Landslide for Labour - but only because millions of people couldn't be bothered

Landslide for Labour – but only because millions of people couldn’t be bothered

The UK’s general election has been a landslide for Labour – but only because millions of people couldn’t be bothered to vote; they were that disillusioned with our system and they were probably right.

The UK’s registered electorate is 48,214,128 people, but turnout was just 59.9 per cent – so only 28,880,263 people voted and 19,333,865 didn’t. That’s a huge indictment against the political offer made to UK voters on July 4, 2024.

And only 9,686,329 people voted for Keir Starmer’s Labour. That’s just 20 per cent – one-fifth – of the electorate.

Compare that with the 10,269,051 who voted for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 – when the party’s then-leader was pilloried for bringing it to what was called its worst-ever defeat. Corbyn attracted 21.6 per cent of the then-electorate to vote for him; his “worst-ever defeat” was a better performance than Starmer’s landslide victory.

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In 2017, the 12,877,918 votes Corbyn attracted came to 27.5 per cent of the then-electorate. Proportionately, that dwarfs Starmer’s vote; in terms of numbers it is 3,191,589 – nearly one-third (133 per cent) more than Starmer attracted.

So it is clear that Keir Starmer’s offer is far less popular than Jeremy Corbyn’s was, even though he won more Parliamentary seats.

Why did Starmer get 412 seats, then?

Reasonable question!

Firstly, UK Parliamentary election results are based on the number of votes cast, not the size of the electorate. If you haven’t voted, you have chosen not to have your voice heard and must put up with what you get as a result. It’s worth examining party performance as a proportion of the entire electorate because it shows how popular – or not – they are in the nation as a whole. But that’s all.

In terms of votes cast…

The Conservatives absolutely haemorrhaged votes. In 2019, Boris Johnson attracted 13,966,454 votes (29.4 per cent of the electorate); on July 4, Rishi Sunak scraped less than half of that number: 6,814,650 (14.1 per cent of the electorate).

That’s a loss of 7,151,804 votes. They didn’t go to Labour! So where did they go?

A significant number went to Reform UK, which won 4,092,209 votes – and just four seats. Think about that. It’s 2,722,441 votes fewer than the Conservatives had – 60 per cent or three-fifths of the Tory vote. The Tories won 121 seats, so why didn’t Reform get 73?

The answer is the UK’s First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system that ensures that only the votes cast for the winners in each constituency really count.

The Green Party was also penalised by the voting system. It had 1,939,509 votes but also gained four seats, despite having only about half the number of votes Reform got. And it’s two-sevenths of the Tory vote, so they might reasonably be upset that they didn’t get 35 seats.

Both parties are likely to call for electoral reform – a switch to proportional representation (PR).

But will it help them?

If PR is brought in, then it is possible that large numbers of those who chose not to vote this year will be attracted back to the ballot box, in the knowledge that their choices will actually make a difference under a system that takes into account the number of votes cast for each party and candidate.

With anything up to 20 million people likely to vote, who haven’t in the past, the entire composition of the House of Commons is likely to be changed and there is no guarantee that the parties who have fared badly this year will not continue to do poorly in the future.

What’s the take-away, then?

Keir Starmer has become prime minister on a historically-low share of the available votes, and this will spark strong moves to change the electoral system. And here’s one more question: how will the result affect the new government’s policies?

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One Comment

  1. Elijah Traven July 5, 2024 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Some other comparisons. Reform got 4 million votes and 5 seats. Labour got 9.7 million votes and 412 seats. It’s ridiculously unrepresentative. Another comparison. Con Reform got 38% of the vote between them and 126 seats. Labour got 33.7% of the vote which is 4.3% less but got 412 seats. The people have not voted for a Labour super majority. How this plays out in practice will be interesting to see. It is in fact a minority party as far as the support they’ve received compared to those who didn’t vote for them with a 174 majority. They’re hobbled at the start as they are only supported by a third of those who voted and by only a fifth of the electorate. We are entering a period of unstable rule.

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