to thank you for being with us, author and columnist for The Guardian. We’ll link to your articles on the U.K. elections, speaking to us from Nairobi, Kenya.

Next up, France, the upset victory over the right by the left. We’ll go to Paris, and then we will look at the elections in Iran. Stay with us.

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