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UK politics

The pragmatists are back on top

Centrists in arms: Sunak and Starmer with the King. Arthur Edwards/AFP/Getty

“Britain is a nation re-embracing pragmatism,” says Janan Ganesh in the FT. Boris Johnson is out of parliament, as is his “Saint Paul”, Nadine Dorries. Keir Starmer is elevating centrist politicians in his “cabinet-in-waiting”, and Tony Blair is “no longer persona non grata”. The government is making “discreet” accommodations with the EU. Scotland is less of a one-party state. In 2019, Britain had to choose between Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn as PM. Next time, voters will have their pick of “adenoidal but meticulous technocrats” in Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir. These kinds of leaders don’t guarantee wise policies, but at least they’re “conscientious adults who know that government is about trade-offs”.

For comparison, the next US election could see Donald Trump back in office. In France, extremists will no longer have to go up against term-limited Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland party is second in the polls. Britain’s moderate turn is a reminder that in a parliamentary system, bad leaders can be easily replaced: Liz Truss was booted out of No 10 “in all of 50 days”. But it also demonstrates that “in order to turn against radical politics, a nation has to suffer quite tangibly from it”. Whereas populists in other countries either haven’t been elected or have been constrained in office, Brexit was “enacted in full”. Now only a third of voters think it was a good idea, and the experience appears to have inoculated them against anything that smells of “grand visions, easy answers, personality-led demagoguery”. Britain, it seems, is adamant: “we’re not doing this anymore”.