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What does Labour’s UK General Election win mean for Northern Ireland and beyond?

By July 5, 2024No Comments

Keir Starmer will be the UK's new Prime Minister after Labour landslide.

What does Labour’s UK General Election win mean for Northern Ireland and beyond?

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What does Labour’s UK General Election win mean for Northern Ireland and beyond?

FRIDAY, 5 JULY, 2024.

It was a huge night for Labour, with a gain of 200+ seats, albeit with a modest increase in total vote share (from 32.2% to 34%). Labour gained everywhere across the country, with Scotland providing the biggest vote share increase.

The turnout of 60% (down from 67% in 2019) tells its own story, too. There was arguably greater enthusiasm to vote Tories out than to vote Labour in. The Liberal Democrats and Reform flanked the Tories from the left and right respectively, taking many scalps, including 12 sitting cabinet ministers. The Scottish National Party imploded, opening up Scotland to Labour once again.

What happens next?

The electorate chose to punish the Conservatives in 2024. The next election will decide whether the pendulum simply swings back again, or if we are looking at a permanently changed, and much more febrile, electoral landscape.

Labour are in the unusual position of achieving an historic win with arguably low levels of enthusiasm. Whether they make a virtue or a vice of that enthusiasm gap will dictate the shape of the next election. If Labour do not conduct a popular government, they will be vulnerable to a number of threats from the left and to the right.

The Conservatives have the donor base and institutional knowledge to rebuild, but to tack towards either the centre or the right will carry consequences. The Liberal Democrats will hope Tories cede the centre, and will need to find ways to expand their geographical reach to make any further significant gains. Reform will continue to position themselves as the party of the disenfranchised, but will need a far cannier electoral strategy to turn vote share into seats. Reform may find it easier than the Lib Dems to make noise between elections, anger being easier to stoke than peppy enthusiasm.

Labour

  • Where are the gains?
    • Scotland was critical to Labour’s success as the party gained 36 seats to become the largest party
    • Regained seats lost to the Conservatives in 2019 in the Red Wall
    • Performing strongly in Tory shire seats, aided by Reform vote splitting
    • 27 out of 32 seats in Wales, up from 14 in 2019, especially notable given the boundary review cut 10 of the available seats
  • Labour’s % of vote share is up to just under 34% from 32% in 2019, but stays well below the 40% achieved in 2017. The main gains in vote share were in Scotland, not England
  • A handful of high-profile Labour figures lost, including Jonathan Ashworth to a Gaza-focused independent, while Jeremy Corbyn, standing as an independent, retained his seat
  • The manner of Labour’s victory – ⅔ of the seats with ⅓ of the vote – likely decreases its appetite for electoral reform
  • Many Labour gains reversed huge Tory majorities, especially in the shires, but this will also leave Starmer’s party with a large number of marginal seats to defend at the next election

Conservatives

  • Reduced to 120 seats, their worst-ever result. This was above all a resounding repudiation of Conservatives’ record in government
  • Lost much of the Red Wall, but also plenty of historically safe shire seats
  • Lost all their seats in Wales and Cornwall. Fared very poorly in Scotland with 4 seats, but did not sink to the 2015-era low of a single seat
  • The party is at a crossroads. Before they can dream of beating Labour again, they must first deal with the dual threat of the Liberal Democrats and Reform. Already there are calls to take the party to the right, but to take the party in either direction will mean exposing a soft flank to the other
  • The number of Cabinet Ministers who lost their seats (12) exceeds the 1997 record of eight, decreasing the available talent and experience in a forthcoming leadership race
  • Kemi Badenoch, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman have held on and are considered leadership candidates. There are relatively fewer centrist favourites, with Tom Tugendhat amongst the most likely

Liberal Democrats

  • A record number of seats for the party after an issues-driven campaign which leveraged stunts to draw attention to its policies on the NHS (esp. social care) and river pollution
  • Benefitted from a tightly geo-targeted campaign, turning 12.2% of national vote share into 71 seats (vs. Reform’s 14.3% for 4 seats)
  • They now have a similar number of seats to before the 2015 collapse, but with half the vote share they enjoyed then. Can they stay relevant in a Labour dominated parliament and with no general election providing a platform for stunts and issues?

Reform

  • At 14.3% vote share, they are the UK’s third most popular party. Exit polls had them at 13 seats, but the diffuse distribution of their vote share means they have only picked up 4 (which is still up 400% from 2019)
  • Reform split the Conservative vote, coming second in several seats that were previously Conservative – most of which voted to leave the EU in 2016 
  • Nigel Farage has finally won a seat, at the eighth time of standing. Farage and Lee Anderson especially will likely make very noisy MPs and continue to haunt the Conservatives disproportionately to their share of seats
  • Reform failed to win target seats such as Barnsley South and North which pundits partly attribute to allegations of offensive comments by candidates
  • The party is still in its youth. Indeed, it is not strictly a political party, but rather a private company owned by Nigel Farage. Will Reform’s leader/owner put the party on a democratic footing and can they cultivate enough disciplined disciples to make a bigger electoral impact at the next election?

Scotland

  • The SNP were by far the biggest losers, losing 38 MPs and retaining only 9 seats (with two recounts yet to come)
  • The SNP centred their entire campaign around independence, perhaps suggesting this is not currently a priority issue for Scottish voters. Recent party scandals which led to Sturgeon standing down in 2023 also contributed to the SNP’s decline
  • Labour were by far the biggest beneficiaries of SNP implosion, growing their Scottish vote share by about 20%
  • The Conservatives, in a sign of the times, fared very poorly themselves and lost one of their five seats in Scotland, with Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross losing to the SNP

Northern Ireland

  • A big night for Sinn Fein, which for the first time took the largest number of seats in Northern Ireland, holding all its seats, although their MPs will not take their seats in Westminster
  • There were no significant changes in overall vote share between unionists and nationalists, but the unionist vote is now split between three parties
  • The DUP were the biggest losers, shedding three of eight seats. DUP big beast Ian Paisley Jr lost North Antrim, his family’s fiefdom for fifty four years, to Traditional Unionist Voice, while the UUP made a slight comeback, also winning a seat off the DUP
  • The bi-partisan Alliance Party took Lagan Valley, a DUP stronghold since vacated by disgraced incumbent Jeffrey Donaldson

The election by numbers*

Party Seats: 2024 (2019) Vote share: 2024 (2019)
Labour 412 (201) 33.7% (32.1)
Conservatives 121 (371) 23.7% (43.6)
Liberal Democrats 71 (8) 12.2% (11.6)
Reform 4 (0) 14.3% (2)
SNP 9 (48) 2.5% (3.8)
Sinn Fein 7 (7) 0.7% (0.6)
Independent 6 (0) 2.0% (1.4)
DUP 5 (8) 0.6% (0.8)
Green Party 4 (1) 6.8% (2.7)
Plaid Cymru 4 (2) 0.7% (0.5)
Other 5 (2) 1.2% (0.8)

*At the time of writing, there remain two seats to declare, one in Scotland – Inverness, Skye and West Ross-Shire – with a recount scheduled for Saturday 6 July. Basildon South and East Thurrock also faces a full recount on Friday afternoon.