Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit innit

Many commentators say that the election result for Labour was about more than Brexit. It was, but Brexit was by far one of the major reasons for the result. 43 of the 47 constituencies Labour lost in the 2019 election were leave constituencies. To argue that Brexit was not a major factor, or that perhaps Labour could have won with a stronger remain position, is utterly deluded.

In his concession speech Jeremy Corbyn said Brexit had been one of the main reasons for Labour’s loss. This sentiment was shared by Momentum leaders Jon Lansman and Laura Parker during election night coverage. Others in the party and in the commentariat have dismissed this as too simplistic or a way of avoiding other issues (eg Corbyn’s leadership). 

As one of my earlier blogs post alluded to, this election was about Brexit. The Tories won on a policy of get Brexit done. The election was called because parliament was in deadlock over Brexit. The election was to break the deadlock and get a new direction set.

For Labour Brexit was not good ground to be fighting an election on. In 2017 Labour’s increase in support happened when the election debate moved beyond Brexit onto other policy areas.  Trying to use the same tactic in 2019 was not possible. Therefore to win Labour had to have a clear position on Brexit, and find a way to win both leave and remain voters. It was much like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat when there is no rabbit or hat to be found.

In 2017 both Labour and the Conservatives stood on a platform of respecting the 2016 referendum result. In 2017 both Labour and Conservatives had leave and remain MPs, happy to deviate from the party line and express opinions in the media. In short neither party had a real advantage over the other on Brexit. Also negotiations with the EU had only just begun, and whoever won in 2017 would have to negotiate the withdrawal agreement and subsequent ongoing relationship with the EU.

For Labour it would have been better having lost the 2017 election, to let the Conservatives get Brexit done. If it went wrong it would be on the Tories watch. If it went ok, then the debate would move onto other issues that were potentially better ground for Labour (eg NHS funding, education etc). For Theresa May, the Brexit negotiations bogged her government down and resulted in her losing 3 votes in the House of Commons attempting to get her Brexit bill through. Ultimately it was the end of her leadership. But for Labour, the last 2 and a half years of Brexit paralysis was as damaging.

The party opposed May’s deal, but was split over what should happen instead. Some in Labour wanted a second referendum. Some MPs wanted a Norway style arrangement where Britain left the EU but stayed in the customs Union. A few MPs from mainly leave voting constituencies thought it best just to vote for May’s deal. It quickly became a factional issue. For those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn had since 2016 condemned his refusal to call for a second referendum. Others argued against taking such a position and called for the Party respect the referendum result – as it has promised to do in 2017. Former Labour MP Laura Piddock in her letter to voters after losing her constituency of North Durham put it this way:

I repeatedly argued, inside my party, that we should respect the result of the referendum and avoid a second one. Of course, when you are in the Shadow Cabinet, you are bound by collective responsibility and I respected that.

Laura, who prior to the election has been considered a potential future Labour leader, had respected collective responsibility. Contrast this with former Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who was in the media on a daily basis calling for a second referendum and for Labour to adopt this as its strategy. A number of other high profile remain MPs did similar.

The UK Labour Party needs to seriously consider the way it presented itself to voters over Brexit. 

The eventual change in position came after months of pressure, and a polling bounce to the Liberal Democrats after Jo Swinson became leader (a poll bounce that did not last up till the election). Internally those aligned with Progress the New Labour/Blairite aligned faction within Labour really pushed the second referendum. However the left of party struggled with this issue. Momentum aligned Guardian Columnist Owen Jones started 2019 opposing a second referendum, but by June was supporting a second referendum. After the General Election Owen Jones claimed Labour’s second referendum position had cost Labour the election. Momentum, and Corbyn supporters generally were split on Brexit. Just as EU membership had been a minefield for Harold Wilson in the 1970s, so too was it for Corbyn and Labour in the 2010’s.

Labour appeared incoherent on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn, a former Eurosceptic was trying to balance a line so not to alienate leave or remain voters. His opponents in and out of Labour could use this against him. And to the general public it was not clear how a Labour Government would resolve the crisis. The 2019 position of negotiating a new deal where the UK remained in the Customs Union then putting this deal to a referendum where remain would be the other option, alienated traditional Labour voters in leave constituencies.

43 out of 47 constituencies Labour lost voted leave in 2016. Had it not moved to a second referendum position, the party may have had a tougher time in London (where it did quite well in 2019). But when 52% of the country voted leave in 2016, and with little sign of public opinion shifting since then, taking a stronger remain position was not wise.

The question of Brexit and the European Union was a huge challenge for Labour from 2016 onwards. After this defeat Labour will have to seriously reconsider its position. This will not be easy for the Party. But only with a viable social democratic position which respects the 2016 referendum result will it return to government.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

 

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s Strange loyalty to First Past the Post. 

I’ve made the point a number of times before, during and immediately after the election on this blog about the First Past the Post electoral system. I’ll make it again, the results in parliament DO NOT reflect the true vote. Labour won 10,269,076 votes in the general election. In terms of vote count this is its second best result since 2001. As a percentage of the vote labour received 32.2% in 2019. By contrast Labour’s percentages were 30.4% in 2015 and 29% in 2010. That the party had its worst results in terms of seats in parliament exposes the electoral system as not delivering results that represent public opinion.

labour vote 2001-2019
Graph showing Labour’s total vote in each election since 2001.

The Attlee Government lost power in 1951, despite increasing its vote and winning more votes than Churchill’s Conservative Party that took office in that election. The government that created the NHS was brought down by First Past the Post. Yet Labour and many of its supporters in the UK continue to oppose electoral reform. Unite the Union, Labour’s largest affiliate union, recently took the position that electoral reform was not a priority instead wishing to focus on getting Labour elected. Because UK Labour continue to support First Past the Post, on its own terms it did suffer a terrible loss.

Electoral reform wouldn’t have won Labour this election. That the Party lost 2.5 million votes in two years makes it a bad election under any voting system. Yet for the Conservatives to have increased their vote by just over 1% between 2017 and 2019, yet this resulted in them gaining 48 seats in parliament shows how strange the FPP system really is.

For Labour, part of their analysis needs to be looking at how the current voting system does not serve their supporters or democracy as a whole well. And hasn’t for a long time. Proportional representation doesn’t guarantee left wing governments, both New Zealand and Germany have had many years of right wing government under this system. But it does mean the make up of parliament reflects the will of the people.

See earlier posts in this series:

Why Labour Lost Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 1: historical context

Before Christmas I posted about the UK Election result and did an analysis of why the Conservatives won. I will now turn to the the UK Labour Party. Given my own history with NZ Labour I’ve followed the UK Labour Party with interest, especially since moving to the UK. My next few blog posts will explore some of this reasons for Labour’s loss and what the party needs to do now.

Fact: Labour lost the 2019 UK General Election.

Why: Some people blame Jeremy Corbyn. Others say Labour moved too far from the mythical centre. Many cite Brexit as the main problem. There has now been much written about Labour’s 2019 performance. To really understand the defeat, its worth getting a bit of historical context.

A brief history of the UK Labour Party:

Interesting fact I learnt recently at a pub quiz. Since it was founded in 1901, the British Labour Party has spent a total of 32 years in government.

The history of the British Labour Party has been one of a constant struggle to break through a (small c) conservative electoral system and a conservative public. After some not so glamorous attempts under Ramsey McDonald, its first real go at public office implementing a social democratic policy platform was in 1945. The Attlee government established the NHS, nationalised rail, nationalised electricity and gas and created the post war welfare system. The policies of this government lasted a generation.

Clement Attlee – UK Labour Prime Minister 1945 to 1951

After this Labour won again in the 1960s and 1970s under Harold Wilson, whose government abolished capital punishment, legalised homosexuality and kept Britain out of the Vietnam War. Wilson’s legacy has been much maligned since leaving office, both by the right and those within the Labour movement. Many felt his government didn’t do enough to implement a planned social democratic economic model that had been promised by Wilson before being elected. Probably most damaging to Wilson’s legacy, was his position on membership of the European Union. Anne Perkins in her article defending Wilson’s legacy makes the following point:

Perhaps most damagingly, he twisted and turned on membership of the old European common market, finally conceding – in a piece of brazen internal politicking – a referendum held in 1975 when he was back, for the final time, in No 10. It earned Wilson the undying hatred of the pro-Europe Labour right, without pacifying the anti-Europe left who scorned him as a traitor and hated him in a way that they never hated his successor Jim Callaghan, an overt right winger.  

This was not to be the last time that membership of the European Union would split the Labour Party

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Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister 1964 to 1970 and again 1974 to 1976.

After its defeat in 1979, Labour spent 18 years in opposition. Its return to government in 1997 was under the re-branded New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. With some early wins such as the Northern Ireland Peace agreement, the introduction of a national minimum wage and the sure start policy supporting parents and children under the age of four living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. Overall though, New Labour subscribed to the economic free market model of the Thatcher Conservative government that came before it. Though winning 3 consecutive terms, its vote share fell throughout its time in office. But the lasting legacy of this government will forever be its support of the Iraq War.

Tony Blair, UK Labour PM 1997 to 2007

So come 2010 Labour are back in opposition. In the face of austerity cuts by the Tories and Lib Dems, Labour adopt an austerity light position in the 2015 general election. They lost. What happens after a party loses an election? Generally they do a lot of naval gazing and soul searching, oh and you have a leadership race. Labour had one of these in 2015. Some random socialist candidate stood by the name of Jeremy Corbyn. No one took him terribly seriously at first, in fact the right of the party encouraged him to stand to split Andy Burnham’s vote and help the right get their candidate through. Well Jeremy stood, members liked what he said and he won. Wow!

Most in the Party and the political commentariat believed this would be a disaster for Labour. It would be a repeat of 1983 where it is believed that Labour moved left and lost badly. Labour MPs weren’t prepared to wait that long, trying to oust him after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Their attempt backfired and Jeremy was re-elected with an increased majority. Oops. Oh well not to worry, at the following election they’d be proved right when Labour suffered a humiliating defeat and the New Labour/Blairite faction would take back over. Except oops, that didn’t happen either. Labour’s vote increased its share of the vote by 9%, and the progressive social democratic policy platform was cited as the main reason for this. In particularly Labour saw a significant increase in young people voting for them which I blogged about prior to the 2019 UK election. .

So after a decade in opposition, it seemed in 2017 Labour were on the brink of coming to power. Labour could soon form a government on socialist/social democratic manifesto that would build on the earlier achievements of the Attlee government of 1945-1951. So what went wrong in 2019? My next few posts will look at what happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qasem Soleimani murdered by the United States.

Less than a week into the New Year and #WorldWarThree is trending on Twitter. Thank you very much Donald Trump.

Trump having lost an impeachment vote in the US Congress, has resorted to the Bill Clinton playbook of 1998. Back then Clinton launched an air strike of Kosovo to distract from his own impeachment hearing.

The US has had a longstanding beef with the Iranian regime. I’m not going to try and defend what is a brutal and repressive theocratic regime in Iran. And no doubt US intelligence had evidence of Qasem Soleimani plans to undermine the US and its allies in the Middle East. But let’s be clear, Qasem was a senior official in the Iranian Government on an official state visit to Iran. The United States military chose this window of opportunity to launch an air attack and murder Soleimani.

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Qasem Soleimani’s motorcade attacked my the US government, murdering Qasem 3 January 2020

In 2015 US President Obama negotiated the Iranian Nuclear deal. At the time this was seen as a significant turning point in the Middle East. Whilst not ending longstanding tensions between Iran and the US, it at least brought the world one step back from nuclear disaster in the region. Further it opened the door for further dialogue. Trump on coming to power in 2017 tore up this Nuclear Deal as promised during his cynical but successful election campaign of 2016 which I’ve blogged about before.

The actions of the US have of course been condemned by Iran. Chants of Death to America were made by Iranian law makers in parliament. They have compared this act to the 1953 coup. In 1953 the US and its allies overthrew a democratically elected government and installed a regime that would be sympathetic western interests. Specifically western oil company interests.

Iran has also said there will be a response to Qasem Soleimani. They have offered up a $80US bounty for the murder of President Trump and have also said they could attack the White House amongst other targets.

Few other governments have come out in support of the US attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the few world leaders to openly support the action despite Israel being a likely target of Iran.

In the UK, the Conservative Government who were supported by President Trump in the UK General Election were not given a heads up by the US prior to the attack. Dominic Raab Secretary of State for Foreign and Common Wealth Affairs has come out supporting the actions of the US Government but has also called for diplomacy going forwards. The Prime Minister has had little to say on the matter to date.

Qasem Soleimani, while no ally of the west and considered one of the hard liners in the Iranian regime, was also a key player in fighting and eventually defeating Isis in Iraq. The Iraqi government has called for all US troops to be expelled responded to the assassination of Qasem on their soil. Across the Middle East there has been similar condemnation of the US assassination.

So one week into 2020, a Hawkish US President focussed primarily on re-election and playing to his conservative base has authorised the Murder of a senior Iranian Government figure. The world now stands on the brink of another bloody conflict and heightened security threats everywhere.

But the world doesn’t need to be like this. The Iranian regime is brutal and repressive, and the recent protests within Iran demanding change are to be commended. So too are those protesters in 70 cities throughout the USA have come out in opposition to their governments assassination of Qasem. It is time for regime change in North America and the Middle East, and to build where diplomacy, peace and prosperity can replace war, violence and injustice.

Australian fires and the climate crisis everybody wanted to ignore

The start of 2020 has been a truely horrible one for Australia. The fires that are sweeping the country have been wreaking havoc. Currently more than 20 people have lost their lives and hundreds more have lost their homes and possessions. In the state of New South Wales its estimated that over half a billion animals have perished in the blaze.

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Fires across Australia have caused over $4 billion Australian dollars in damage.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under considerable fire over his response to this national emergency. He has been criticised for being slow to return from his family vacation in Hawaii, and generally for his government not showing adequate support to those impacted by the fire. The below clip shows the PM getting a particularly frosty reception from bush fire victims.

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Australian PM is not he’s not Welcome by bush fire victims.

 

There is no question that Scott Morrison’s response and leadership during this national emergency has been weak. But the abysmal response of the Australian Government to this issue predates Morrison’s leadership of the country.

Few sane people would dispute that climate change is a significant factor for the fires in Australia. Those who have warned about the consequences of human created climate change have warned for many years that events like this will be the result. Yet Australia has had a long history of denying the looming climate catastrophe. Scott Morrison’s government was re-elected in May 2019 with a very weak climate change policy. With some parallels to the recent UK General election, where I blogged about Boris Johnson’s weak leadership on the Climate Crisis, Scott Morrison and his government has been poor on this issue. But this is nothing new.

Back in the late 1990s, the Liberal Government led by John Howard refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty aiming to reduce carbon emissions. In 2007 there was a glimpse of hope that Australia would start to take this issue seriously. That year Australia elected Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the federal government elections. The ALP stood on a policy of tackling climate change. The situation seemed even more hopeful when in 2009 the Liberal opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull came out in support of the ALP’s proposed Mining tax.

But then came Tony Abbott. Tony has been a longstanding climate change denier. He recently made a speech in Israel claiming the world was in the “grip of a climate cult”, while his country burns. Tony successfully rolled Turnbull as Opposition Leader, and changed the Liberal Party policy to oppose the governments mining tax. The Liberals shot up in the polls, the ALP got the spooked and abandoned the policy. Shortly after Rudd was replaced by Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and only women PM. Gillard was very narrowly reelected in 2010 but relied on independent MPs in parliament for numbers. In 2013 Kevin Rudd once again became PM, briefly, before losing the election to Tony Abbott.

Abbott only served two years as PM, before he was rolled by Malcom Turnbull. As PM Turnbull was more moderate in some policy areas than the rabid Tony Abbott. But on climate change he knew he didn’t have the numbers in his party to push for any significant policy change. By 2018, having only narrowly won the 2016 election and consistently polled badly thereafter, Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison. Scott’s backers were the same people who’d backed Abbott, thus action on climate change was out of the question.

Mining companies have considerable power in Australia. They also have a truck tonne of money. According to Forbes Magazine Australia richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart is worth $15.5 Billion US. According to the Minerals Council of Australia mining is worth 198 billion to the Australian economy and accounts for 54% of the country’s GDP. Thousands in Australia depend on mining jobs for their livelihood. Many more live in communities that rely on the mining industry.

Mining companies put considerable time and resource into lobbying the Australian Government on policies that impact on their industry. They spent millions and worked overtime to oppose the mining tax in 2009. Politicians are scared of the mining sector. And recent history shows that those who serve their interests fare well in Australian politics. Also the voting public are influenced by what the mining sector say. Specifically they get concerned when mining companies and their political representatives say there could be job losses if mining companies are taxed or regulated. These messages impact how people think, and how they vote.

Most Australians and their politicians realise the climate change is real. But it’s been easier and more convenient to face up to the reality of the climate crisis. It’s easier to believe that the environmentalists are exaggerating. It’s convenient to believe scientific evidence is not conclusive regarding human activity causing climate change, when actually the evidence overwhelmingly concludes that it is. So Australia continues to do nothing about climate change. And now the country is going up in flames.

The fall out of these fires will be significant for Australia. For a number of communities their lives are now turned upside down, and many have lost everything. The fires will take weeks if not months to put out. The rebuild and recovery will take could take years. The environmental impacts of these fires will be devastating. Many animal habitats and forests may never recover. Politically, Scott Morrison and his government has taken a big hit over the fires. He may survive, he may not. But ultimately thats not important. What is important is that climate change has caused this crisis. And unless Australia and other developed nations take action on this issue – events like the Australian fires will become more and more common.

Why the Tories won the UK election

Generally it is safer not to pick elections. Increasingly polling seems to be unreliable, and growing numbers of undecided voters make their minds up on polling day. I would certainly not put a prediction in writing prior to an election. That said, on the eve of the UK general election when I wrote my blog post about Brexit, when going through the numbers it was hard not to draw certain conclusions.

The election was about Brexit. The reason the election was called was because parliament had been stuck for over 2 years in Brexit paralysis. It feels like Brexit has been the only thing on the agenda in Westminster for the entire term of the last parliament – meaning governments have no time to get anything done. But why did Brexit help the Tories?

Britain, and in particular England is a conservative (small c) country. The UK Conservative Party have spent 68 of the last 100 years in government. As the worlds 6th largest economy, it is logical that a conservative message of keeping things as they are tends to resonate.

But 2019 was no ordinary election. And Boris Johnson is not leading an ordinary Conservative Party.

After a decade in office the Party started 2019 in a pretty bad state. The Tories record in office left a lot to be desired, and voters were clearly fed up. In EU elections in 2019 saw the Conservative vote dip below 10%.  How on earth did the Party go from that, to their best result in a general election since 1987 in 6 months?

Days after Boris replaced Theresa May as Conservative leader and MP, I blogged that Boris knew how to tap into people’s hopes and fearsPrivately I recall telling people that I thought Boris Johnson would either perform brilliantly or be a disaster. During the election campaign we saw signs of both of these things occurring. From inaction on flooding in the north, hiding in a fridge to avoid the media, being laughed at in leaders debates when asked about telling the truth or refusing to be interviewed by Andrew Neil there plenty of disasters in the Boris Johnson campaign. But on the main issue of the election, he judged the public mood correctly. And due to this, The Conservative Party won.

On the eve of the election when I was writing about the Brexit referendum, some numbers really stuck out for me. Firstly, 84% of UK voters live in England. In the main, England is where elections and referendums are won or lost. In the 2016 referendum, the strongest support for Brexit was in England. When you look at the map of how people voted in 2016, England outside of London voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. While this included traditional Tory strongholds in rural England, it also included traditionally Labour voting areas in the Midlands and The North of England. When you look at the total UK voting stats 52% of voters opted to leave the EU compared with 48% voting to remain in 2016. Unless there had been a radical shift in public opinion, it was hard to see how a Remain Alliance would succeed.

Boris Johnson from the day he announced he would run for the Tory leadership said getting Brexit done was his top priority. But he faced the same issue that Theresa May faced before him. The Conservatives did not have a majority so relied on the DUP, who would not agree to any withdrawal agreement. Further, many Tory MPs did all they could to block a no deal Brexit. Boris himself of course had voted against Theresa May’s withdrawal deal, and resigned as Foreign Secretary in 2018 so he could publicly oppose it. As PM, he now faced the same threat of Tory MPs rebelling against him on Brexit.

One of the defining moments of Boris Johnson’s premiership to-date was when he removed the whip from 21 Conservative MPs. These MPs had supported a bill in parliament making a no deal Brexit it illegal. These MPs included then Father of the House and former Cabinet Minister Kenneth Clarke, Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond and Winston Churchill’s Grandson Sir Nicholas Soames. Shortly after these MPs lost the whip, Amber Rudd quit the cabinet and resigned the Tory Whip in protest.

This move by Boris Johnson was seen by many as callous, brutal and utterly mad. In retrospect, this now can be seen as a decisive act which strengthened Boris Johnson’s leadership considerably. In doing this, Boris Johnson showed that the Conservatives had become the Party of Brexit. Remain Tories like Ken Clarke represented who had been the mainstream of the Party from the 1970s through to 2016. In one fell swoop Boris Johnson has cut that wing of the party loose.

Boris Johnson could now go to the country and say if you give us a majority, we’ll get Brexit done. Whereas in 2017 both the Tories and Labour were divided on the Brexit issue, now Boris could say with authority that the Conservatives were the Party of Brexit. In a country that had been stuck in Brexit paralysis since 2016, he could go into an election promising to get it done and enact the 2016 referendum result.

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UK PM Boris John, Next to him left Lord Buckethead and right Elmo – both ran against him in the constituency of Uxbridge.

There were of course other issues and factors that played into this election. My next post will look at why Labour lost and some of the issues around that. But again, much of this was to do with Brexit. The overwhelming majority of constituencies that switched from Labour to Conservatives were leave voting ones. The Conservative Party campaign deliberately targeted the North of England and the Midlands during the election, with the key message of getting Brexit done. It worked.

Ironically, another  factors helped the Conservatives win in 2019 was Labour’s 2017 manifesto. The sudden surge in support for Labour in 2017 after its policies were released took the political establishment by surprise. Since then the Conservatives have been forced to respond to this, but increasing funding to the NHS, reversing policing cuts made by the Tories in their first two terms of office and other social spending increases.

During the election Boris Johnson promised to increase the minimum wage to £10, a promise made by Labour in the 2017 campaign. The Conservatives promised to increase police numbers by 20,000 – having cut them by 21,000 earlier. And while the Conservatives promise to build 40 new hospitals and to employ 50,000 new nurses were largely spin and don’t stand up to scrutiny, the optics worked for the Tories.

The real genius of the campaign was the way Boris Johnson managed to escape being dragged down by the Tories last decade in office. Boris played on the fact that he was a new Prime Minister and claimed that this was a new government. Given he has been a senior minister previously, how did he pull this off? His reputation for speaking his mind, and openly criticising Theresa May’s administration after resigning in 2018 had given him distance from that administration. Also, kicking out 21 remain MPs – including the former Chancellor of the Exchequer meant he could distance the government from its previous actions. That, and reading the mood of the nation correctly about Brexit, won Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party the election.

What next for the Conservatives? In the short term it will be relatively plain sailing for a bit. The Withdrawal agreement will pass. The size of the parliamentary majority will mean the government won’t have the problems both May and Cameron had of relying on other party’s for support. But as always in politics, clouds are gathering on the horizon. The government will still need to negotiate the ongoing relationship with the EU, and the 12 month deadline to do this set by the Conservatives is seen by many as unrealistic. The risk of no deal with Europe at the end of 2020 has already caused the pound to drop, reversing its rise the day after the election result.

Brexit will continue to dominate UK politics for the next 5 years. The Conservatives have MPs from poorer deprived communities in England and Wales, who have expectations that Brexit will bring positive changes. This puts pressure on the government to deliver. If things go wrong, the Conservatives won’t have anyone else to blame. And if Brexit goes ok, there are a number of domestic issues like Knife Crime, homelessness, under resourcing of the NHS, demands for increases to education funding and the need for increased financial support for services provided by local government. Not to mention the climate crisis that the whole planet faces.

The UK remains very divided. Calls for a united Ireland and an independent Scotland continue to grow and have the potential to destabilise UK politics. I will do another post about the election results in Northern Ireland and Scotland exploring these further. The government may find it challenging to hold the UK together, especially post Brexit.

This is not an easy time to be in power. For Boris Johnson and his government, the hard work is yet to come. They may have the numbers in parliament now, but as John Major learnt after winning the 1992 election, things can still go very wrong.

 

 

 

The British Election result 2019

The 2019 British election was held a week ago today. By now there has been considerable analysis of what happened and debates about what will happen next.

Having blogged throughout the election, I made a conscious decision not to make any comment in the initial days after. Sometimes a few days perspective can help give a clearer picture. It also means you can build on or critique the analysis of others.

A bit like a broken record, throughout this election I kept returning to the theme of the electoral system. I initially blogged about it a year ago. It remains in my view one of the more relevant elements of this and previous UK elections.

Looking at the 2019 election results and then compare these to voting numbers in previous elections, it paints a weird picture.

If we look firstly at Labour’s result. Labour has had its worst result in terms of seats in the House of Commons since the 1980s, getting only 202 MPs to the Conservatives 365. In terms of votes nationally this is how 2019 compares with the previous 4 elections:

Labour’s total national vote in 2019: 10,269,076

Labour’s total national vote in 2017: 12,878,460

Labour’s total national vote in 2015: 9,347,527

Labour’s total national vote in 20108,609,527

Labour’s total national vote in 2005: 9,552, 463 (Labour won a 3rd term in office this election)

So Labour, in terms of votes it received nationally had its second best election in 15 years last week. Yet the number of seats in the house of commons it won doesn’t reflect this.

Lets do the same exercise for the Conservative Party, who won this years election:

Conservatives total national vote in 2019: 13,966,565

Conservatives total national vote in 2017: 13,636,684

Conservatives total national vote in 2015: 11,334,226

Conservatives total national vote in 2010: 10,703,754

Conservatives total national vote in 2005: 8,784,915

The Conservative vote only increased by roughly 300,000 votes between 2017 and 2019, yet they gained 48 new MPs. More bizarrely, in the 2017 election the Conservatives Party increased support by over 2 million votes, yet lost their majority in the commons.

The Liberal Democrats didn’t shower themselves in glory this election, as I previously blogged. The Lib Dems won 3,696,423 votes nationally in this election, which equates to 11.6% of the vote. Yet in terms of MPs the Lib Dems now only have 11 out of 650 in the House of Commons. The Lib Dems vote increased by 4% since 2017, yet they return to parliament with fewer MPs. Contrast this the Scottish Nationalists, who won only 1,242,380 votes and 3.9%, but now have 48 MPs in the House of Commons.

The Conservative Party on 43.6% now have a strong majority in the House of Commons. In other words 56.4% of voters didn’t vote for this government, yet it has a whopping parliamentary majority. The Conservative Party got the most votes, and undoubtably won the election. But the large majority in the House of Commons they now enjoy does not reflect the true level of their support.

Votes per MP 2019
Poster produced by the UK Electoral Reform Society

But this is not a new phenomena in UK politics. In the 1997 general election Tony Blair’s Labour Government won 43.2% of the vote, yet got 418 MPs in the commons to the Conservatives 171 who in turn had won 30% of the vote nationally. In the following election in 2001 Labour’s lost 3 million votes, winning 10,724,953 votes compared with 13,518,167 votes four years earlier. However in the commons Labour had 413 MPs winning 40.7% of the vote to the Conservatives 166 and 31.7%.

Under proportional representation, it’s highly likely that Tony Blair’s Labour Government would have won the 1997 and 2001 General Elections, as likely would have Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government won in 2019. Point is, neither of these government deserve the majority the current voting system gave them. Further, it is difficult to morally justify a government having a strong majority when this majority does not truely reflect the votes it received.

Democracy is a precious thing, and not something that can be taken for granted. Having an electoral system where every vote matters is crucial to creating a decent society. It is time that the UK started seriously debating electoral reform and how to improve its democratic systems.