Sunday, July 7, 2024


Sir Keir Starmer's official Prime Ministerial portrait

“Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is the true born King of all Britain.”

The opening spoken passage of Rick Wakeman’s “Arthur” is just about the only part the BBC have not used to introduce their General Election coverage since 1979, but with each seat having been contested contested on the premise of “may the best person win”, a place could surely be found.

I followed this election through my fingers from the moment it began. The unforced errors of Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party campaign ranged from calling it in the pouring rain, announcing the return of National Service, leaving the D-Day commemorations in France early, through to investigations into party members’ insider knowledge for betting on when the election would take place, and the disputed “£2,094” per household that having a Labour party in government would cost. Having a working state for the cost of a Sky TV subscription, something Sunak counted not having as a deprivation in his childhood, could be a good deal.

While Sir Ed Davey seemingly went on an extreme sports holiday to bring attention to the Liberal Democrats, and Nigel Farage decided we were worth his attention over Donald Trump, all Sir Keir Starmer had to do was remain statesmanlike, talk about returning politics to service, and following through on that once elected... 

Then the election became about keeping transgender women out of women’s spaces, with Starmer saying he thought they shouldn’t be allowed, and offering to meet J.K. Rowling to discuss her concerns, as the de facto leader of the “gender critical” movement, which abjectifies an entire group of people by asserting sex over gender at all costs. Starmer wants there to be a “reset moment” for trans people, removing the toxicity from the national conversation, but I would love to find out how he will do that.

Once again, I tried to watch the election results through the night, expecting the momentum prompted by the exit poll’s prediction of a Labour Party landslide to drive the TV coverage. I had seen enough polls predicting a “supermajority” of five hundred seats for Labour, but I was expecting a result like that seen in 1997, which was 418 Labour seats to the Conservatives’ 165 seats. The exit poll had 410 versus only 131, and while the thirteen forecast seats for the right-wing Reform UK were concerning, this was explained as being due to lack of sampling data, expected to be revised downwards. There was enough to talk about, but the first hour of coverage was dominated by a race to declare the first result. 

I mostly stayed with the BBC’s TV coverage, as ITV and Channel 4 had opted to include former politicians in their core teams – one verbal spar between Alistair Campbell and Nadine Dorries put me off Channel 4 for the night – and ITV had centred its coverage around one massive, visually uninteresting desk. After a full day’s work, and no longer able to keep my eyes open, I wound up retiring to bed at 12.45am, with only six results having been called. I woke up again at 4.40am to Rishi Sunak winning his seat for the Conservatives, but conceding the race – Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer had become Prime Minister, his party eventually winning 412 out of 650 seats, with a total of 33.7% of votes cast, on a 60% turnout.

What the public was voting for appeared not to be Labour, but Not-The-Tories, or Not-The-SNP in Scotland. Tactical or protest voting caused seats previously safe for one party to become more marginal this time around. People punished the Conservative government for leaving the country in a worse condition than when they assumed power in 2010. Meanwhile, some independent candidates won over parties due to specific issues like the war in Gaza. The First Past the Post system rewards the winner, but it means Labour enters Parliament with a shallow voter base.

The biggest protest vote was for Reform UK, the fourth party under which Nigel Farage has run for Parliament, which won five seats despite receiving 14.3% of votes, splitting the right-wing vote with the Conservate Party. If your party gets few seats because most of your candidates came second or third, then of course you could have done better if the rules were different. Changing to a proportional representation system would have benefitted the Liberal Party in 1974, the SDP in 1983, and Reform UK in 2024, but wanting to change the system because it would benefit you specifically is suspect, especially after a referendum in 2011 to change to an “alternate vote” system was, well, voted down.

It is imperative that, for whenever the next election take place, the Conservative Party regains its focus. British politics is usually fought from the centre ground, moving further left or right leaves people behind. Voting for Farage’s parties has been used most effectively as a blunt instrument in previous local, general and European elections, and while Farage talks of professionalising Reform UK, still currently a limited company over which he has the most voting shares, his stated aim of supplanting the Conservatives won’t happen if the Conservatives take his place first.

As for the new Prime Minister, all he needs to do is make our lives better while keeping the noise down. If he does, we might allow him to keep doing it.

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