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5 July 2024

Keir Starmer wins – but he must deliver quickly

Labour has been elected by a disaffected, unenthusiastic, angry public.

By Freddie Hayward

Labour’s victory is muted and precarious. Its vote share could have only gone up by one or two percentage points on 2019. Starmer could be about to win a majority nearly as large as New Labour’s in 1997 on a vote share of only 35 per cent, way below the 40 per cent Jeremy Corbyn won in 2017.

There were tremors across the country. Jonathan Ashworth, a Starmerite stalwart who was expected to get a big job in the new government, lost his seat in Leicester South to a pro-Palestinian candidate. This remarkable result shows how damaging Starmer’s response to the Gaza war has been. But it’s not just Gaza. Corbyn, who Starmer kicked out of the party, won as an independent candidate in Islington North. The Greens unseated the shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire in Bristol Central. Large pockets of young and left-wing voters are rejecting Starmer for more radical alternatives.

He is also facing an insurgency on the right. This election is as much a story about who came in second place as it is about who came first. Reform mopped up votes, taking second place in 98 seats across the country. Take Leigh and Atherton. Labour’s Jo Platt won with 19,971 votes. But with 11,090 votes Reform jumped above the Conservatives on 6,483 votes. Turnout was down by 6.4 percentage points. A Labour victory – but one in which the Conservatives were routed by Reform and few people turned out to vote. That sums up the night. This Labour government was elected by a disaffected, unenthusiastic, angry public that has sought alternatives on the left and the right.

“We are coming for Labour,” Farage said in his victory speech in Clacton. Reform’s success will force immigration on to the political agenda of the coming parliament. There will be no respite in the criticism. Farage will try to drag politics to the right and usurp the Conservatives as the true opposition.

Labour’s response must be quiet, solid delivery. The party’s promise for this campaign was “change”. Many people voted for Labour merely to force a change of government. That has now been achieved. Labour will need to offer something more substantial if it wants to hold on to this victory.

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[See also: The Conservatives invited this disaster]

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