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5 July 2024

The constituencies that shaped election night

Our post election guide: from major Tory losses, and trouble for the SNP, to the end of a political dynasty.

By Finn McRedmond and Nicholas Harris

The contours of this election were established long ahead of last night: a Labour landslide was essentially a foregone conclusion from the opening days of the campaign; several prominent Conservatives were predicted to lose their seats; many suspected that the party might outperform the most dismal end of expectations. But this was by no means a boring general election. We’ve compiled a list of the seats that told the story of last night: which best encapsulated the broader political themes of this summer? Where did the polling get it wrong? Which results should give Labour a cause for anxiety in the medium and long term? Here’s our guide.

A high-profile loss in South West Norfolk

How many suspected that the former prime minister Liz Truss would lose her seat? Students of the local politics of South West Norfolk – should they exist – will know that her defeat comes after a saga of squabbles with her constituency. When Truss was first chosen as its candidate in 2009, she faced a deselection effort by the “Turnip Taliban”, a group of local Tory activists who resented her outsider status. They also took umbrage with a personal life that, in their eyes, fell some way short of socially conservative ideals (specifically her affair with another MP, Mark Field). Locals have only come to resent her further since, claiming she has spent very little of the last 14 years in the constituency, and the “Turnip Taliban” resurfaced at this election in the independent candidacy of James Bagge, a former Conservative Party member, army captain and KC – essentially possessing everything about traditional Toryism that Liz Truss lacks. He took just over six thousand votes, helping to grind Truss down to her narrow defeat to Labour. And perhaps this loss will come to stand most saliently for the Conservative implosion we have witnessed: Truss, the personification of the political chaos of the last two years, ejected by a tranche of genuine conservatives who feel their natural party has abandoned them.

George Galloway’s left splinter movement fails in Rochdale

The by-election victory of George Galloway four months ago was perhaps overinterpreted by commentators. He was seen as a Farage of the left, an insurgent who would lead the dejected and disaffected of their movement in mainstream politics, specifically over the Gaza war. He called his own victory “a shifting of the tectonic plates” away from Labour, and there was talk of Labour’s vote being squeezed from the left across the nation come the general election. Galloway ultimately spent only 54 sitting days in Parliament. He still performed well, taking 11,600 votes, and only losing by 1,400. But Galloway’s “unique” political personality was probably never enough to lead a successful splinter movement. This will surely not be the last we hear of him, however: he is far too impertinent to disappear from British politics for good.

Jeremy Corbyn wins a referendum on himself in Islington North

If you have served as a constituency MP since the days of Michael Foot, you might expect a measure of local loyalty. And Islington North rallied to Jeremy Corbyn last night, securing him 24,120 votes to Labour candidate Praful Nargund’s 16,873. Various polls ahead of the election had shown Corbyn trailing. And the victory serves as something of a rejoinder to Corbyn’s expulsion from Labour, demonstrating the affection he has both in the local community and more broadly on the left. But there had been speculation that Labour was not fully committing campaign resources this contest, and Nargund’s own candidacy was troubled from the start. Now, the question of Jeremy Corbyn’s future within a left-wing parliamentary grouping will become paramount. Does Corbynism-in-exile have the following or the authority to influence or even challenge the Starmer government? In his report on this contest for the New Statesman, Oliver Eagleton wrote that the Islington North result was “a referendum on whether Corbynism was the start of a political process or the end of one”. All we can say for now is that it is a referendum that Jeremy Corbyn has won.

Godalming and Ash: will Jeremy Hunt rebuild the Conservative Party?

Sure, it was a night of high-profile losses (goodbye Jacob Rees-Mogg and Penny Mordaunt). But we don’t talk nearly enough about the rare reverse-Portillo moments, the unlikely survivors. At 11.30pm last night Jeremy Hunt’s team claimed to be confident that he would make it over the line. Considering how badly the odds were stacked against him, this could have been an Icarean attitude. After several recounts news finally broke at 4.40am that Hunt had kept his seat, by just 891 votes. He narrowly escaped being the first ever chancellor to lose their constituency in a general election – a legacy he will be delighted to have dodged. Hunt now clings onto parliament as a figurehead for the Cameroon era: the last vestiges of that short-lived, tight-spending and loose-liberalism version of the party. Now the party faces a battle for its soul: cleave to the right and adopt aspects of Faragism to see off the threat posed by Reform; or channel the spirit of pre-Brexit Tories and appeal to its so-called Blue Wall. Can Hunt find a coalition within the remnants of the party and reroute the Conservatives back to 2015?

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Scottish Nationalists had a hard night across Scotland

The atmosphere in the SNP’s headquarters this morning will be dour. Last night was the worst general election result for the party since 2010, thanks to Labour’s pretty seismic comeback in the country. Now they have just nine seats compared to Labour’s 37 (and five for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats respectively). There are both immediate and broader existential reasons for this collapse. First, after 17 years in power in Holyrood the party has had a long time to accrue scandals. And voters have expressed general discontent with the devolved competencies like education and transport. But what does this mean for the future of independence? Has the yellow wave completely ebbed? There is perfect reason to suspect that many would-be Conservative voters switched allegiances to Labour for tactical reasons in this election: that was the best way to keep the nationalists at bay. If that is the case then this feeling appears to run very deep indeed. The SNP have a hard fight ahead if they plan to rebuild their case for the constitutional future of the country.

The end of a dynasty in North Antrim

This is not just a single parliamentary defeat. It’s the end of one of the United Kindgom’s most famous dynasties. Ian Paisley Jr, the son of the former First Minister of Northern Ireland Rev. Ian Paisley, lost his seat to another unionist challenger, Jim Allister. No one – not even Paisley – saw this coming, and the DUP has described the loss as a mortal blow. North Antrim was first won by Paisley Sr in 1970 and was passed to his son in 2010. It was the party’s most iconic and beloved heartland, until last night. The Traditional Unionist Voice – who won by 450 votes – ran on a protest platform at the post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, complaining that the de-facto sea border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain undermines the union and cleaves the North closer to the Republic. It is hard to overstate how seriously the DUP are taking this: evidence that the Brexit project will haunt the politics of Northern Ireland forever.

Insurgent Greens in Bristol Central

It made perfect sense for the Greens to target Bristol Central hard: it is the city most alike to Green heartland, Brighton (lefty, alternative, environmentally anxious). The party’s co-leader Carla Denyer become one of the few candidates last night to take a seat off Labour in their landslide year. But it was not a shock: Labour were long anxious about the incumbent, and shadow culture secretary, Thangam Debbonaire’s chances. Over the course of the campaign the party summoned heavyweights Keir Starmer, Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband to support her. But one senior Labour politician conceded weeks ago in private that it was a lost cause. There is a mould of a progressive voter that is very sceptical of Starmer and what they see as his lurch to the centre. The Greens will be buoyed by this victory: evidence, perhaps, that protest votes organised from the left can deliver results.

Labour loses to Gaza independents

This is another reason for Labour to be anxious about their medium term prospects. Blackburn, Bately, Dewsbury and a litany of Birmingham seats were all dragged down to the wire (or lost entirely) to vocal pro-Palestine independents. Labour had perhaps hoped that this kind of backlash was localised to low-turnout local elections and wouldn’t feature in a major way in a general election. This was a bad calculation: the disposition emerged with a vengeance. The polls suggested a collapse in support among Muslim voters of 20 percentage points. That still puts Labour ahead among voting Muslims. But it appears in the seats they lost, where the anti-Labour campaigns were high-profile, that drop was more substantial.

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