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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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HomeElection WatchSo many Labour MPs, so much uncertainty

So many Labour MPs, so much uncertainty

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I JUST about kept my promise not to do any campaigning in this general election. After Kemi Badenoch gave David Tennant a good shellacking for wanting her to shut up, I did offer to schlep across London to help her for a day, but no one from her campaign team replied to my email. Having long ago accepted the inevitability of the political guillotining of the Conservatives in this election, I could wake to the results on Friday morning with detachment and relief.

The political disaster that was Rishi Sunak is now undeniable even to those of his supporters who are left. Well, nearly. There are still people who don’t get why he lost so badly, with Danny Finkelstein repeating the well-worn and inaccurate mantra that elections are won on the centre ground. As Norman Tebbit pointed out long ago, they are won on the common ground, which is not the same thing, immigration being a case in point.

The pollsters had a bad night. For most of this campaign they were showing Labour north of 40 per cent; achieving 34 per cent is some way outside the margin of error of their samples. Most likely there were people saying they would vote Labour, because they wanted shot of the Tories, but ultimately couldn’t bring themselves to support Sir Keir Starmer. It’s not that the polls were completely wrong (Labour won by a big margin of seats) but their accuracy is decreasing with time, the exact opposite of what one would expect from any measuring device. 

The SNP were too tainted by Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf to do anything but lose most of their seats to Labour. But the Lib Dems did well. Sir Ed Davey played a blinder by bungee-jumping and water-sliding, thereby distracting everyone from asking about his role in the Post Office IT scandal and returning the Lib Dems to their traditional role of being the protest party that shouldn’t be taken seriously.  They can look forward to five years of parading their virtue while being responsible for nothing: they couldn’t wish for better. The Greens won an extra three seats and so can try to muscle in a bit on that racket.

The big winners were Labour and we will all soon pay the price of that, through taxes to fund their spending splurge and their Net Zero zealotry. But it’s a victory surrounded by brewing political storm clouds. For all the seats they’ve won, their vote share hardly increased from 2019 (see below). The total number of votes cast for Labour was c9.7million, more than half a million fewer than in 2019. Overall turnout was 60 per cent, the lowest since 1885. This was an election that the Conservatives lost – receiving about half the votes they achieved in 2019 – by failing to be conservative, with their supporters either staying at home or voting for Reform UK, the party that came to fill the vacuum they had created.

Thus the Labour government face an electorate that might quickly turn against them. Their own voter base is already revolting. Former leader Jeremy Corbyn won Islington as an independent with nearly 50 per cent more votes than the Labour candidate. While Reform UK was splitting the right-wing vote, Muslim voters were busy doing the same to Labour: shadow attorney general Jonathan Ashworth lost his seat to a pro-Gaza independent, and Jess Phillips and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting nearly went the same way. Iain Duncan Smith managed to increase his majority from c1,200 to c5,000, as a banned pro Gaza-Labour candidate standing as an independent split the left-wing vote in half in Chingford. Perhaps most extraordinarily, the Conservatives won Leicester East (the first non-Labour MP in Leicester for 37 years) thanks to former Labour MPs Claudia ‘harassment convict’ Webbe and Keith ‘washing machine repair man’ Vaz both standing as independents.

The metropolitan left has long sneered at the working-class brethren on whom they relied for Labour’s bedrock of support (and funding through the trade unions). The EU referendum broke that attachment in many places and contributed to Reform UK’s Lee Anderson winning in Ashfield, which he first held as a Conservative. Labour’s Muslim voting base haven’t taken as long to start turning their backs on them. Starmer has as much chance as holding this lot together as Joe Biden has had controlling The Squad among the Democrats.

The winner of the next election will be whichever party can corral a broad enough coalition of voters on one part of the political spectrum. It already looks as if Labour will struggle to do this. What of the right? The Conservatives will need a new leader, someone who knows that a trans woman is not a woman, so not Penny Mordaunt. Jeremy Hunt just retained his seat but is too associated with Rishi Sunak to have another credible crack at the top job. So the next leader will have at least some conservative views. Then Badenoch, Braverman, Patel or Jenrick will have to work out how to deal with the five Reform MPs, to whose views they will have to give a nod if not try to reach an arrangement with them. How far will they go in distancing themselves from 14 years of Conservative government? Can they pull off a reverse ferret and steal back the territory Reform UK has taken from them? Reform face different challenges now they are inside the Westminster system, trying to look like a serious potential government rather than just a protest party. Never has a government been elected with so many MPs and yet the political future seemed so uncertain.

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Vlod Barchuk
Vlod Barchuk
Vlod Barchuk is a former accountant, former Tory councillor and current chairman of Ealing Central and Acton Conservative Party Association.

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