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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A landslide victory in Britain for a party that hasn't won an election since Tony Blair.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The next British prime minister will be Keir Starmer from the center left Labour Party, who spoke early this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEIR STARMER: Change begins now.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Literally true. There's no transition in the U.K. He becomes prime minister almost immediately. Yesterday's election was a near wipeout for the incumbent Conservatives, their worst defeat in the party's nearly 200-year history.

FADEL: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in London and has followed this through the night. Good morning.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So tell us about the new British prime minister.

FRAYER: Keir Starmer is a human rights lawyer and a prosecutor. As a young man, he actually called for the monarchy to be abolished, but later knelt before the monarch to get a knighthood. And today he's meeting with King Charles to get his ceremonial nod to form a new government. And as Steve said, he'll move into 10 Downing Street this afternoon. You heard a bit of him at the top there. Here's more of what he said in a victory speech before dawn here in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STARMER: Walk into the morning, the sunlight of hope - pale at first, but getting stronger through the day, shining once again.

FRAYER: He's speaking in pretty poetic terms there...

FADEL: Yeah.

FRAYER: ...About what he sees as a huge mandate, a new era for the British government, power changing hands for the first time after 14 years of Conservative rule. But he faces a lot of challenges - a state hobbled by years of austerity measures, government coffers near empty.

FADEL: Now, incumbent Conservatives didn't just lose, they were obliterated. Why?

FRAYER: Yeah. The one thing that I've been hearing over and over again from voters is that they feel like Britain is in decline and they're blaming Conservatives, who've presided over it. It's been a tumultuous few years of politics here, through Brexit, which most Britons now regret, through a sort of musical chairs of Conservative prime ministers, the worst cost of living crisis since World War II. Here's one voter I spoke to at a polling station yesterday. His name is Nick Bailey (ph).

NICK BAILEY: We've had five prime ministers in 14 years. We've had Boris Johnson, who was a complete disaster, Liz Truss. And, you know, we need a change, basically.

FRAYER: He mentioned Liz Truss. She was prime minister briefly in 2022. She lost her seat in parliament last night. That's really rare, for a veteran prime minister to not even get back into parliament. Lots of big names in Conservative politics here, including cabinet ministers, lost their races.

FADEL: What about the incumbent prime minister, Rishi Sunak?

FRAYER: He retained his seat. He won his local district in northern England. He also came out and spoke in the middle of the night, and here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RISHI SUNAK: There is much to learn and reflect on. And I take responsibility for the loss.

FRAYER: There will be some introspection in his Conservative party. This is the party of Margaret Thatcher that's dominated U.K. politics for more than a century, but British voters have roundly rejected it now.

FADEL: Now, we've been focusing on the two main political parties in the U.K., but there are smaller parties, too. How'd they do?

FRAYER: There are. Britain has sort of a winner-take-all system in each district, kind of like America. So it's a real feat whenever a third-party candidate wins a seat, and that happened a lot last night.

FADEL: OK.

FRAYER: The centrist Liberal Democrats multiplied their seat count. The environmentalist Green Party had its best showing, so did the far-right, anti-immigrant Reform UK party. And Nigel Farage, who's this sort of rabble-rouser Brexiteer, will enter Parliament. It's his eighth try. But what's notable here is that is the exception. Unlike what we're seeing in France and elsewhere in Europe, with the far right really ascendant, Britain in general took a big turn to the center left with this election.

FADEL: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thank you, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: American taxpayers are throwing money at the Colorado River.

INSKEEP: The funds aim to help people who rely on that river to recover nearly every drop of water they can. Fourty million people depend on a river that's affected by a change in climate. Drinking water, food production and hydroelectric power are all at risk.

FADEL: Alex Hager at member station KUNC in Colorado tracks it all closely and he joins me now. Good morning, Alex.

ALEX HAGER, BYLINE: Hello, Leila.

FADEL: So drought has shrunk the Colorado River to critical levels and the federal government has responded with a lot of money. Has it helped?

HAGER: So far it has helped stave off catastrophe, but it definitely has not solved the Colorado River crisis. The government plans to use more than $1 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act to pay people to take less water out of the river. That is happening everywhere from farms in Wyoming to big cities in Arizona. At the end of the day, climate change means less water is showing up almost every year, and the whole region needs to permanently cut back on demand. This federal spending is just buying some time for policymakers to come up with a longer-term strategy. It also does not hurt that last winter was pretty snowy, which helped lift some pressure.

FADEL: And you went to Arizona recently to report on how some of that money is being spent. What did you see?

HAGER: Yeah, nearly $160 million of that money is earmarked for Arizona cities to help them conserve water. In Phoenix, I found they're not exactly focused on the types of things that come to mind when you hear that word, conservation. In the past, it has meant installing low flow shower heads and paying people to rip out their thirsty lawns. But Cynthia Campbell, who's with the water department in Phoenix, says this.

CYNTHIA CAMPBELL: At some point in time, there does have to be a recognition of the scope of the problem as such. You just can't conserve your way out of it.

HAGER: So now they're focusing on longer-term projects that will help them kind of find new sources of water. They're using federal money to chip in on big, expensive construction. Twenty-two cities in central Arizona are pooling their money to make an existing dam taller and store more water during wet winters. And they're looking at building expensive, high-tech facilities that would take sewage, clean it up till it's safe to drink and pump it right back into city pipes.

FADEL: Now, there's a lot at stake here. I mean, cities in the southwest are some of the fastest growing in recent years. And if they run out of water, that growth, economic growth, that would end.

HAGER: Yeah, that's right. Phoenix and its suburbs are still pulling in a lot of new residents and new businesses. Some of them are adding thousands of people every year, and there are giant, multi-billion-dollar semiconductor plants opening up. But at the same time, the state is pumping out groundwater faster than it can be replenished. Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs made a big announcement last year that hit the brakes on new building in some suburbs. The national media framed it as the beginning of the end for development around Phoenix. But Hobbs herself said we are not out of water, and we will not be running out of water. So city and state leaders know they are under a ton of pressure to get this right. You're seeing them try to walk this really fine line of confronting water shortages head on while still trying to grow the economy.

FADEL: Alex Hager with member station KUNC in Colorado. Thank you, Alex.

HAGER: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: The states that depend on the Colorado River are hardly the only ones affected by the climate. Florida is among the most vulnerable to change because of hurricanes and sea level rise and heat waves.

FADEL: And it's also solidly Republican, with a Republican governor, two Republican senators and Republican majorities in the state legislature. This fall, Florida is expected to vote for Donald Trump, who has questioned the existence of man-made climate change.

INSKEEP: Weekend Edition host Ayesha Rascoe saw those two facts in contradiction while visiting Florida, and she's on the line to talk about it. Hey, there Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: How was your trip?

RASCOE: It was very wet, extremely wet. This was not the Sunshine State when I visited it.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK.

RASCOE: Yeah. The day my team and I arrived in Miami, Miami got more than 3 inches of rain. The next day, they got more than 6 inches. So the streets even just to the hotel where I was staying was flooded. We couldn't park our car there, and the water was above my ankles. I was in a dress and sneakers. I had to wade through the water just to get there. My sneakers were soaked for days.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

RASCOE: Now, we can't say that that rain was due to climate change. But what we can say is that, you know, storms and rising sea levels will make these flooding issues more likely in Miami, and it demonstrated how poor the drainage is in that area.

INSKEEP: It's reminding me, too, this is a low-lying state and Miami has had trouble with flooding for years.

RASCOE: Yes. We spoke to one hairdresser, Gustavo Briand (ph), who used to have a shop in the lowest part of a building in Miami Beach. And he said his shop flooded whenever it rained hard.

GUSTAVO BRIAND: Whenever it rained there was 65% chances that the shop would be flooded. And at one point, really, we didn't even bother to go and dry it. We just worked like that.

RASCOE: So he cut hair in flip-flops and, like, standing in a couple of inches of water.

INSKEEP: Wow.

RASCOE: And, you know, customers, though, the customers were dedicated to getting those haircuts, 'cause they would go even in the standing water.

INSKEEP: OK, not everybody can move, so how are elected officials responding to this?

RASCOE: So some elected officials say they are doing a lot. Like, we visited the mayor of Monroe County in the Florida Keys, Holly Raschein, a Republican. She has a wish list of about $5 billion of things that she wants to do, like raising the roads to protect against rising sea levels and cleaning out canals.

HOLLY RASCHEIN: What person or new resident or somebody who already lives in Florida doesn't want a restored Everglades, who don't want clean water or water supply that's sufficient for their community, a resilient reef, a strong fishery.

RASCOE: But those things are really called resilience, like they're protecting the state from the effects of climate change. Florida Republicans have not done much when it comes to actually trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change in the first place. And in May, they actually changed the state's energy policy to direct the state to boost the use of natural gas. Now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the policy is driven by affordability and reliability as opposed to, quote, "climate ideology."

INSKEEP: That's Weekend Edition host Ayesha Rascoe, who will have the full report from Florida on the radio on Weekend Edition Sunday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.