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LEONARD QUART: A victory for social democracy

I am heartened by Labor’s victory in London and England—a sign that social democracy is ready to return to power in Great Britain.

Over the years, I have had a lengthy, intensely passionate relationship with London and England that involved yearly visits, long familial sabbaticals, and some teaching and lecturing. Since 2019, COVID and the onset of my spinal stenosis and resulting dependence on a walker have cut me off from what I felt was a very significant and pleasurable part of my life. However, I continue to connect to London and England through the many Amazon Prime British procedurals, comedies, and dramas I watch; occasional phone calls and emails to good British friends; and daily but superficial listening to BBC news and reading The Guardian. Obviously, it is not the same as actually experiencing life on its streets, pubs, and parks, but, in its limited way, it helps sustain both the vivid memories and excess of nostalgia that I have for my London years.

Jogging in Heath. Photo by Leonard Quart.

I also still follow British politics relatively thoroughly, so this year’s election of London’s mayor and regular local elections in England and Wales received my close attention. It was expected that, given the cost-of-living crisis and the profound problems facing the National Health Service, the Tories will lose a number of seats in this election. And so they did: the Tories losing almost 500 council seats across England. In addition, Labor won inaugural mayoral contests in York and North Yorkshire, the East Midlands, and the North East. It also took a Tory Parliamentary seat by winning the Blackpool South by election.

Labor did lose some seats to independents in some of its more traditional areas where there is a high Muslim population, such as Newcastle. The losses were attributed to the party’s attempt at being balanced on Gaza.

The mayoralty election in London saw the two-term Labor Mayor Sadiq Kahn easily reelected for a third term over a weak candidate who used crime as a prime issue. London’s mayor carries less power than New York’s, but they are responsible for all transport for London and play a central role in managing other public services such as housing and policing in the city. Still, London councils run many day-to-day services such as social services, schools, and garbage collection. And the 25-member London Assembly serves to keep the mayor in check.

I wanted to augment my remarks with some remarks from a longtime London resident and retired writer and editor for the Independent:

There will have to be a general election in the UK before the end of 2024. Although the opposition Labor Party has been around 20 points ahead of the ruling Conservative (Tory) Party in national polls for the past year or so, its supporters have been nervous that the polls may be misleading. For this reason, the local elections that were held in England and Wales last Thursday were anxiously looked forward to as an indication of true voter sentiment. The national polling was more than vindicated by a gigantic Labor victory practically everywhere.

In London, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, won a third consecutive four-year term, and across the country, only one Tory mayor managed to be re-elected. Every election in Europe these days is taken as an indication of a contest between authoritarians and democrats, not simply center-right and center-left. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has struggled to keep the more extreme nationalist and illiberal MPs in his party under control, but these devastating electoral results find them plotting to eject him from office if they can. If they succeed, the upcoming UK general election will be nearly as closely watched abroad as at home.

I would like to add that I am heartened by Labor’s victory—a sign that social democracy is ready to return to power in Great Britain. And as long as the Sunak-Cameron wing of the Tory Party maintains its ascendancy, there is no danger of a Trumpian-style right wing take over. I remain hopeful that, with all its limitations and class constraints, Britain will remain a bastion of political democracy.

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