The Telegraph 2024-07-06 20:12:37

LIVE General election latest: Starmer holds first press conference as PM – watch live

Sir Keir Starmer is holding his first press conference as Prime Minister after chairing Cabinet.

Watch the press conference live on the stream above.

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What does Reform need to overtake the Tories? Less than 340k voters

Nigel Farage’s plan to be prime minister in five years’ time may seem far-fetched, but it would take fewer than 340,000 voters to switch to Reform UK for the party to overtake the Tories and become the official opposition, a Telegraph analysis shows.

Reform’s return of just five MPs, including Mr Farage and party chairman Richard Tice, makes them a minnow in terms of seats, but the party received more than 4 million votes – the third highest of any party – and came second in 98 constituencies.

Where Labour averaged around 23,600 votes for every seat won, Reform averaged 820,745 votes per seat won.

The implication is obvious: Reform has a massive voter base which is currently too evenly spread, but if the party learned to organise itself it could convert those votes into large numbers of seats.

In order to overtake the Tories and with the 117 seats to become the second party in Parliament, Reform would have needed an extra 672,947 votes in the seats where they came closest to the winning party. Put another way, it would require 336,474 people to switch to Reform from the party that won those seats – just 0.7 per cent of the electorate.

Mr Tice says: “The number of seats where we came second is really significant, and we did that without even trying. Nigel is already talking about the next level of our growth, and the way he will professionalise the party.”

Unlike the Liberal Democrats, which won 71 seats despite having half a million fewer votes than Reform, Mr Farage’s party went into the election without the key tools of data and experience, instead relying on a “small group of guerillas” on the ground, as one party campaigner put it. 

Ominously for the other parties, this election has enabled Reform to build a huge database of voting patterns, enabling them to target their resources more scientifically next time around – and potentially convert those near misses into wins.

Speaking after the count in Clacton, Mr Farage said: “This is just the first step, I set out with a goal to win millions of votes, to get a bridgehead in Parliament and that’s what we’ve done so I’m very pleased.”

Mr Farage believes the clamour for proportional representation is going to be “enormous” from now on, but the reality is that no party with such a huge majority as Labour is likely to be interested in electoral reform.

The Telegraph’s analysis of the election results shows, however, that Reform could make huge gains even within the constraints of first-past-the-post.

In almost a quarter of seats, they took between 20 and 30 per cent of the vote share, in an election where two-fifths of seats were won with less than 40 per cent of all votes cast. Marginal gains would potentially deliver those seats to Mr Farage.

Asked where Reform goes from here, he said: “Forwards rapidly, very rapidly. I mean, look, I’ve got some things to do, I’ve got to professionalise it, I’ve got to democratise it, I’ve got to get rid of a few idiots that found it too easy to get on board. They will all go, they will all go, this will be a non-racist, non-sectarian party. Absolutely and I give my word on that.”

Despite Labour’s overall supermajority, the new government’s majority decreased in 22 seats where Reform came second.

Mr Tice said: “Labour is waking up to the fact that we are a serious threat to them. If you look at some of the results in the north and on the coasts we reduced Labour’s majorities, which shows the lack of appetite for Labour.”

Reform are convinced that increasing numbers of voters will turn to them if and when Labour fails to get legal and illegal migration down. One party aide suggested Labour was “praying for bad weather” to discourage a flotilla of small boats crossing the Channel after The Telegraph spoke to migrants who said they were waiting for a Labour government before making the trip.

Mr Tice also believes Labour will fail to achieve sufficient economic growth to pay for their plans, and that net zero will become “the next battleground” chipping away at Sir Keir Starmer’s popularity.

Mr Farage said: “This Labour government will be in trouble very, very quickly and we will now be targeting Labour votes. We’re coming for Labour, be in no doubt about that.”

While the idea of a party of five MPs becoming the official opposition would have seemed fanciful a decade ago, the 2024 election has shown that politics has become so volatile and traditional allegiances so weak that nothing can be ruled out.

Mr Farage said: “It shows that there is a level of disenchantment with politics. I think people are looking for something different. But, and here’s the important thing, this is not a protest vote. They’re not saying two fingers up to the establishment. They’re saying, “‘you know what, we really agree with what these guys are saying, we really agree with what they’re saying about tax levels, we agree with what they say about levels of legal net migration.’”. He continued “I promise you the enthusiasm of people voting Reform UK is truly extraordinary.”

In Clacton, Mr Farage won with a majority of 8,405 over the second-placed Conservative Giles Watling, who had held a majority of 24,702 in the old seat of Harwich. 

On the Conservative Party, Mr Farage added: “They’ve been around for 190 years. They’ve been amazingly resilient. But this could be, I think this is the beginning of the end of the Conservative Party.”

He said of Labour: “What is interesting is, there’s no enthusiasm for Labour, there’s no enthusiasm for Starmer whatsoever. In fact, about half of the vote is simply an anti-Conservative vote.”

There is an added fear within the Conservative Party about Mr Farage’s elevation to Parliament.

With a Tory leadership contest about to begin, the Conservatives will effectively be rudderless for weeks, giving Mr Farage a free run at Sir Keir Starmer.

One senior Conservative said: “We can’t afford for a leadership election to drag on. The nightmare scenario would be for it to go on until December, which would mean Farage having the opportunity to cement himself in people’s minds as the official opposition.

“He will use Parliament, he will use GB News, and he will use social media to attack Labour every time a small boat crosses the Channel or the NHS gets worse or the economic figures are bad or taxes go up.

If we don’t get our act together people will see him as the man who is the real opposition to Labour and it will take a long time for us to turn that around.”

Reform’s detractors like to portray the party as a one-man band, entirely reliant on the charismatic Mr Farage, but the party is already eyeing up possible future leaders who might take over after the next election.

Zia Yusuf, a Muslim entrepreneur who gave Reform its biggest donation during the election campaign, wowed an audience of 4,500 party supporters at the NEC in Birmingham last weekend, and is already being talked up as a possible successor to Mr Farage.

Until the next election, Reform UK has five MPs in Parliament four of whom are high-profile figures: Mr Farage, Mr Tice, former Tory MP Lee Anderson, and businessman Rupert Lowe, a familiar figure as the former chairman of Southampton Football Club.

Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at Rutherford College, University of Kent, said: “Nigel Farage has been given a wonderful hand of cards. It’s how he plays them now.

“He’s second in lots of Labour seats. He’s a viable alternative to the Conservatives. He’s got money flowing in. He’s got a presence in the House of Commons. He’s got the US election in the autumn. Much of Europe is swinging to the Right… incumbent governments getting smashed because of inflation and the cost-of-living crisis and populist parties are doing really well.”

Mr Goodwin told GB News: “What does that mean for the 2024-29 parliament? It means if there are by-elections, Farage is probably going to end up winning quite a few of those. Local elections? Well, if he’s organised, he’s going to end up doing quite well in those too.”

In the popular vote, Labour received 9.7 million votes, or a 33.8 per cent share, while the Conservatives received 6.8 million votes, or 23.7 per cent, and Reform received 4.07 million, or 14.25 per cent of the vote.

Mr Tice understandably raged against the mathematics of the most disproportionate election in history, in which Labour got two thirds of the seats but just a third of the votes.

He said: “How could it be right that the Conservative Party, that has just over 50 per cent more votes than we have, has 30 times the number of MPs? How could it be right that the now ruling Labour Party have double the number of votes that we have, and they’ve got some 100 times the number of MPs?”

Mr Farage preferred to look at the positives, saying: “Believe me folks, this is just the first step of something that is going to stun all of you. It’s four weeks and three days since I decided to come out of retirement and throw my hat in the ring. I think what Reform UK has achieved in just those few short weeks is truly extraordinary.” 

He continued: “Given we had no money, no branch structure, virtually nothing across the country, we’re going to come second in hundreds of constituencies, how many seats we’re going to win – I don’t know. But to have done this in such a short space of time says something very fundamental is happening.”

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The NHS is broken, says Streeting

The NHS is broken, the new Health Secretary has declared.

Wes Streeting made the analysis just an hour after being appointed, and said it was now the Department of Health’s official policy.

Mr Streeting also announced that he would start talks with the unions next week over ending the junior doctors’ strikes.

He said: “This Government will be honest about the challenges facing our country, and serious about tackling them. From today, the policy of this department is that the NHS is broken.

“That is the experience of patients who are not receiving the care they deserve, and of the staff working in the NHS who can see that – despite giving their best – this is not good enough.”

Labour has put NHS reform at the heart of its agenda. It has been a topic the party has struggled to tackle in the past, with many of its supporters ideologically resistant to any attempt to change the health service and considering the main problem it faces to be a lack of funds.

However, Mr Streeting’s words suggest that Sir Keir Starmer, the new Prime Minister, is keen to use the political capital of his landslide win to address the problems facing the NHS, which is still struggling with record waiting lists.

They also raise the possibility that Labour could replace Richard Meddings, the Tory-appointed NHS chairman, and even look at the position of Amanda Pritchard, the NHS chief executive.

In his first speech in the job, Mr Streeting acknowledged that the health service’s performance was “not good enough”. But he also warned that it could not be “fixed overnight” after going through “the biggest crisis in its history” following the Covid pandemic.

Junior doctors have been striking for more than a year in a dispute over pay, which has hampered efforts to cut record waiting lists.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the doctors’ union, has demanded a 35 per cent pay rise to make up for what it says are 15 years of below-inflation increases under the Tories.

Mr Streeting has already said that he will not agree to their demand, which he has described as unaffordable, but is prepared to negotiate. During the election campaign, Labour criticised the Tories for failing to meet the unions to end the dispute.

The BMA has been criticised after calling strikes during the election campaign, even though neither party was able to negotiate with it.

“When we said that patients are being failed on a daily basis, it wasn’t political rhetoric but the daily reality faced by millions,” said Mr Streeting. “Previous governments have not been willing to admit these simple facts. But in order to cure an illness, you must first diagnose it.

“We promised during the campaign that we would begin negotiations as a matter of urgency, and that is what we are doing. This Government has received a mandate from millions of voters for change and reform of the NHS so it can be there for us when we need it once again.”

Mr Streeting has repeatedly pledged to push through wide-ranging reforms to how the NHS works rather than just pouring more money into the system. His plan includes making maximum use of spare capacity in the private sector to clear the backlog, which has now reached 6.33 million patients.

He has also pledged to overhaul how the GP system works, introducing health hubs that will provide evening care and walk-in services at weekends.

The new Health Secretary has been blunt in his assessment of the care the service provides, saying he will not “pretend the NHS is the envy of the world”.

He referred to his own experience with the health service, saying: “When I was diagnosed with kidney cancer, the NHS saved my life. Today, I can begin to repay that debt by saving our NHS.”

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Only ‘Lord Almighty’ can tell me to stand down, says Biden

Joe Biden has said only the “Lord Almighty” can tell him to stand down, as he refused five times to say what he would do if his allies in the Democratic Party turned on him over his health.

The US president, 81, gave an interview to ABC News on Friday evening that was billed as an opportunity for him to recover support after a torrid week of criticism about his mental state.

In the interview, with the broadcaster George Stephanopoulos, Mr Biden repeatedly refused to say how he would react to being told by allies he should leave the presidential race.

“If the Lord Almighty said, ‘Joe get out of the race’, then I would get out of the race. But the Lord Almighty’s not coming down,” he said.

He denied claims that some of his closest allies, including Hakeem Jeffries, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, believed he should consider bowing out.

“I’ve met with them. I’ve met a lot of these people,” he said.

“I’ve talked with them regularly. I had an hour conversation with Hakeem. I had more time than that with Jim Clyburn. I spent time with, many hours off and on the last little bit, with Chuck Schumer.”

Asked finally what he would do if those people asked him to stand back for a younger candidate, he replied: “I’m not going to answer that question. It’s not going to happen.”

The polls are a ‘toss-up’, says Biden

Mr Biden said he had not watched back his debate performance against Donald Trump last Thursday, which has sparked fresh calls for him to give up his re-election campaign.

The president was defensive about his health, his campaign and his poll ratings ─ implying several times that reports of his mental infirmity had been exaggerated by the media.

He denied that his position in the opinion polls had worsened since the debate, telling the broadcaster: “All the pollsters I talk to tell me it’s a toss up”.

A polling aggregation by FiveThirtyEight suggests Mr Biden is now two points behind Trump nationally, after drawing even with him earlier last week.

President is ‘out of touch’

The interview did not appear to have placated Mr Biden’s critics, who have been calling for him to stand down since last Thursday.

David Axelrod, a former adviser to Barack Obama who served at the same time Mr Biden was vice president, said afterwards: “The president is rightfully proud of his record.

“But he is dangerously out-of-touch with the concerns people have about his capacities moving forward and his standing in this race.”

Mr Biden blamed the disastrous debate, in which he stuttered and froze, on a cold he had contracted and his decision to work too hard in the days before it.

“I was sick. I was feeling terrible,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the doc’s with me, I asked if they did a Covid test.

“We were trying to figure out what’s wrong. He did a test to see whether or not I had some infection in our virus. I didn’t. I just had a really bad cold.”

He also suggested the reason for his unease on the debate stage was Trump interrupting him.

“Even when I was answering the question, and when they turned [Trump’s] mic off, he was still shouting and I let it distract me,” he said. “I’m not blaming, but I realised that I just wasn’t in control.”

Biden insists he is well enough to run

However, Mr Biden repeatedly denied that he was not mentally or physically fit enough to run for office again.

He said: “Can I run the 110 flat? No, but I’m still in good shape.”

Asked several times whether he would agree to a cognitive test, Mr Biden said he showed his mental abilities “every day” through his work and had not been asked by doctors to complete one.

“No one said I had to,” he said. “No one said…they said I’m good.”

The interview came after a week of intense criticism of Mr Biden, including from two sitting Democratic congressmen who said publicly that he should stand down.

On Friday night Maura Healey, the governor of Massachusetts, became the most high-profile sitting Democrat to publicly call for Mr Biden to consider his position.

“The best way forward right now is a decision for the President to make,” she said.

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Starmer’s Cabinet: Thornberry ‘snubbed’ and McFadden made enforcer

Sir Keir Starmer has appointed a lawyer who has taken cases against British governments as the new Attorney General, in an apparent snub to Emily Thornberry.

In a surprise move, he has given a peerage to Richard Hermer, a KC from Matrix chambers, which Sir Tony Blair’s wife Cherie co-founded.

It means Mr Hermer has been given the job that was shadowed by Ms Thornberry in Opposition. On Friday night it was not clear whether Ms Thornberrry had a role in Sir Keir’s Cabinet.

Mr Hermer has brought a significant number of private international law claims against governments, including against officials in the UK, and also on behalf of UK servicemen and their families.

These include the Mau Mau litigation that led to the settlement of more 3,000 claims brought by individuals mistreated by the colonial regime in Kenya, and claims for mistreatment of civilians in Iraq, including on behalf of the family of Baha Mousa, who died in a British detention centre.

Mr Hermer has also represented Gerry Adams when the former Sinn Fein leader was being sued by victims of IRA bomb attacks and he brought litigation on behalf of UK citizens and residents held in Guantanamo Bay and acted on behalf of UK service personnel killed and seriously injured by friendly fire during the Iraq War.

He is also a former donor, having given £5,000 to Sir Keir for his Labour leadership campaign in 2020.

Sir Patrick Vallance

The Prime Minister also announced that former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance had been appointed minister for science.

James Timpson, the key-cutting and cobbling supremo, was appointed prisons minister. His appointment signalled that Sir Keir would be prioritising solving the prisons overcrowding crisis by making the appointment of a prisons minister on his first day in office.

Within hours of being appointed Prime Minister by the King, Sir Keir gave Pat McFadden – previously his national campaign co-ordinator – the title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

New Cabinet members were invited to walk down Downing Street in a strict order – and, in a sign of his importance, Mr McFadden was the third to enter No 10 behind Angela Rayner, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Rachel Reeves, the first female Chancellor.

The title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster does not carry any onerous responsibilities and is used by prime ministers to appoint a politician without a department to run the Cabinet. The previous holder was Oliver Dowden, who had a similar cross-governmental role under Rishi Sunak.

Mr McFadden’s appointment follows reports that Sue Gray, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, said the only thing that ministers would be marked on was “delivery”.

Others have said that Sir Keir will operate a “quad” to make key decisions, consisting of the Prime Minister, Ms Rayner, Ms Reeves and Mr McFadden.

The quad mirrors that of the 2010-15 Coalition, which employed two Tories and two Liberal Democrats. It enables quick decisions which can be hard to achieve with a full Cabinet.

Sir Keir’s version would exclude usually powerful ministers such as the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary.

Other appointments

Lisa Nandy was appointed Culture Secretary after the woman who was intended to take the job, Thangam Debbonaire, lost her Bristol seat to the Greens. In opposition, Ms Nandy was shadow international development secretary.

David Lammy was confirmed as Foreign Secretary, despite speculation he would not be given the same brief as he had in Opposition.

Yvette Cooper became Home Secretary as expected, Wes Streeting was named as the new Health Secretary and Ed Miliband was confirmed as Energy Secretary.

Other appointments included Shabana Mahmood, who was confirmed as Justice Secretary, Jonathan Reynolds as Business Secretary, and Liz Kendall as Work and Pensions Secretary.

John Healey is the new Defence Secretary and Louise Haigh is Transport Secretary. Steve Reed is the new Environment Secretary, Bridget Phillipson takes on education and Jonathan Reynolds becomes Business Secretary while Peter Kyle is Science Secretary. Ian Murray is the new Scottish Secretary, Jo Stevens is Wales Secretary and Hilary Benn is responsible for Northern Ireland.

Ms Phillipson, who has championed Labour’s pledge to impose VAT on private schools, said after her appointment: “Opportunity should be for all – not just a lucky few.”

‘A leading silk’

Rachel Holmes, chief executive at Matrix Chambers, said of Mr Hermer: “Richard has played an important role in Matrix’s development and success … as a leading silk in the areas of public and private international law.

“He has been committed to taking a modern and inclusive approach to the provision of legal services and to ensuring that access to justice is available to all. We wish Richard all the best as he takes on this important role.”

Sir Keir’s appointment of Mr McFadden, a 59-year-old Glaswegian, as his “Cabinet enforcer” shows that the new Prime Minister is keen to avoid the mistakes of Sir Tony Blair when he swept to power on 1997.

Sir Tony revealed in his diaries that in the early years he found that, despite unveiling a new policy, it was often difficult to get anything to change in the department and the policy did not get implemented.

Eventually, he appointed Jack Cunningham as enforcer in an attempt to make sure No 10’s remit was obeyed across Whitehall.

Economic growth

As the UK’s first female Chancellor, Ms Reeves told Treasury staff she wanted the Labour Government to work “hand in glove with business” as she vowed its “central mission” would be to boost economic growth.

“I want this to be the most pro-growth Treasury in our country’s history,” she said. “That will mean doing what the Treasury does best – building growth on a rock of economic stability.”

On Friday night, Lucy Powell was made leader of the House of Commons and Baroness Smith of Basildon the leader of the House of Lords. Sir Alan Campbell was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, while Darren Jones was made Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

David Lammy – Foreign Secretary

There had been speculation that Mr Lammy would not be made Foreign Secretary, speculation which only mounted when Sir Keir refused to confirm he would have the job during the election campaign.

Mr Lammy was largely absent from the campaign trail and the Labour leader was forced to distance himself from past remarks made by Mr Lammy about Donald Trump, the Republican candidate in November’s US presidential election.

In 2018, Mr Lammy called Mr Trump a “woman-hating, neo-Nazi sympathising sociopath” and said he posed a “profound threat to the international order”.

Asked about those comments during a phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live, Sir Keir said: “Those aren’t words that I’ve ever used. I’ve dealt with all sorts of leaders, when I was chief prosecutor, across the world.”

On Friday, Mr Lammy softened his words on Mr Trump, saying: “I will work closely with whoever is in the White House in the end. The US is a great democracy. In democracies, of course, there is debate and discussion and difference.”

He also said he understood the “agony” of communities which had voted against Labour over its hesitation in calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“All of us recognise the agony of communities who have seen the scenes coming out of Israel and Gaza,” she said.

“But the job now is to get to work with tireless diplomacy to support an immediate ceasefire and move towards getting those hostages out.”

He said he wanted to see “an immediate ceasefire” in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Richard Moore, The MI6 chief tweeted his congratulations to Mr Lammy on his new appointment, writing: “A warm welcome to our new Foreign Secretary David Lammy. All at SIS [Special Intelligence Services] look forward to supporting him with world-class intelligence insight as he goes about his duties in this contested and challenging world.”

Lord Cameron, the previous foreign secretary, did not receive any such public message when he was appointed last December.

In his first act as Foreign Secretary on Friday night Mr Lammy announced a £500,000 support package for Caribbean countries affected by the destruction of Hurricane Beryl.

Lisa Nandy – Culture Secretary

Ms Nandy, whose promotion to Culture Secretary marked one of the few changes in the appointments, is set to oversee a review of the TV licence fee.

Four years ago, she blamed the Tories under Boris Johnson for fostering an “anti-media and anti-BBC feeling” on social media by threatening to scrap the licence fee.

In an article for LabourList, when she was standing to be party leader, Ms Nandy said she wanted to defend “free media” like the BBC and said she wanted to “protect” the licence fee.

She called for a new structure for the Corporation, under which it would be “owned and directed by licence fee holders” to prevent the threat of government interference.

“This anti-media and anti-BBC feeling is all over social media and goes all the way to No 10, with its hints that not only will non-payment of the licence fee be decriminalised but it could be scrapped altogether,” she said.

“But instead of joining in the pile-on, we need to be advocating for and defending free media, and especially the BBC. Because for all of its imperfections, it is based on a licence fee that provides it with the basis to speak truth to power.”

She added that she would “protect” the licence fee to ensure the BBC was not held to ransom over appointments and funding and was more “accountable” to the British people, as well as advocating for a new structure for the BBC’s board that would support “greater independence from the government”.

Ms Nandy also criticised the BBC for a London-centric bias against the north.

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Just after the Labour defeat in the 2019 election she complained that she had been told by the Corporation that she would have to travel down to the capital from her Wigan constituency to be able to appear on the Andrew Marr Show.

“Setting up this interview was an absolute nightmare if I’m honest,” she told Mr Marr. “I was told that unless I came down to a London studio to talk about rebuilding our northern heartlands on Sunday I couldn’t come on the show.

“I’m grateful for you for changing that and allowing me to do it from up north. Unless we start urgently addressing these structural problems, we are never going to be able to hear and show proper respect to these communities that rejected us so decisively.”

‘The NHS is broken’

After being confirmed as Health Secretary, Mr Streeting said Labour’s position on the NHS was that it was broken.

“This government will be honest about the challenges facing our country, and serious about tackling them,” he said. “From today, the policy of this department is that the NHS is broken.

“That is the experience of patients who are not receiving the care they deserve, and of the staff working in the NHS who can see that – despite giving their best – this is not good enough.”

He added that following a call with the BMA junior doctors’ committee, he would begin talks to “end their industrial action” next week.

The doctors have been striking for months to secure themselves a huge pay rise.

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OMG, I just got elected! Meet Britain’s youngest MP

It had seemed that Sam Carling, 22, was never destined to become a member of parliament. In November he was Labour’s second selection, after its first-choice candidate was ousted, to fight for a seat that had never in its history been red. So when yesterday’s exit poll came in at 10pm it appeared to seal an obvious end: by pollster John Curtice’s measure, there was just a 26 per cent chance that North West Cambridgeshire would have Carling as its representative. 

Clearly fate had other plans. Today Carling has become both Britain’s new Baby of the House, as its youngest electee, and the joint-youngest Labour MP in modern history, almost tied to the day with title-holder Malcolm Macmillan, who triumphed in 1935.

Carling contested veteran Conservative Shailesh Vara, who was elected into North West Cambridgeshire in 2005 and held on to his seat right until this year, sticking around for long enough to be a minister in three separate governments. Staff whispers from early on in the night suggested that Vara would surely hang on, and that it was not only the seat’s voting record and the exit poll that seemed to stand in Carling’s way.

The new Baby of the House comes from, “a totally apolitical family, in quite a deprived part of the north east of England,” he says. Though Carling has lived in Cambridge since he was 18, studying natural sciences at the University of Cambridge before becoming a research fellow there (one of his two present jobs, alongside sitting on Cambridgeshire Council), his strong north eastern accent still means that he is an oddity in this pocket of the blue wall south. 

If Carling ever felt that he was bound to become a Labour MP one day, then, and in the south of England at that, this is a belief that he has deftly hidden. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” he said after making his winners’ speech. “I’m very grateful to all the residents who have put their trust in me, and I’m very cognisant of the responsibility that comes with that,” he adds, like any good new politician is wont to do. 

As we speak, on the floor of Peterborough’s enormous Kingsgate Conference Centre auditorium, the young man is constantly beset by photographers. It’s easy to see why. On this momentous night, when pictures speak much louder than words, Carling looks for all the world like a sixth former who has just been crowned head boy. 

Even after his victory Carling still displays a hint of the nerves that had plagued him throughout the night, and by 6am he was more exhausted than ecstatic. “All the predictions were all over the place,” he says. “The exit poll said I would lose, but by our own data, we thought I still might win.” There was a dramatic 5am recount after Carling was initially found to have won the seat by just 23 votes – in the end, as if by magic, they found him an extra 16. “It was very, very uncertain right until the last minute,” he admits. 

It’s asked of every new Baby of the House, and many a fresh MP in their 20s, how they can hope to represent their constituents in Parliament given their lack of life experience. Carling has better grounds for argument than most. He has been a city councillor since the age of 20 and now manages a budget worth £17 million, as well as hundreds of staff. 

Throughout the night, however, it seemed as if someone had forgotten to inform the councillor that to become an MP meant an entrance into public life. He arrived bang-on-the-dot at 10pm, hot on the heels of the exit poll and more than three hours before Vara appeared. The Labour lad immediately announced that he would not be making any comments to journalists until after the result was called, “and even then I might not”, he said, as he flitted between the rooms hosting the North West Cambridgeshire count.

When Vara made his landing at the count at just past 1am, he stopped to dispel some wisdom to his young rival. But Carling was clearly flustered by the sudden appearance of the photographers who had trailed Vara up the stairs towards the ballot boxes: he was distracted by the “flurry”, he pronounced. Soon afterwards the candidate was snapped on his phone while sitting on a chair in the corridor, something of a classic Gen Z pose, and much to his protests; afterwards he tried to steer clear of snappers all night, darting between rooms to avoid attention. 

Who was he texting? Perhaps his friends, who he imagines now are “proud” – “obviously a lot of them have been out supporting me,” he says, “though I won’t be seeing them for a few hours, because priority number one will be going to sleep”. 

Or maybe he was congratulating another super-young candidate, such as the new Labour MP for Hertford and Stortford, 24-year-old Josh Dean, who with Carling will form Gen Z’s political debut. But Carling is careful. “I know some of them as friends and as colleagues,” he says. “I’m sure I will get to know more of them, but I don’t really know who’s been successful at this stage.” 

After this the candidate maintained his solitude until just past 3.30am, when the first hints of his seat’s new status were revealed. At 3.48am Carling was standing by the count table on the summons of the returning officer, looking gleeful for the first time in that long evening. It seemed he had won: but the margin was so small that the Conservatives had demanded a recount.

Just down the aisle were a friendly but tense-looking midlife couple with lanyards that designated them as “count agents”, peering down at Carling with concern. In a room full of plain-clothed people their northern accents gave them away. The candidate’s parents had followed him to the count. But “I won’t confirm or deny that,” Carling’s mum said. Clearly he had them well-trained too. 

Despite even this, Carling is keen not to be defined by his age. “At the end of the day I’m the Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire, as weird as it sounds,” he says. “I want us as a society to get into a position where we’re not obsessing over people’s age when they’re elected to these positions, because realistically they are just as capable as anyone else.”

Yet he exudes a particular kind of frenetic energy that is most commonly found in A-level exam halls. After the recount was announced Carling paced the room, tugging at his mound of curly mouse-brown hair or dutifully adjusting his Labour rosette. His black jacket was slightly too big, the matching trousers slightly too short. The first to be delivered the news of the recount were his parents, and until the ballots were collected for a final time, it was only them that he wanted for company. 

Others in the room clearly see Carling in a different light. Alongside his parents at the count were many of his council colleagues. “We’ve seen him improve a lot in the last two years,” says one, who is old enough to be Carling’s grandfather. “We’ve had to slow him down a bit, because he used to talk so fast, and that’s helped with understanding his accent too,” he explains. “But he’s really learned how to interact with the public. He’s very well-liked. He’ll go a long way.” 

The council will be sad to lose Sam to Westminster as “he’s good, with his vibrance,” another colleague explains. “He’s got that sort of confidence you only have when you’re so young. North West Cambridgeshire will never be a safe seat, unless he does exceptionally well, but we are looking at someone who is going to be a big name in politics within the next few years.” 

While Vara detachedly observed the recount from his feet, slowly hovering by each table, Carling sat at the desk directly opposite counters with his back straight and hands together, as if he could will the ballots to change in his favour. It almost seemed that he was counting the papers himself, with a forensic precision he perhaps has honed in his work as a cancer research scientist at Cambridge University – he is precocious in more ways than one. 

Perhaps it’s this intensity that makes Carling cut something of a lonely figure. One colleague of his jokes that he fits his council work and research, formerly his Cambridge natural sciences degree, “around his paper round”. You have to wonder how he makes the time to be 22, and how he will adjust to life in Westminster and in London, one that could be more slow-paced and low-stakes than that which he currently leads.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Carling says when asked how he feels about the prospect of leaving Cambridge University and the council behind. He had originally planned for a career in science, though all that changed during covid, when he realised that “actually, I want to work in politics” – around the time that his school’s sixth form was shut down. 

“I’m thrilled to be taking on the role, and that’s the main focus,” he says, “but there’s a little pang of sadness. But then I think I can bring a lot of the experience I have from working in science to Parliament and building up evidence-based policy and social circles,” Carling says, as if this is just any other LinkedIn-boosting graduate job. 

Shortly before 5.30 the room silently acknowledged Carling’s victory. There was a brief moment when a third count might have been called, it was thought, before Shailesh Vara conceded defeat. He gracefully shook Sam’s hand again and smiled at his parents, before hugging and kissing his own supporters. From some within that camp there seemed to be tears. 

In Sam’s camp too hugs abounded – his parents beamed – but there was a sense of finality to all this rather than that of a new beginning. As one councillor said, all had thought Carling would “walk it in”, despite what local officials and national polls may have claimed. 

The young new MP clearly has huge respect for 63-year-old Vara, too, despite his determination to right what he sees as the ruin done to North West Cambridgeshire by Tory rule. “The overriding thing for me is the manifesto I stood on,” Carling says. “It’s Labour’s mission, it’s those first steps of change. We’re going to get on with that straight away, in terms of rebuilding Britain’s public services and getting our country’s future back in essence,” he says. 

But this night could not have been less about the nation. The seat’s recount was called fifty minutes before Rishi Sunak would concede defeat to Starmer, and when that national defeat was screened on the count room’s enormous TV no one batted an eyelid. Nor did they when an enormous cheer could be heard from the bottom floor as Peterborough constituency declared for Labour. 

In regards to his own victory and to his party’s, “I don’t think I have any plans to celebrate,” says the new MP, besides going to bed – by the end of the night he has a pounding headache. “I know there was a party over in Cambridge with a lot of my colleagues in the city council, though that will probably have wrapped up by the time I get there.”

Carling leaves the conference centre at 6am after local media and the BBC have had their fill of questions. Some wondered whether he is now Britain’s youngest MP, if not only Labour’s. Carling is so self-serious that his age can be easily forgotten, as can the fact that he has never before voted in a general election – until you see the Baby of the House with his parents in tow, on the way to the family car in the parking lot. 

He might appear more like a sixth form prefect than a future leader after an overnight count, but are we looking at a future science or education secretary, as his colleagues believe, or perhaps even a future Prime Minister? “I’ve only just been elected, so let’s just take things one step at a time,” Carling says before he departs. “I really haven’t had time to think about that in great detail, so let’s leave that for later. We’ll speculate on that one.” 

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England fans in Germany claim they will ‘drink more pints than Tories have seats’

England fans in Germany have been enjoying the escape from the general election by trying to drink more pints than the number of seats the Conservatives have remaining.

As 50,000 descended on Dusseldorf before the Three Lions’ quarter-final clash with Switzerland, fans on tour in Germany were glad to be missing the tedium of the election at home.

On Friday, on Dusseldorf’s Rheinuferpromenade of bars on the river, few were interested in the change of government back home, which left the Conservatives with fewer than 125 seats.

“It’s 100 per cent better here than watching the election,” said Elliot Fribbens, 28, a carpenter from Portsmouth, as he enjoyed another local beer with Matt Rees, 28.

“That’s as long as we win. We didn’t watch it last night, we do know the result.

“Hopefully [Gareth] Southgate won’t be following [Rishi] Sunak out the door, and we will somehow be bringing it home. I’m so glad I wasn’t in England yesterday, I couldn’t care less.

“People at home were watching the election at 3am and we were just getting in. I think between us we probably will get through more pints than the Tories have seats.”

In the next bar, fans were equally disinterested in Labour knocking the Conservatives out of power.

“What election?” asked Carl Stevenson, 45, an insurance broker from Blackpool. “Maybe it will be, if we don’t play [well] tomorrow it will be Sunak out, Southgate out.

“Tomorrow, we will win on penalties, so it might be a bit closer than yesterday. We got the ferry over and I don’t remember the rest of the day. We went for a couple and then it was 36 pints. That was an early night.”

In the city centre, where thousands of England fans were beginning to gather, George Rawkins, 22, from London, dressed in full England kit, said that he was glad to be in Germany as he and friends began a bar crawl around town.

“It’s a bit of a relief to be here, it’s a lot more fun here. There is a strong chance we will have more than 121 pints over the weekend.

“We’ll have a round that would beat the Reform done in the next 10 minutes. We were praying England would get here, we were nearly watching Slovakia against Switzerland.”

While most of the fans mingling with the English in Dusseldorf yesterday were Germans supporting their side against Spain, locals further afield have revealed that they “fell in love” with the England team while growing up under communism.

Reinhard Lisker, 66, who recently watched Southgate’s men train at a stadium in Jena, said he was supporting England.

“As a boy I supported teams which played against West Germany. So I became an England fan the day they won the World Cup in 1966 and have never looked back.”

He added:  “I’m proud to wear my England shirt today alongside my family who all support Gareth Southgate’s team, and it’s a thrill to see them in my hometown.”

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The Daily T: Labour in power and Iain Duncan Smith on Farage

It’s official: we have a new prime minister. When Sir Keir Starmer spoke on the steps of No 10 Downing Street he became just the seventh ever Labour politician to lead the country – but the challenges he is facing are vast. 

Kamal and Camilla take a look at the issues at the top of his in-tray, from a sluggish economy to immigration concerns. Plus with a low vote share and a historic number of seats won by the Lib Dems, Reform, the Greens and independent pro-Palestine candidates, they ask whether Labour can really be the “government of service” Starmer wants them to be?

Plus, Iain Duncan Smith joins Kamal and Camilla in the studio to discuss how he held on to his London seat and what next for the Tories as they reel from one of their worst electoral losses ever. 

Watch all episodes of the Daily T here or on YouTube.

Or if you would prefer to listen to the audio only, then use the player above. You can also listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and subscribe to The Daily T newsletter for updates. 

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