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British Politicians Examine U.S. Election For Clues To Their Own

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for the weekly cabinet meeting in London on Tuesday.
NurPhoto via Getty Images
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for the weekly cabinet meeting in London on Tuesday.

Politicians in the United Kingdom are already studying the results of the U.S. presidential race for clues that could help them in the next parliamentary elections, due to take place in 2024.

Britain's main opposition Labour Party, the nearest equivalent to the Democrats, is encouraged to see a centrist such as Joe Biden beat a populist such as Donald Trump. That's because Labour is led by Keir Starmer, a center-left politician.

Starmer, a thoughtful, reliable former prosecutor, presents a sharp contrast with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a crowd-pleasing politician who eschews details and is widely seen as having mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic. The U.K. has the highest death toll in Europe. Johnson's approval ratings are down and many don't expect him to serve out his full term.

"There's no doubt that the Labour Party will be very happy with this outcome," says Sara Hobolt, a political scientist at the London School of Economics. "They will be hoping, perhaps, when looking at this election, that this victory of a sense of quiet competence of a Biden over the charismatic identity politics of Trump is one that they can emulate."

But Biden's victory was not as overwhelming as many in the United Kingdom expected — and some in Johnson's Conservative Party may be reassured by Trump's strong showing with 71 million votes, more than any Republican candidate has ever won.

"The fact that Trump was not repudiated ... I think probably there will be some within Britain who will view that as being an election result that doesn't necessarily require them to find a new formula," says Matthew Goodwin, who teaches politics at the University of Kent and is the coauthor of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy.

The Conservative Party will also be watching closely to see who becomes the Republican nominee in 2024, whether it may be a Trump-like candidate or a more traditional Republican.

"They will now be watching the internal Republican debate," says Goodwin, "which is obviously going to be fascinating."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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