5 July 2024

After the landslide

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Keir Starmer's Labour Party has won the 2024 general election with a landslide majority of 174. The number of Conservative MPs has fallen from 365 in 2019 to 121. What can we learn from the 2024 general election result for what happens next?

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Steve Ballinger
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Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has won the 2024 general election with a landslide majority of 174. The near-record result means Labour will dominate the House of Commons, despite a modest vote share of 34%. They were aided by voters deserting the Conservatives, who won 365 seats in 2019 but managed less than a third of that in 2024. The Liberal Democrats took a record 72 seats and the SNP just 9, with the Reform Party on 5, nosing in front of the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, both on 4. What can we learn from the 2024 general election result for what happens next?

1.Farewell to Rishi Sunak, the UK’s first British Asian Prime Minister

This landslide defeat brings to an end the premiership of Rishi Sunak, the UK’s first British Asian Prime Minister. That diversity milestone alone earns him a place in the history books.

Sunak also breaks a less welcome record for one of the worst defeats in Conservative history. That much of the damage to the party’s reputation was done before he entered Number 10 shows how it was the colour of Sunak’s party rosette, not that of his skin, that turned voters against him.

While diversity at the very top of British politics will fall slightly post-Sunak, results across the country usher in a new landmark for parliamentary representation, with 90 ethnic minority MPs set to take their seats in the most diverse UK parliament ever.

2. Keir Starmer has built a ‘coalition of everywhere’ to win this majority, but a fragile one. It means he must become a Prime Minister who can bridge divides

Winning seats from Glasgow to Dover and Blackpool to Bury St Edmonds in leafy Suffolk is an extraordinary achievement. But Labour suffered setbacks too, in seats with more young, liberal and Muslim voters. Starmer faces many challenges as Britain’s new Prime Minister. Striving to find common ground, while respecting these differences, must be a core theme of his premiership.Political strategists talk about ‘dividing lines’ – not just in party politics but in picking a side. That can create a politics that divides, not just Leave versus Remain but old versus young, cities versus towns, majorities against minorities. After a volatile decade that has seen six prime ministers, four general elections and two referendums, many will welcome a break from division.

3. A mandate to scrap the Rwanda scheme

Labour drew a clear dividing line with the Conservatives on asylum by committing to scrap the Rwanda scheme. That difference was well-known to voters, not least because the Conservative campaign sought to draw attention to it. So today’s result is a clear rejection by the electorate of this approach to asylum and refugees.

Rwanda was on the ballot paper and Labour now has a clear mandate to scrap the Rwanda scheme and pursue an alternative.

4. The rise of the Independents

Independent candidates, often running on calls for more action on Gaza, took as many seats from Labour as Reform did from the Conservatives.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was expected to have a good chance but others in Blackburn, Leicester South, Birmingham Perry Barr and Dewsbury & Batley caused more of an upset. Prominent Labour MPs like Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips held their seats but on much smaller majorities.

These results demonstrated the priority given to Gaza by a large proportion of Muslim voters, and some other left-leaning voters too. But it is citizens, not communities, that vote – many British Muslims may have prioritised Gaza but independents only won seats when they successfully pitched to other voters too, for example in the university seat of Leicester South.

5. The challenge of engaging across communities

Labour will now look to rebuild relationships with Muslim voters, having suffered bigger losses among this community than expected. The foundations are still in place: Labour will still have won as high or higher a share of the vote from Muslims as from the electorate as a whole. And as many Muslim voters still backed Labour candidates as supported their pro-Gaza independent opponents.

The Conservatives, in holding Harrow East and gaining Leicester East, performed well with British Indian voters – but this group will have voted for other parties in other areas.

A party that wants to govern this diverse democracy will need a strategy that reaches across minority and majority groups alike. It is entirely legitimate for parties to appeal to voters from a particular community, in the same way they can pitch to other groups such as pensioners, motorists or students. But none of these groups is a monolithic bloc with the same views, and politicians need to appeal to communities while also reaching across to the wider electorate too. No politician will ever persuade everybody, but a good rule would be to aspire to getting a fair hearing from at least half of the voters of any group – Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. That would be a politics ready to respect differences and to work on what we have in common.

6. A reunited kingdom?
Starmer’s voter coalition stretches across the nations too, with major Labour gains from the SNP in Scotland alongside those in England and Wales. For the first time since 2001, the same party has won the vote in England, Scotland and Wales. The SNP collapse means Labour has closed the gap in vote share between England and Scotland, which stood at 18% in 2019 under Boris Johnson. It means that Starmer can viably claim to speak for the whole of Britain – while also reflecting the challenges of keeping such a broad coalition together.

7. Reform’s insurgency and its limits

The Reform Party dominated much of the national media coverage of this campaign once Nigel Farage decided to become its leader. Farage had a big impact on Reform’s appeal, helping them secure 4 million votes and himself a seat in parliament. That matched his 2014 electoral success as UKIP leader in terms of vote share, but this time round it translated into five seats rather than one.

That still leaves Reform with a share of voice in parliament similar to that of the Green Party of Plaid Cymru. The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, won 12% of the votes to Reform’s 14% but turned this into 72 constituency victories, a record result for the party. Local roots built up over years by Ed Davey’s party were of more value in winning seats. Reform’s lack of local connection gave them less resilience against reputational challenges over extreme and racist candidates, several of whom were dropped during the campaign.

The ceiling on Reform’s appeal mirrors that of its charismatic leader. The party won in some of the most Brexit-supporting constituencies but lacked the wider appeal needed to become a significant force in parliament. Around a quarter of the population likes Farage: he is a great asset to a party aiming to get from single figures to 15% of the vote. But he is a polarising figure and an active turn-off for a majority of voters. That is a dilemma for a party that wants to govern, and for a Conservative party that wants its votes back next time round.

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