私房俱乐部

私房俱乐部 politics expert Alistair Jones looks at what happened in the General Election - and what comes next


Our 私房俱乐部 politics expert Alistair Jones was at the heart of the action on election night – providing through-the-night analysis for the media about the comings and goings in Leicester and Leicestershire. As the dust settles, Alistair gives his take on what happened - and what comes next under a new Labour Government.  

ALISTAIR JONES image one

It’s another week in politics and I think I’ve just about recovered from the election night – at least in terms of fatigue. An all-night broadcast followed by interviews on Friday and Saturday is just a little taxing, and adrenalin only takes you so far. Here, I’m going to focus on three things: the campaign, the national result and the local results.

The Campaign

ALISTAIR - Rishi

The Conservative campaign got off to a disastrous start, with Rishi Sunak calling the election outside 10 Downing Street, umbrella-less in the pouring rain – and that may have been the high point of their campaign. It was six weeks of disaster after disaster – from a photo-op outside the Titanic Centre in Belfast to the betting scandals on the calling of the election. 

If anything could go wrong, it did.

Even the messaging of ‘lower taxes’ gained little traction. Labour adopted a ‘Ming vase’ strategy – doing their best not to upset anyone, and without over-promising. If something went wrong – again, another betting scandal – it was dealt with, swiftly.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey, was aware of the difficulties in getting airtime. So, there were more and more eccentric and dangerous stunts – including bungee jumping – to get the media attention. Then, he could talk serious politics; and he made it personal, which touched the public.

The Lib Dems, arguably, had the most successful campaign. Of the other parties, the Greens ensured they got some coverage, while Reform UK, and specifically Nigel Farage seemed to get as much coverage as the two major parties. The SNP and Plaid Cymru were given media time as well – and much more in their respective countries than in the national media.

The National Result

ALISTAIR - Starmer

It came as no surprise that Labour won. The polls had been predicting such a victory for the last 18 months. Yet there was no cock-a-hoop celebration. Everything has been careful and measured. No hype; no triumphalism.

In fact, Keir Starmer has made it clear that he wants to talk to everyone, including those who did not vote for his party. His speech outside Downing Street saw how the adults have re-entered the room.

The extent of the Conservative collapse was a great surprise – even though the opinion polls had predicted such an outcome. Normally, the closet-Tory voters return to the fold and the party does better than anticipated. Not this time.

It was the worst Conservative defeat in modern times – in terms of seats and vote share, as well as the number of government ministers to lose their seats in the election. There was one gain – in Leicester East. For the Conservative Party, there will now be a fight over the soul of the party: do they move closer to the dog-whistle politics of Reform, or do they try to move back to the centre ground?

The Liberal Democrats had their best result in over a century and were triumphalist. The winning of 72 seats was far beyond their expectations.  For them, the question is also ‘where to from here?’  What can they deliver?  If the Conservatives move further to the right, there will be an opportunity for the Lib Dems to become the official Opposition after the next election. If the Conservatives move back to the centre, there will be a three-way fight and the Liberal Democrats may well suffer the worst.

ALISTAIR - DAVEY

Add to all of this 6 Independent MPs, 5 Reform UK MPs, and 4 Green MPs. The Greens had their best ever UK election result. Reform UK, on the other hand, won more votes than the Liberal Democrats but far fewer seats. Unsurprisingly, Nigel Farage is calling for electoral reform. More on that later.

Five of the six Independent MPs are in England, winning seats from Labour – most notably in Leicester South. Add to this a number of near misses, against Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips, to name but two.  There are several inter-related issues here: the Labour position on Gaza, issues around Islamophobia, and the extent to which Muslim communities across the UK feel isolated and excluded.

These victories should be something of a wake-up call for the mainstream political parties on how they need to re-engage with all communities across the UK.

In Scotland, the SNP suffered a huge defeat, losing 40 seats and making one gain. Like the Conservatives, this is a signal to a party in power in Scotland that they too are jaded and the people want change. In Wales, Plaid Cymru retained their 4 MPs, as the Conservatives were wiped out.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein were the largest party in terms of both seats and votes. None of the major mainland parties fight the elections in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein would like to reunify the island of Ireland.

They are the largest party in the Northern Ireland legislative Assembly as well. The largest Unionist party – the Democratic Unionists – saw their support slip again, as the collective unionist vote splintered further. Footnote: none of the Sinn Fein MPs will take their seats at Westminster as they have to swear an oath of allegiance to the UK monarch.

A quick comment on electoral reform. Labour won a landslide victory with only 34% of the votes cast on a 60% turnout. Reform UK won 15% of the national vote but only 5 seats, while the Liberal Democrats won 72 seats on 13% of the national vote. 

While this looks unfair, the UK elections are not about a national vote. There are 650 separate elections. A vote cast in one constituency has no impact on any other constituency. Aggregating the share of vote at a national level is meaningless. To give a footballing analogy: vote share is about possession of the ball; seats won is goals scored. Possession is meaningless without goal scoring. The Liberal Democrats and Labour were both very effective at ‘scoring’. Reform UK were not.

ALISTAIR - polling station

Local Results

Across the county, there were few surprises. Despite some boundary changes, the Conservatives held five of the seven seats – losing both Loughborough and North West Leicestershire to Labour.  These Labour gains were unsurprising as both seats have a history of swinging between the major parties.

The real surprises – and these made national news headlines – were in the city of Leicester.

The constituency of Leicester East had drawn in the national media. Cameras and reporters were at the count waiting for this result. The sitting MP – Claudia Webbe – was running as an Independent; the previous MP – Keith Vaz – was running under the One Leicester banner; and, there was an actual Labour candidate, Rajesh Agrawal.

In effect, there were three prominent candidates with a ‘Labour’ background! Throw in an Independent candidate who had quit the Conservative Party, Nagarjun Agath, the actual Conservative candidate, Shivani Raja, a Reform UK candidate, a Green, a Liberal Democrat and two other Independents – it looked like being a real bun fight.  All of the pollsters had called it a Labour hold. But they were wrong.

The Labour vote split three ways and Shivani Raja won – the only Conservative gain of the night!

If that was not a big enough surprise, the next result was Leicester South. Jon Ashworth, the Labour candidate and member of the shadow cabinet, was defeated by an Independent candidate – Shokat Adam. The Labour majority had stood at more than 22,000 votes. It was overturned as Shokat Adam won with a majority of 979.  In his acceptance speech, Shokat Adam noted the issue of Gaza as being important, as well as the lost voices in the constituency, and their need to be heard.

The third Leicester constituency passed under the radar.  Leicester West was held by Liz Kendall, who doubled her majority.  There had been speculation that she could be at risk of losing but the Leicester West result was in line with national party results. It was almost boringly so.

Where to from here?

We have a Conservative Party that may drop into civil war. Rishi Sunak has indicated he will stand down, it is merely a matter of when. A leadership election will be a fight for the ideological soul of the party, and it could be messy.  If it is, the likelihood will be another Labour victory in five years’ time.

For Labour, they have to deliver. Trust in politics and in politicians has been decimated by the antics of some previous Prime Ministers and MPs. Keir Starmer has made it very clear that ‘service’ will underpin his government’s actions. Delivery will take time, however.

Yet they need some quick wins: dropping the Rwanda scheme, and talking to the junior doctors have both been a start. More tangible results will be needed, otherwise there will be no honeymoon period.

Posted on Wednesday 10 July 2024

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