Labour Party wins UK elections, gaining lopsided majority in Parliament despite lackluster vote

Labour Party wins UK elections, gaining lopsided majority in Parliament despite lackluster vote
Keir Starmer, Labour Party leader and Prime Minister, with former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

Due partly to divisions among conservatives, the left-leaning Labour Party has just won the 2024 British election outright. Labour won nearly two-thirds of the seats in the United Kingdom’s parliament despite getting only a little more than a third of the vote. Labour won 412 seats, compared to just 121 seats for the Conservative Party, which governed Britain since 2010, and 4 seats for the right-wing Reform Party.

The Labour Party got 33.7% of the popular vote — hardly more than it got in 2019 when it lost the election — compared to 23.7% for the Conservative Party (a historic low for the Conservatives) and 14.3% for the Reform Party, which is more conservative on issues like crime, immigration, energy, and taxes than the Conservative Party. So the two more conservative parties (Conservatives and Reform) collectively got 38% of the vote, compared to only 33.7% for Labour. Yet Labour easily won the election, getting 412 seats, versus 125 seats for the Conservatives and Reform combined.

That’s because Britain’s elections aren’t based on proportional representation or ranked-choice voting. Instead, Britain gives each seat in Parliament to the candidate in that particular district who got the most votes — which in most districts was Labour, such as where the Labour candidate got slightly more votes than the Conservative candidate and more votes than the Reform candidate, even if the Conservative and Reform candidates’ combined vote was a majority in that district.

In many other European countries, like France, it is wrong to claim that divisions among right-leaning parties give national victories to the left, because voters who support one right-wing party may actually prefer the left to the other right-leaning parties. In France, for example, the supposedly “far-right” National Rally has economic policies that are more left-wing than its centrist, center-left, and mainstream conservative rivals, such as France’s center-left President Macron, who has tried to keep France’s cripplingly high government spending from rising as a fraction of his country’s economy (although the National Rally is conservative on crime and immigration, and is less extreme on economic issues than the left-wing parties). So if the National Rally didn’t exist, that wouldn’t guarantee a victory for the mainstream conservatives, because some people who vote for the National Rally today might vote for the socialists or other left-wing parties instead if the National Rally did not exist.

But in England, a big majority of Reform voters would prefer the Conservatives to Labour, and a smaller majority of Conservative voters would prefer Reform to Labour. So competition between the Conservatives and Reform for right-leaning voters really may have given Labour victory in the election.

Some commentators have pointed this out. A professor observed, when the vote was partly counted,

The Conservatives and Reform together got 44% of the vote, Labour 36.1%. A nationalist Conservative Party incorporating Reform would be formidable, even right now. Here is Reform’s platform, from its website: “Only Reform will stand up for British culture, identity and values. We will freeze immigration and stop the boats. Restore law and order. Repair our broken public services. Cut taxes to make work pay. End government waste. Slash energy bills. Unlock real economic growth.” Relatively easy to see how a Reformaservative Party could tackle Labour.

Since this observation, the vote totals shifted, but the Conservatives and Reform together did get more popular votes combined than Labour did.

If Britain had proportional representation, Labour would not have a majority of the seats, and the balance of power in Britain’s parliament would be wielded by the centrist Liberal Democrats, who got 12.2% of the vote and 60 seats in the 2024 election. From 2010 to 2015, Britain was run by a coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, which kept Labour out of power, and resulted in Britain’s government spending less money than a Labour government would have spent. The Liberal Democrats are less supportive than Labour of big-government policies like nationalizing the railways.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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