UK election: Labour won, but only because the Tories lost

Nigel Smith

With the election results, at the time of writing, 99% declared, the outcome of the 2024 UK elections is clear. Labour has won with a huge majority. However, because of the vagaries of the first past the post system, the number of MPs they returned to parliament (412) far outweighs the number of votes they achieved (34%). 412 seats represents 64% of parliamentary seats, almost twice the level of representation than the actual percentage of votes. In fact, Labour’s vote share has increased by only 2% from the election they described as a disaster under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn at 32%, in spite of the massive swing against the Conservatives. That swing seems to have been hoovered up by the recently formed business friendly, far-right Reform UK party, under the direction of Nigel Farage. Parties from the centre of UK politics, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats, shared with Reform UK the 40% of votes achieved by smaller parties. The Greens taking 7% with 4 MPs and the Liberal Democrats 12% with 71 MPs. The Liberal Democrats disproportional success – greater than achieved by them since the merger with the SDP in 1988, is partly due to tactical voting against the Conservatives. Labour and Liberal Democrat voters appear to have voted tactically in order to get the Conservatives out on a far larger scale than ever previously. This can, in part, explain the success of the Liberal Democrats. A lack of loyalty to Labour is revealed alongside a justified contempt for the party of government – a party so inept that they have found themselves with the worst result since the party’s foundation – even worse than in 1945.

The headline across all of this is the fact that the Conservatives have been ousted by an electorate dissatisfied by their sleaze, corruption, lies and incompetence, rather than an electorate inspired by any of the alternative parties. With a turnout of only 60% – the third lowest in history and historically 10% behind the average turnout, many electors are staying at home or cannot find the stomach to put a cross in any of the boxes. If one looks across the polls leading up to the election, Labour has done much worse in percentage terms than it might have expected. Labour was poll-tracking with at least 40% of the vote leading into the election with the Conservatives at around 22%. This is therefore not a night for Labour to celebrate mass support with only a third of the electorate voting for them. They will of course use the huge representation in Parliament to push through their reforms, but these will be tinkering round the edges of the policies enacted by the Conservatives.

Labour

Labour has been backed by business, much of the media and many elements of the establishment for a reason; it has promised to be a safe pair of hands for capitalism and not offer radical reforms to British workers. Once Labour policies are enacted the fragile support they have will decline. Labour could find itself in the position of social democratic parties across Europe and elsewhere with a collapse into insignificance. It is clear that the Labour Party holds a right-wing, neo-liberal agenda with worrying positions on immigration, nationalism, the NHS and the wider economy. Austerity will continue and any increased taxation on the rich, will have only a minimal impact on ordinary people’s lives. As with so many of Labour’s promises and as happened under the Blair governments, promises will be broken and any whiff of a socialist trend extinguished. The Left in the Labour Party will be finally put to the sword, with no prospect of influence or recovery and those that remain, such as Richard Burgon, will be laughable in their attempts to exert any progressive influence.

Reform UK

The rise of Reform UK, with massive support from right-wing media and on the internet, seems to have mirrored the decline in the fortune of the Tories with them taking a vote share almost identical to the fall in Tory support. Disaffected workers and Tories seem to be their bed-rock. The former is evidenced by Labour doing less-well in some traditionally pro-Labour strongholds than elsewhere. The success of Labour in Scotland, where, because of internal scandals, the Scottish National Party SNP has seen a virtual collapse, losing 38 seats, is not an insignificant part of the Labour vote. No real alternative to Labour in the major cities is present in Scotland.

Left alternatives

Following an examination of the performance of new Left formations, the results seem disappointing. In spite of Jeremy Corbyn’s success, where he stood as an independent and held onto his seat with a strong majority of over 7000, George Galloway was narrowly defeated in Rochdale and the Workers’ Party of Britain failed to win a seat. The percentage of the vote they achieved ranged from 29% to 0.5%. TUSC had a disappointing night with even Dave Nellist only attracting 797 votes. This was not helped by the fact that the Worker’s Party stood a candidate in the same constituency – abandoning the tactic of not standing against TUSC. The fact that they stood against such a well-known candidate was really an act of provocation to the Left, many of whom have little stomach for the reactionary social policies of the WPB.

In spite of this, it is more important than ever to try and form a new worker’s party from the mess left by these elections. Labour’s honeymoon period will be short and a general election in four or five years time, could see a catastrophic shift to the right in the UK if the Left doesn’t offer any sort of alternative. Starmer’s right-wing rhetoric around immigration alongside his neo-liberal economic agenda will reinforce this rightward shift unless the Left acts. There are embryonic signs of greater unity, despite WPB’s betrayals and these need to be seized. There is now no alternative. We have to stand for a new worker’s party with socially progressive ideas and not slide towards support for WPB under the leadership of George Galloway, who have shown themselves once again incapable of working with anyone.

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