Can British politics deliver?

With only 36% of the popular vote, many will be waking up this morning puzzled as to why Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party have attained a record majority of around 200 seats – or well over 60% of seats in the House of Commons.  The answer, of course, is that our first-past-the-post electoral system harshly punishes any party when the country’s mood turns to a desire for change. This election was, in the final analysis, firmly an anti-conservative vote rather than a pro-Labour one. Notable also is the relative success of Reform UK, which won 14% of the vote but only four seats, or 0.5% of those available. The two major parties – Labour and Conservative – received less than 60% of votes cast as compared to almost 80% in the 1980s. One consequence of this election will be a renewed debate about our electoral system. 

The benefit of our first-past-the-post system is that the governing party usually receives a decisive mandate, as yesterday has delivered for Labour. We will see none of the shadowy coalition building that is always a feature of proportional representation. With a huge majority and almost untrammelled power under our unwritten constitution, Sir Keir Starmer will now have all the levers necessary to effect the change he promised. 

Labour’s manifesto was deliberately vague on what change – including public sector reform – might look like.  But many will hope that having won so convincingly, we will see decisive action from the Labour party addressing the long-running issues that the Conservative Party failed to tackle, including poor productivity growth, social care reform, housing, and balanced immigration. Failure to mobilise this mandate with a radically reforming Government will see a party that garnered only about 1 in 3 votes cast (on a historically low turnout) removed from power, just as the Conservatives have been by an electorate far less tribal than in the hey-day of the two-party system.

On Sunday, we will see an arguably more momentous election in France. Perceived failure by many on the moderate right and left that have governed France over many decades could well lead to a far-right party forming a Government. Nigel Farage’s Reform UK now has a bridgehead in Parliament. Turnout in the UK’s election yesterday looks likely to be shockingly low at under 60%. The current British political model has five years under Labour to convince voters that the system can deliver for them.