Things must only get better

-Credit: (Image: PA/Mirrorpix)
-Credit: (Image: PA/Mirrorpix)

A new era has begun.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is the country's new Prime Minister, after a general election in which the Conservative party was subjected to one of its worst-ever defeats.

After 14 years in opposition, the Labour party has swept into power with a majority just shy of what Tony Blair achieved in 1997.

READ MORE: The full map of General Election results across Greater Manchester

But things feel very different this time. When Tony Blair first set foot in Downing Street there was an overwhelming sense of optimism.

Back then, the new government inherited an economy on the up and a nation less divided. Things could only get better - and change came quickly.

This time around there is no D:Ream, none of the carefree swagger of Cool Britannia. The chalice, now, is more poisoned than it was 27 years ago. Political instability, hard economic times and a changing world have left too many feeling left behind, ignored and bewildered.

People are hungry for change. Voters all over Greater Manchester told us so when we spoke to them, in huge numbers, in all 27 constituencies in our region, in the six-week run-up to this historic election.

Many people have put their trust in Sir Keir's Labour party to deliver that change. But, up and down the country, many have not. Indeed, in many places, trust in the two main parties is in short supply.

Sir Keir Starmer speaks outside No 10 Downing Street for the first time since becoming Prime Minister
Sir Keir Starmer speaks outside No 10 Downing Street for the first time since becoming Prime Minister

Reform UK has seen a surge in support, winning five seats, including one for party leader Nigel Farage in his eighth effort to win a seat at Westminster.

In Greater Manchester alone, 190,000 people voted for Reform UK. In fact, the party came second in 14 of our 27 constituencies, pushing the Conservatives into third place.

In our conversations with readers - in towns, suburbs and villages across our region - people who said they intended to vote for Reform each had their own reasons. What they all had in common was that they were frustrated.

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage
Sir Keir Starmer speaks outside No 10 Downing Street for the first time since becoming Prime Minister -Credit:Getty Images

The consequences of that frustration are a warning to the political class, if ever there was one. It's a warning that lays bare the scale of the task the new Labour government faces.

That momentous task is to heal a great nation fractured by the upheavals of the last 14 years. It's to unify and encourage trust - not just in government, but in one another, whatever walk of life we come from. It's to make sure that no-one feels ignored and left behind, a loser in a competition for diminishing returns, without pandering to the politics of scapegoating and division.

And all this at a time when the tax burden is high, money is tight and services are stretched.

In our region, like so many parts of the country, there are towns desperate to fulfil their potential, communities who feel disconnected from the decisions made in their name. And if people don't see the answers coming from the mainstream parties of government they will look elsewhere - or disengage entirely.

We see this in the shocks that have come from the left, as well as those that have come from the right. While George Galloway lost his seat in Rochdale, Labour lost four seats to independents.

Workers Party leader George Galloway has lost his seat
Reform UK leader Nigel Farage -Credit:PA

Salford-born Jonathan Ashworth, who lost his seat in Leicester, was the highest profile political casualty to a pro-Palestine candidate. Labour also lost seats in Blackburn, West Yorkshire and Birmingham and came close in other areas with a sizeable Muslim population.

Meanwhile, the Greens got their best-ever result, securing four seats across the UK. The party came second in two Manchester seats.

At the same time, growing support for 'none-of-the-above' remains a reality. Turnout has fallen to near-record lows, in some places, with less than half of eligible voters casting their ballot in some Greater Manchester seats. Ahead of the election, two-thirds of M.E.N. readers who responded to our survey told us they didn't believe their vote would make a difference.

They've seen too many faces at the black door of 10 Downing Street - Keir Starmer is the sixth since 2016 - and heard too many unfulfilled promises of renewal. And, even where they don't follow politics at all, they know enough - that they aren't getting any richer fast, and that the infrastructure and public services we all depend on are deteriorating. Whether it's social care, the NHS, the quality of our water, transport in the North, institutional failures or the housing crisis - there's a sense that not much works right now.

Not so long ago, Boris Johnson offered hope of uniting the country after years of bitterness over Brexit. Under his leadership, just four and a half years ago, the Conservatives stormed to victory in Labour's Northern heartlands with a promise of 'levelling up' the country.

Boris Johnson gave one of his first speeches as Prime Minister in Manchester five years ago
Workers Party leader George Galloway has lost his seat -Credit:Getty Images

But Northern voters, many of whom ditched lifelong allegiances to vote Tory for the first time in 2019, have resoundingly rejected the party which failed to deliver on its promises. A Conservative wipe-out in Greater Manchester, with every one of their seats lost, is a stark illustration of what happens when politicians make people feel badly let down.

Things must get better now. There is a yearning for something different.

Britain is moving in a different direction to many other Western countries by electing a political party on the centre-left. Other liberal democracies will now be looking to us for leadership. But global trends in an increasingly unstable world show how fragile the contract is between mainstream political parties and restless electorates.

Labour has not had an overwhelming endorsement, with the party's share of the vote lower than Jeremy Corbyn's in 2017. But theirs remains a resounding victory, with the party coming first in many more parts of the country than was thought possible a few short years ago.

Credit for the Conservatives' crushing defeat must also go to the Lib Dems who have secured 71 seats - including two in Greater Manchester.

But the legacy of the last government remains. And managing that demands the most skilful of balancing acts - economically, socially, culturally - from a new Labour government that many have longed for for years, and many still feel unsure about.

Above all, our new Prime Minister must make people's lives better. We have been let down too many times.