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UK election is a quaint reminder of how democracy can work

Starmer will not want to upset investment flows from the Gulf

No fuss: women enter a London polling station to vote in the UK general election Reuters/Maja Smiejkowska
No fuss: women enter a London polling station to vote in the UK general election

Until last week I had not been present in the UK during a general election since 2005, when Tony Blair won the third and last of his elections against a Conservative called Michael Howard.

Obviously, I am a talisman for Labour, as my family holiday this year happened to coincide with the leftish party’s first win since then. 

And a big win too, with Sir Keir Starmer becoming prime minister in a landslide – 412 seats in the House of Commons and a majority of 174. Wipe out for the Conservative Party.

It was, of course, big news. But London went about its business pretty much as usual in the run-up to polling day.

The day before polling we found ourselves in Knightsbridge. There is nothing so thrilling for the females in my family as a trip to Harrods with my credit card, and they enjoyed a few hours of spendthrift fun while I winced at each swipe of the plastic.

The clientele in the Qatari-owned store was overwhelmingly Arab, Asian and Russian, and I’m certain hardly a one of them knew that there was an election going on that could turn their luxury shopping paradise into a drab, uniform one-party socialist state (as the Daily Telegraph newspaper has been shrieking for the past six weeks).

If Starmer were to impose a special Rolls-Royce tax in the “golden triangle” of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge he might have found a way to fund the creaking National Health Service in perpetuity.

In the part of the capital where I was staying – leafy Holland Park – there were no “battle buses” touring the streets with bullhorns exhorting voters to get to the polling booths, no visible signs at all that an election was on, except for a few cardboard signs on lamp posts and trees denoting “polling station” in the vicinity.

It was all very quaint and British, and a reminder that the UK democratic process is a refreshing antidote to the divisive presidential razzamatazz of the USA.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria on their way to vote during the general election Reuters/Maja Smiejkowska
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria on their way to vote during the general election

One such polling station happened to be my old school, the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial in swanky Addison Road – boys-only Roman Catholic grammar in my day, now state comprehensive with (shock!) girls in the sixth form, but still with a strong religious ethos.

I went down there on the morning of the vote to witness election fever first hand in one of the richest areas of London, a constituency where you would expect the Conservatives to have an iron grip.

Chatting to a local Labour councillor, who was ticking people off a list as they arrived at the school, it was obvious that the Tories’ days were numbered even in this affluent enclave. All the voters were going for Labour, he said.

And so it turned out – the constituency of Kensington and Bayswater returned Joe Powell, an “anti-corruption champion” whose CV suggests he regards oil companies as the spawn of the devil.

Out and about in London on polling day again it was difficult to tell that an election was taking place.

Kenwood House on the northern fringe of Hampstead was busy in full sunshine, and a delightful day was had – but there was not a sign of a political rosette or lapel button, even in woke Hampstead nearby.

At University College Hospital (an urgent but not serious stop) – where you would expect the NHS staff to all be stout Labour defenders – there was not a mark of political affiliation to be seen.

By the time the first exit poll came out at about 10pm, I was in Covent Garden. There was some chatter in the pubs about the size of the Labour landslide, but again, it was all pretty low key.

A big Labour win had been expected for many months, and there was a distinct feeling of anti-climax as the actual results trickled out over the next few hours.

What can the Gulf expect from the new Labour government in the UK?

I get the impression Starmer is pretty pragmatic in foreign and trade relations, and will not want to do anything to upset the flows of investment into the UK from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Starmer may also want to re-build some bridges with the UAE that were damaged in the fall-out with the Conservative government over the sale of the Daily Telegraph.

The climate warriors and human rights champions on Labour’s left might make some noise, but it will be pretty much business as usual between the UK and the Gulf.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia and is a media adviser to First Abu Dhabi Bank of the UAE

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