UK election analysis: A fragile landslide

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The left-of-centre Labour Party has won a landslide victory in the UK election, while right-wing parties are prevailing elsewhere in Europe. But beneath the surface, the far right remains a force for the new Labour administration to reckon with.

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Sir Keir Starmer’s resurgent UK Labour party has torpedoed the Conservatives’ 14-year tenure of government, leading the UK leftwards against the grain of mainland Europe’s surge to the far right. On the surface, that’s what Labour’s 174-seat House of Commons majority suggests.

The commanding seat majority was built on a sparse 35% share of the vote, however, and behind each of the UK’s 650 constituencies, a nuanced picture emerged.

Nigel Farage’s win in Clacton was one of four seats seized by his Reform Party, with another currently in recount. Though some way off the 13 seats predicted by the exit poll, in the UK’s brutal first-past-the-post system, the Reform seat count belies the party’s deep corrosion of the Tory vote, which helped deliver Labour its prize.

Reform came in second place in 103 constituencies, set against only three during the last election in 2019, when a pact with Boris Johnson led it to hold off contesting Conservative-held seats.

And in many more seats where Reform came in third place last night, it mortally wounded the Tories, as results from the south-coast Poole constituency illustrate. On 14,150 votes, the Tories lost the seat by the slimmest of margins – 18 votes – to Labour, with 14,168 votes, while Reform came in third place, carving out 7,429 votes that might otherwise have carried the Tories over the line.

Many of these Reform votes were from the same cohort mobilised by Boris Johnson and wooed away from Labour-leaning northern seats to form his so-called Red Wall in support of Brexit. Johnson was already tapping into disillusionment with the political establishment – whether right or left: the vote for Brexit was a negative vote against London and Brussels establishments.

Though the disillusionment may have differed, Reform has again tapped into broader public perception of the Conservative regime as incompetent, inadequate and untrustworthy.

As such, this landslide differs from Tony Blair’s own landslide victory of 1997, when the party won more than 43% of the popular vote and tapped enthusiasm for its New Labour project.

“It is a shocking result, and I can’t recall anything so similar in British history that one party does so well in terms of seats having not won very many votes,” Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, told Euronews.

Labour’s majority is built on very shallow foundations as a result, according to Grant and “can easily be washed away by the next storm that hits the UK”.

Farage has said he’s coming for Labour voters next. “I think it may well be that in the long run, the sort of problems of the far right that France and Germany have to deal with may spread to the UK,” Grant said.

In France, the centre-right party has been torn apart in a dispute over to whether to join forces with the far-right National Rally. The same might now apply to the UK Conservatives, facing electoral pressure from Reform. 

However, any future nexus between these forces also threatens to topple Labour’s seemingly dominant position in the UK.

Far-right populist forces remain as pertinent in the UK following this landslide as elsewhere in Europe.

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