Those clued into the political sphere would have one question for me: Why? Evidently, the figures don’t lie, with events like partygate and the handling of the Owen Paterson debacle surrounding the Johnson government, Labour has surged ahead in the polls up to an average of 39-40% last month, with a poll from Savanta ComRes putting Labour at a high of 44%, a figure the party has not reached since the mid-1990s under Tony Blair. In recent by-elections in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire, the Liberal Democrats stormed to victory, dismantling untouchable Conservative majorities, and causing Boris Johnson to be branded a liability by the party machine. And it’s not like the British public are not willing to invest in leftist policies, every election since 2001 has resulted in a majority for centre-left parties; many would argue the 2019 Conservative Manifesto was the most left-wing of recent times and that it outflanked Labour on the left. Internationally, there has been a red wave flowing across the world, whether it be the election victory of the SPD in Germany or the reelection of Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party in New Zealand, it seems almost inevitably that the red wave will reach the shores of Dover.
But the red wave won’t reach our sunny shores for three simple reasons: the rise of the SNP, the electoral system and historical precedence. I will try and explain these reasons in the forthcoming paragraphs and put across my opinions.
Scotland was once the bastion of the Labour movement, the Party’s first three leaders; Hardie, Henderson and MacDonald were all born in the Land of the Thistle, and at one point Labour secured almost 50% of the vote, at one point completely pushing the Conservative’s out of Scotland. But then something happened, people stopped voting Labour; an alternative had appeared. Grounded in social democratic principles, with a hint of Scottish Nationalism, the SNP came from 7 seats to an eye-watering 56 seats in the 2015 general election, displacing Labour as Scotland’s dominant party, primarily due to the disentrancement of the Scottish electorate to the ‘Westminster bubble’ – a bubble which Labour contributed to. To win a general election Starmer must carry a plurality of the seats in Scotland, a feat which is nigh on impossible due to the entrenchment of the SNP in Scotland; previously safe Labour seats have shifted en-masse to the SNP, a shift as monumental as the shift in 2019 from Labour to Conservative. A shift in which, unfortunately, Starmer will not be able to replicate.
325 seats; that is what is required for a majority in the House of Commons, but votes don’t translate to seats; and that is Labour’s next problem. Under the British election system, there are 650 separate areas of land, known as constituencies. To win a constituency, a party must win a plurality of votes in that seat – thus meaning that opinion polls equate to effectively diddly-squat in the grand scheme of things. Labour could win on the popular vote but still lose the seat count, due to the concentration of the Labour vote in safe seats across the North West, London and Yorkshire. Polling sources are giving predictions along these lines; Lean Tossup is predicting Labour winning 267 to the Conservative’s 283, despite Labour leading by 5% in the popular vote. Labour is in the dangerous position of being the most popular party in the country but not gaining government; a position which would bring into doubt the parties support for the current election system for the House of Commons.
A popular feature of British politics, the ‘shy tory factor’ has been an influence on many key elections; in both 1992 and 2015, Labour was tipped to win government after leading the opinion polls for the previous couple of years but on polling day, the Conservative’s were able to hold onto power. Dubbed the ‘nasty party’ by some of those within and outside of the party, the Conservative Party has always been seen as the evil of the two parties by those disenchanted by the British political system and thus a stigma has developed in which people are reluctant to announce that they will vote for the Conservative Party – and thus comes along the ‘shy tory factor’, this factor can influence the opinion polls, with the numbers for the Conservative’s being lower than they actually are. Labour cannot be complacent, as the shadow of 1992 could haunt them one more time…
If Starmer doesn’t win the next election, what path would Labour take? Potential leadership candidates are already lining up to take over from Starmer, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has had a meteoric rise in the last 18-months, seasoned backbencher Lisa Nandy is looking like she will become Labour’s first female leader, and with his Mayoralty ending in May 2024, it’s looking like “King of the North” Andy Burnham might be putting his hat in the ring for one last time. Starmer will struggle to stay on top if his authority is undermined by an election defeat and the key to his success will be to solve the problems the modern-day Labour party faces.
At the end of the day, and with what ever happens, we will always know one thing; A new day is dawning for Keir Starmer and the Labour Party.