A Tory slump, not a surge for Starmerism

By Mark Buckley

The 2024 British general election result was a catastrophic one for the Tory party. This was the driving force behind the massive jump in Labour seats despite the number of people voting Labour being lower than when the party was led by Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 and 2019.

The main force behind the 19.9% slump in the Tory vote was the strong showing by Reform UK, which gained 12.3%. By contrast Labour and LibDems combined added just 2.3% compared to their 2019 results. It should be added that the Greens added 4.0% (all data provisional, based on BBC reports).

Nearly two-thirds of the net lost Tory vote share went to Reform UK and it is their intervention, attacking the Tories from the overtly racist right, which was mainly responsible for Tory collapse.

That overt racism, their one-club policy of anti-immigration and the stated aim of Farage to remake/take over the Tory party make Reform UK a significant new factor in British politics – either itself or by its politics taking over the Tory Party.

It is a dangerous factor. Neither the Tories nor the new Labour government has any principled opposition to Farage’s insistent racist rhetoric. They also have no policy to end the economic crisis which fuels the further growth of racism. This political weakness and capitulation to Reform UK means Farage can see blood in the water. Reform UK’s project will be to drag the Tory party further to the right and if Starmer is pulled into the slipstream, their project becomes even easier.

No surge for Starmerism

The claims that Starmer has caused the seismic shift in British politics, that he is a tactical genius, or that there has been a surge in support for Starmerism are blatantly false propaganda. Labour’s 33.8% in this election is much closer to the Corbyn result of 32.2% in 2019, which was described by Starmer’s supporters as ‘disastrous’ at the time, than it is to Corbyn’s 40% 2017. The number of people voting for Labour in his election was lower than in 2017 or 2019 when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

The dynamics during the campaign, as well as the results, confirm this. On May 27 when Sunak announced the election Labour’s average in the polls was 44.6% (FT Tracker poll), so the fall to 33.8% meant that Labour lost almost a quarter of its vote during the campaign. The reality is that the more voters saw and heard of Starmer’s policies the less they liked them. When YouGov asked Labour voters what their main reason for their choice, their overwhelming answer was get the Tories out/time for change (61%). In a poor third place at 5% as agreeing with Labour policies. The entirety of Labour’s small gain in vote share was in Scotland, in England it was effectively unchanged from 2019 and in Wales it fell.

The SNP also faced a catastrophic loss of votes and seats in Scotland. But Labour did experience a genuine rise in support in Scotland which translated into large gains in seats.

Overall, Starmer will be the Prime Minister with the lowest share of the vote ever.

The combined vote share for Labour and Tories is just 57.5%, the lowest in the modern era. This maintains a trend seen in the advanced capitalist countries more generally, as a failure to reverse economic stagnation drain traditional parties’ support.

Progressive forces outside Labour

One of the few positive developments in this general election was the performance of forces independent of Labour to its left. This was at the top of what could be realistically expected. The most important of these was the election of Jeremy Corbyn. This was a huge blow against Starmerism both overall and immediately strengthened demands for a ceasefire in Gaza.

It was also the high-point of a limited but significant trend of forces emerging outside Labour, particularly on the issue of opposition to the Gaza onslaught. There were also gains in Perry Barr, Leicester South, Blackburn and in the Dewsbury and Batley constituency for independents who opposed Labour’s support for the Israeli government.

In addition, there are now four Green MPs, who also support a ceasefire in Gaza. Notorious Labour figures such as Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips only held on by the skin of their teeth, while Andrew Feinstein slashed Starmer’s personal majority with a strong performance.

As a result, there is now a disparate group of MPs who can be united on key issues such as the call for a ceasefire. Corbyn will clearly be the most authoritative figure, but the group as a whole will be key factor in opposing what is set to be a deeply unpopular government.

Corbyn, Diane Abbott from within Labour, the Green MPs and the anti-war independents can form a core of resistance against the effects of Starmerism.

This will be crucial in the period ahead as the new right-wing government offers only more war, more austerity and more racism.

Image: Combination of photo and text. Photo: Members of the opposition frontbench and shadow cabinet of Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party, at Prime Minister’s Questions, 7 February 2024; Photo from: © UK Parliament / Maria Unger; Photo cropped. Licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution 3.0 Unported license. Text: added to right hand side of the image.