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Labour Party’s “Great Victory” in Britain

Ahmet İnsel*

In Britain, the Labour Party achieved a “great victory” thanks to the far right.

The elections held in the United Kingdom on July 4th and in Iran on July 5th ended with results that contradict the global trend of conservative radical right movements rising or firmly entrenching themselves in power. However, while this picture in Iran represents a resistance against oppressive, ultra-authoritarian conservative dominance, the results of the general elections in the United Kingdom mask a rise in nationalist, conservative, authoritarian far-right movements.

It is certainly possible to consider the Labour Party’s unprecedented parliamentary majority in the UK general elections as a victory. However, the party’s success in winning 412 seats, far exceeding the 326 seats needed for an absolute majority in parliament, was not only due to the efforts of the party and its new leader Keir Starmer but also due to the success of Neil Farage’s Reform UK, formerly known as the Brexit Party, which capitalized on the collapse of the Conservative Party and directed votes towards the far right. With its rhetoric of national sovereignty, support for Russia, and radical anti-system stance that labels all other parties as “puppets of the system,” Reform UK primarily appealed to Conservative voters. The irresponsible recklessness and narrow-minded wealth favoritism exhibited by the 14-year Conservative Party government, especially in the last five years, led the working-class, poor segments, who had started to turn back to the Labour Party, to be captivated by Farage’s party’s “anti-system” stance and remain in the far right.

Due to the single-member district and first-past-the-post electoral system applied in Britain, Reform UK’s 14.3% vote share only translated into five parliamentary seats, but by splitting the Conservative vote, it played a decisive role in the Conservatives losing 251 seats compared to the 2019 elections. Thus, the Labour Party, which won 202 seats with 32.4% of the vote in 2019 (and 262 seats with 40% of the vote in 2017), managed to increase its vote share by only 1.4 points to 33.8% in 2024, yet won 412 seats.

The same situation applies to the Liberal Democrats. They had won eight seats in 2019 with an 11.6% vote share. In 2024, they increased their vote share to 12.2% (only +0.6 points!) and won 71 seats, becoming the third largest group in the parliament. Therefore, while the Labour Party is the clear winner in terms of parliamentary arithmetic, and the Liberal Democrats the second biggest winners, this should not overshadow the fact that, for the first time in the United Kingdom, a party to the right of the Conservative Party has become the third largest party in terms of vote share.

In 2019, the Brexit Party, on the eve of the UK’s departure from the EU, did not participate in the elections in constituencies where the Conservative Party was likely to win, thus receiving only 2% of the votes and enabling the Conservatives to win 372 seats with 43% of the vote. This time, it participated in elections everywhere. Seeing the incredible loss of popularity of the Conservatives among voters, Farage, despite having announced his retirement from politics a few years ago, ran from his party and was elected for the first time. His party, with five MPs, will be represented in parliament for the first time. Meanwhile, the Conservatives saw their vote share drop to 23.7%, winning only 121 seats. Reform UK will work to push the Conservative Party further to the right over the next five years.

The other major loser in the election was the Scottish National Party (SNP). Their vote share dropped from 3.9% to 2.4%, and they will be represented in parliament with nine MPs instead of 48. The candidates of the party advocating for Scotland’s separation from the UK were outpaced by Labour or Liberal Democrat candidates in many constituencies.

On the other hand, in more than ten constituencies traditionally strong for Labour and with a large Muslim electorate, independent Muslim candidates supporting “Palestine-Gaza” limited Labour’s vote increase. Four of these candidates won the elections. In many other constituencies, a significant number of Labour voters turned to the Green Party of England and Wales due to Labour’s new leadership not taking a clear stance against Israel’s war of annihilation in Gaza and not giving enough importance to environmental issues. The Greens, who previously had only one representative in parliament, increased their vote share to 6.8% (+4.1 points) and won four seats. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, expelled from the party on charges of anti-Semitism, also won the election as an independent candidate in his constituency, where he had been elected as an MP since 1983.

Keir Starmer’s strategy of steering the Labour Party to the center and purging the left wing of the party since he took the helm led to the party’s vote share, which had been around 40% in recent public opinion polls, only approaching 34% on election night. The Conservative Party and its media’s exaggeration of Labour’s election victory by predicting a “super majority” in the final weeks seemed to have discouraged some left-wing voters who did not want to vote for Starmer from going to the polls. Indeed, the voter turnout of 60% was the lowest in general elections since 2001.

All these do not change the fact that the Labour Party will have a historic parliamentary majority for five years and that this places a great responsibility on them. On the other hand, it also shows that the total vote share of conservative and far-right parties in the United Kingdom remains at approximately 40%. How Starmer’s government, with the first female Chancellor of the Exchequer, Deputy Prime Minister, and several other ministers from lower-class backgrounds in British history, will use its promise to “rebuild Britain brick by brick” will be seen.

*Ahmet İnsel (b. 1955) is a Turkish economist, editor, journalist and political scientist. Professor at the University of Paris 1, he regularly appears on the Turkish and foreign media, especially French, to talk about the political situation in his country.

The article was originally published in Birikim Magazine and has been translated from Turkish.

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