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Jul 7, 2024

Republished from The Reluctant Dissident with thanks

The UK elections on Thursday, July 4 saw Labour take back a Parliamentary majority from the Conservatives for the first time since 2010, when they lost that majority for the first time since Tony Blair’s win in 1997. New PM Sir Keir Starmer is as uninspiring as outgoing (and unelected) PM Rishi Sunak, so there is little to celebrate.

Much pixel-ink has been spilled over how Labour won the majority of seats - 412 out of 650 - with 9.7m votes, while Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party (a rebranding of the Brexit Party) won only 4 seats with 4.1m votes. The Conservatives won 121 seats with 6.8m votes and the Liberal Democrats 72 seats with 3.5m votes. The Scottish National Party won 9 seats with only 724,758 votes. Labour won the election with fewer votes than they received in the 2019 election (10.3m votes for 203 seats), because the Conservatives lost so many more since receiving 14m votes for 365 seats in 2019.

It’s reasonable to assume that a lot of Reform UK’s 4.1m votes would have otherwise gone to the Conservatives, so there must be a lot of Reform UK voters feeling frustrated that by splitting the right-wing vote, they let nominally left-wing Labour win, like those of Bexleyheath and Crayford, previously a Conservative seat:

The system being what it is, even if Reform UK hadn’t fielded any candidates that wouldn’t necessarily have translated to a Conservative win, but it certainly would have resulted in the Conservatives winning more seats.

Reform UK isn’t thought of as a third party in the way the Liberal Democrats are, despite winning more votes in this election than them, for far fewer seats. But the way Reform appealed to disillusioned Conservative voters and led to both parties losing out to Labour had echoes of the 2010 election, when the Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, appealed to disaffected center-left voters, positioning themselves as the answer to years of two-party rule.

That election ended up with Labour losing their parliamentary majority (from 349 to 258 seats) and the Conservatives gaining a lot of seats (from 210 to 307), but not enough to reach the 326 seats required for a majority. The Liberal Democrats won 57 seats (fewer than they won on Thursday), and went into a coalition with the Conservatives, with Nick Clegg becoming the emasculated Deputy Prime Minister. The Lib Dems ended up looking weak and craven as they allowed the Conservatives to enact their austerity measures, leaving Lib Dem voters who would otherwise have voted for Labour feeling frustrated, like many of those Reform UK voters probably feel now. It was arguably worse for the Lib Dem voters in 2010 whose candidates won, but then had to watch as the third party that was supposed to shake things up, instead became a willing participant in precisely the things it had promised to oppose.

There might not be much that any UK government could do at this stage to improve things for the average British person unless they were willing to make really radical changes like nationalising railways and utilities, which none of them have promised to do since Corbyn (who won his seat as an independent candidate this time) did in 2019, and we saw how that worked out for him. There’s no denying that good local MPs can have a positive effect on local issues, but on government policy it’s unlikely that Labour will be able to do much. Perhaps they will, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised. So far, though, former lawyer Starmer’s first statement has been that “we have too many prisoners”. Best of luck with that, Keir. Sorry, I mean Sir Keir.

How does a party get 4 million votes but only 4 seats?

For anyone unfamiliar with how a UK General Election works, it might sound crazy that Reform could win 4.1m votes and only get 4 seats, while parties that won fewer votes won considerably more seats.

The reason why this is the case is that the General Election is actually 650 elections (one per constituency in the UK), and for each of those, only one candidate can win. That’s why all of the votes for the candidates who don’t win might seem to ‘not count’, although in reality, they do, but only in their constituency. Not all constituencies have the same number of voters, and not all potential voters vote, so a candidate could win with 5,000 votes or lose with 30,000 votes - all that matters is whether their share of the vote in their constituency is the largest.

Reform UK’s 4.1m votes might have only translated into 4 seats, but the fact that so many people were prepared to show their dissatisfaction with the established parties (especially regarding Brexit) still sends a strong message to those parties, even if it didn’t keep them out of power.

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