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Monday, July 15, 2024
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HomeElection WatchStarmer’s shallow victory opens the field to real change

Starmer’s shallow victory opens the field to real change

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LABOUR’S victory is much shallower than it appears at first sight. It’s a legal mandate under our electoral system, but far from a popular one. Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour have won two thirds of the seats with fewer votes than Jeremy Corbyn achieved (Starmer 9.7million, Corbyn 10.2million). The total number of votes cast for the Conservative Party has halved since 2019 to just 6.8million, while Reform UK gathered a highly impressive 4.1million votes from a near-standing start, firmly establishing itself as a major player in terms of support, if not Westminster seats. 

2024/2019 votes cast by party

*2019 Reform stood as Brexit Party

Source: Telegraph

Perhaps most significant is that turnout fell to just under 60 per cent of the electorate, an 8 percentage point drop on 2019 and dismal compared with the norm of between 70-80 per cent just a generation ago. ‘None of the above’ won this election. 

The stay-at-home vote exceeds Labour’s entire vote by a margin. The chart below shows the long-term trend in turnout. It makes grim reading with the population increasingly and understandingly saying ‘a plague on all your houses.’ 

UK General Election turnout 1950 to date % electorate

*Provisional estimates

Source: Telegraph

While Labour undoubtedly have won a massive legal mandate under our electoral system, their relative lack of popular support shows the shallowness of their victory. They may have overturned a substantial conservative majority with one of the biggest swings in history but their success was more a manifestation of Conservatives switching to Reform or staying at home. 

Despite this Labour are probably in a more powerful position than any previous government. Not only do they have an unassailable majority, but this is amplified by a state apparatus that will broadly welcome this result. That was much less so in 1997 on Blair’s victory, prior to his vandalism of our constitution embedding devolution, legal warfare and quangocracy. The new leftist technocratic state apparatus is much closer to Labour’s thinking, so is likely to enable policy enforcement in a way the so-called right found near-impossible. 

The Conservative Party’s defeat is entirely of their own making. Fourteen years after assuming power they leave the nation in an immeasurably weaker position than they inherited.

Extraordinarily, on almost every matrix they have taken this country very far to the left. The economic case is clear:

·         Government spending has moved from a third of the economy to half under their watch;

·         The national debt has increased threefold since Cameron took power; 

·         No government has increased taxes as rapidly as they have (highest since 1948 as a proportion of GDP) to such poor effect; 

·         Most services are worse, some such as the NHS significantly so, and the level of waste and sheer incompetence is astonishing. £44,000 per household is spent on services – for what?

The Conservatives’ economic record is appalling, but perhaps even worse is the country’s social decay. Political correctness has turned into full-blown woke and self-hatred on their watch and, let’s be clear, this is driven by the State through a mesh of legislation, nudge and financial incentive. It is not good enough to stand by and pretend they could have no influence on this as the Conservative Party has done.

The very fabric of the land, certainly in the major cities, is now almost unrecognisable. The irony is the acceptance/support/appeasement of these ideas not only has very little wider support but that the Conservative acceptance of this creed has in a large part led to its own destruction.

Reform – what a night for them! Five seats did not meet the exit poll prediction but relative to where they stood a month ago it is an amazing performance. Their 4.1million votes from a near-standing start are highly significant. Perhaps most significantly, Reform UK have a springboard in perhaps 200 seats in the land where they are genuine contenders – and many of those are so-called Labour seats. Nigel Farage is right to describe this as a bridgehead in Parliament. Reform have without doubt hit the Tories hard in this election. Now they are very well placed to harm Labour next time, particularly in the so-called Red Wall seats where Reform came second or a close third.

What happens from here on will depend on three primary factors. 

First, how Starmer performs; second, what the Conservative response is and whom they choose as leader; third, how Reform builds on its success.

On Starmer, my prediction is he will hit trouble pretty quickly. Sure, he will not face the intense BBC and wider public sector and institutional hostility/scrutiny the Conservatives faced, but the country is deeply uneasy over direction: hence Starmer’s weak absolute vote, low turnout and voter desire for revenge rather than proactive Labour support.

Labour are unlikely to succeed. We should not forget that for all the Conservatives’ failings, Labour’s solution is even more of the same: more spending, more debt, more lockdown, more migration, more woke. They will likely be unable to address the Byzantine problems of the State: its waste, bureaucracy, shoddy service. More money will simply disappear into a black hole and structural reform is most unlikely to succeed. Focus on Net Zero will further weaken the national balance sheet and increase cost, as will a myriad other micro-aggressions and regulations. 

This failure will polarise. Some will say we need even more spending, control and regulation. Others, this writer included, will argue it is exactly that control and moral destruction that has led this country to where it is. So, in five years, expect the degree of polarisation to have increased. The so-called centre is no place to be, either philosophically or strategically.

The second primary factor is what the Conservatives do? Their members may largely be for the small state and personal liberty but many of their remaining rump of MPs are not. My guess is that the One Nation crowd, who have direct responsibility for the abject failure over the last 14 years, will not go quietly. 

Senior voices are already saying to win back trust ‘we must not retreat from the centre’. Have they learned nothing? If they continue down the big state, socially liberal model they will go the way of the once mighty Gaullists in France who are now down to around 7 per cent of the vote. 

For Reform it was a great night but it is work in progress. To win the trust of one in six under the first-past-the-post system from a standing start is an extraordinary achievement, but to take it to the next level that share needs to double, at least. The task is to build a wider and deeper base and togain the trust of a broad section of society while being true to conservative principles. Tanks outside Clacton Pier might appeal to the core but to take that support to the next level they must gain the trust of the school gate crowd.

Starmer, with Parliament sewn up, can pretty well act as he sees fit, with bond markets perhaps the only constraint on him in the short term, but even so he is most unlikely to succeed even by his own terms. The system is broken and his solutions of more spend, more redistribution, more regulation will be counter-productive. 

On such a day as today it might seem strange to write ‘Britain, in my view, remains sceptical of socialism’, but with the winner mustering under 34 per cent of the popular vote on a very low turnout, I believe that scepticism is growing.  

The field is now wide open with a huge mass who are sceptical, disengaged and say ‘none of the above’. The population is restless and volatile, crying out for genuine and sincere leadership. The prize for those who believe in personal liberty, a small state, family and community is still obtainable. The winner will be whoever can muster true leadership: explain clearly and honestly the challenges, adopt long-term solutions instead of expedient fixes, demonstrate a love of liberty, family and country, and ultimately be prepared to trust the people. Today is Starmer’s day, but it’s a much thinner mandate than it seems.

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Ewen Stewart
Ewen Stewart
Ewen Stewart is a City economist who runs the consultancy Walbrook Economics. He is director of the think tank Global Britain and his work is widely published in economics and political journals.

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