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Starmer’s hollow victory

This Labour ‘landslide’ has everything except voters.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Editor

Topics Politics UK

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Keir Starmer, soon to be Britain’s prime minister, is a man who thinks – and certainly speaks – in political clichés. He has spent much of this dismal General Election campaign talking of ‘rolling up his sleeves’, ‘turning the page’ and ‘getting the job done’. During his victory speech this morning – at a short, small rally at Tate Modern; organised purely for the benefit of the television cameras – he channelled Tony Blair’s 1997 ‘a new dawn has broken’ speech, torturing the metaphor to within an inch of its life: ‘Walk into the morning, the sunlight of hope – pale at first, but getting stronger through the day, shining once again on a country with the opportunity after 14 years to get its future back.’

He was certainly beaming. And with good reason. He’s just won a huge majority. At time of writing, his Labour Party has won 412 seats. With only a few left to call, Labour’s tally is just shy of Blair’s 1997 New Labour landslide of 418. The last time Labour won an election was almost 20 years ago, in 2005. And Starmer has pulled this off not even five years after the combination of Labour’s Brexit betrayal and the toxic leadership of Jeremy Corbyn delivered Labour’s worst defeat since 1935 – an 80-seat majority for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, and one assembled from the bricks of Labour’s former Red Wall heartlands. Last night, the Conservatives showed Labour how the humiliating, record-breaking defeats are really done, just about scraping 120 seats. This is their worst result… ever.

Still, ‘new dawns’ aside, Starmer’s victory appears to be the embodiment of one of the oldest saws in politics: that oppositions don’t win elections, government’s lose them. His ultra-cautious, policy-lite, stage-managed campaign certainly suggested this was his main strategy – to ride disaffection with the Tories all the way into No10. It has clearly worked a treat. But I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a victory as large and yet as hollow as this. Current projections suggest Starmer has secured this ‘historic’ majority on the basis of just 35 per cent of the vote, that’s five points lower than Jeremy Corbyn achieved in 2017 and only three points higher than in the disaster of 2019. As the BBC’s polling supremo, John Curtice, points out, this is ‘slightly below that secured by Tony Blair in 2005 and will be the lowest share of the vote won by any single party majority government’. Plus, the turnout, according to the BBC, appears to be around 60 per cent – the second-lowest level since 1885. Only the turnout in 2001 was lower than this, at 59 per cent.

Starmer’s ‘historic’ parliamentary majority, then, is based on a historically low turnout and a historically low vote share for a victorious party of government. This Labour victory seems to have everything – except voters. Labour’s modest, roughly two-point rise in vote share is almost entirely down to its stunning surge in Scotland – where Scots are returning to Labour, their traditional political home, following the total collapse of the once hegemonic, but increasingly scandal-hit and deranged, SNP. In Wales, Labour’s vote share has fallen by four points. In England, it has not budged at all. So, the Labour Party has more or less stood still, while the Tory vote has collapsed, thanks to an insurgent Reform UK to its right. Nigel Farage’s new populist outfit has secured four seats – including his new home of Clacton – on a whopping 14.3 per cent of the vote. The party also came second in almost 100 seats. This is an astonishing achievement for a new, underpowered party that was barely on the field when this election campaign began.

Of course, it would be bizarre to call this anything other than an emphatic Labour victory. It is certainly a vindication of Labour’s strategy of tirelessly focussing on winning votes in the seats where it needed to, rather than piling up votes in the big cities where it is already miles ahead, as it had done under Jeremy Corbyn. But there’s a yawning difference between securing a majority by default – as Labour seems to have done – and securing a ringing, democratic endorsement for your programme for government. Because this isn’t that. Not least because Starmer has been alarmingly vague about what he plans to do in government – and many of the positions he has historically taken are about as popular as the clap. Call me a hopeless idealist, but I thought the point of elections was ordinary people choosing the leaders and policies they will live under, not political parties gaming our dysfunctional electoral system, while huge numbers of demoralised voters sit it out at home.

Going by the insufferable gloating on the airwaves this morning – when I turned on the BBC’s election coverage last night, Peter Mandelson was cackling with glee; by the time I turned it off this morning, Ayesha Hazarika was crying with joy – Starmer and his outriders seem to believe they now have a clear mandate to remake the nation in their own technocratic, authoritarian image. Like the New Labour of yore, they clearly see elections as an obstacle to get over, to spin and BS your way through, before inflicting your designs on an unwilling public. As I wrote on spiked yesterday, Starmer’s harebrained plans to institutionalise identity politics, accelerate Net Zero and upend the constitution have gone strangely unscrutinised by the media in this election campaign. Now, we’ll see if he has the balls to do any of it – or if he’s as cautious as he makes out.

But if he is deluded enough to think politics has gone back to ‘normal’ – that we are back to politicians imposing their values from on-high, while a demoralised public look on, livid but powerless – he’s in for a shock. The volatility of British politics, the corrosion of the old party loyalties, is what delivered this Labour majority, just as it delivered the Tories’ in 2019. It might not be long before the electoral wrecking ball swings back in Labour’s direction. Starmer is the least popular opposition leader to win an election in recorded history. The honeymoon period will be nonexistent. Even Reform could pose problems for him in the near future, given it has come second in a string of Brexit-backing, Labour constituencies, from Hartlepool to Blyth to Sunderland Central to Barnsley North. Despite the humiliation of the Tories, who have proven themselves an unworthy vessel for blue-collar revolt, populism lives. This could dawn on Starmer sooner rather than later.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on X: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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