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Plenty Were Humbled In UK Elections


A Conservative wave returned David Cameron to power as prime minister in the British elections on Thursday. Another big winner - the Scottish National Party. They had almost a clean sweep across Scotland. Now, we're going to look more closely at the losers. An entire slate of British political leaders lost their jobs this week. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from London. Ari, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Please, let's begin with Ed Miliband, leader of the left-wing Labour Party.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. As a story, his defeat is just an incredible fall. We talk colloquially about people's careers ending overnight, and Ed Miliband's career literally ended overnight. Thursday evening, everyone thought he could be the next prime minister; Friday morning, he resigned. Of course, he could make a comeback at some point down the road, but there was something that really struck me in his resignation speech Friday. Scott, I want to play three short clips from that speech for you, and you tell me if anything about these stands out to you.


ED MILIBAND: You know, I believe there is more that unites us than divides us...

...An ability to have disagreement without being disagreeable...

...Because I believe it isn't simply leaders who achieve change, it is people that make change happen.

SHAPIRO: OK, Scott, three clips from Miliband's resignation speech. Pop quiz - listeners can play along at home...

SIMON: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Where have you heard all three of those lines before?

SIMON: Hope, change - Grant Park, 2008.

SHAPIRO: Right. This speech was like an Obama greatest hits album. And I suppose that shouldn't be surprising. Obama guru David Axelrod was a paid consultant to Miliband's campaign. And another Obama veteran, Jim Messina, was a consultant on the conservative campaign for David Cameron, the winning prime minister. You know, when it comes to elections, there are still huge differences between U.S. and the U.K. in money, duration, advertising. But British political campaigns are becoming bit by bit more like American ones. And I'm not saying there's a cause and effect here, but a lot of British voters on Election Day told me this was the most negative campaign they could remember. And that's certainly something we hear a lot in the U.S. as well.

SIMON: Another loser was the party they call UKIP, the U.K. Independence Party.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Across Europe, we have seen the rise of far-right anti-immigration parties, and in Britain, that party is UKIP. They want the U.K. to leave the European Union. They want to cut way back on the flow of unskilled workers to Britain. And in other European countries, these parties have won elections or at least been very influential. But here in Britain, UKIP did not have a good day at all. Party leader Nigel Farage did not win the seat in Parliament that he was going for; yesterday, he resigned. Here's part of what he said.


NIGEL FARAGE: There hasn't been a single day of my life since 1994 that has not been dominated by UKIP. And it really has been seven days a week, totally unrelenting and occasionally let down by people, who perhaps haven't always said and done the right things.


SHAPIRO: That's a reference to the seemingly unending string of UKIP officials who resigned after making comments during the campaign that were racist or sexist or otherwise just generally inappropriate for politicians. In other countries, that has served fringe parties pretty well. But it was not a winning recipe for UKIP in Britain.

SIMON: Lastly, Nick Clegg, he was deputy prime minister yesterday, leader of the Liberal Democrats. Today, Ari, you would have to buy him a cup of coffee at Pret a Manger.

SHAPIRO: That's right. It's an incredible fall. And the lesson of what seemed like a really good deal for the Liberal Democrats going into an alliance with conservatives was actually kind of a poisoned chalice, where they had little enough power to be unable to influence policy, but enough power to be able to take the blame for policies that people didn't like. By the way, this roundup of losers would not be complete without mentioning the British opinion pollsters who got this election completely wrong.

SIMON: NPR's Ari Shapiro, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.