Anna Lart Greene reflects on the results of the General Election and what it might mean for our future.
Labour vs Conservative
In short, the Conservatives had a brilliant night, which meant Labour had a terrible one. Their seat-share has sunk to its lowest since 1983, mostly due to the collapse of the ‘red wall’ of the Midlands and the North. It comes as no surprise that these are the same seats with a majority of Leave voters. Where 60% of the electorate backed Leave, the Conservatives saw an average 6% increase in support. In the North East and Yorkshire – the country’s highest Leave voting areas – Labour were down 12-13 points overall, resulting in the loss of 25 seats across the region. The promise of ‘getting Brexit done’ attracted swathes of voters traditionally opposed to Tories like Boris. But these are arguably ‘borrowed votes’; where these voters will place their support at the next election depends heavily on whether this government will deliver on their flagship promise.
Meanwhile, in constituencies where 60%+ backed Remain, Conservatives were down by three points – but Labour were still down by six. The Liberal Democrats and Greens swallowed up these votes, despite no evidence of this in their post-election Commons presence as the bulk of the seats they heavily campaigned in turned blue.
The reasons for these dramatic statistics will be hotly debated in the upcoming leadership contest. But they point to one major issue for Labour: Jeremy Corbyn. In a post-election YouGov poll of voters who backed Corbyn in 2017 but not in 2019, the answers were largely about Brexit. What’s interesting is that of the nearly 500 people surveyed, 19% said he was ‘too Remain’ and another 19% said – wait for it – that he was ‘too Leave.’ Poor Jeremy.
One demographic where Labour reigned supreme was with young people, particularly young women. A whopping 65% of women aged 18-24 voted Labour, compared to 46% of men our age, marking the biggest gender gap in any age group. It’s not exactly a surprising outcome, but it is important. Rising turnouts of young voters since 2016 have forced almost every party to take us seriously. Even Boris felt the need to include some ‘pro-young people’ and ‘pro-women’ (please note the inverted commas) manifesto ‘promises’ (and again), including a mental health plan being passed into law within three months, £1billion for childcare and reform of how workplaces deal with sexual harassment claims. Personally, I’m not holding my breath, given that he’s already broken one election promise so far.
Diversity and representation
Time for some positive news! The Commons made steps towards actually looking like the country it serves. For the first time ever both the parliamentary Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are made up of more women than men. Although that’s impressive, the Commons still only contains 220 women to 430 men, maybe because just 87 out of 365 Conservative MPs are women.
A record number of BAME MPs were elected as well. The Commons now has 65 BAME MPs, 41 one of which are representing Labour. Making up only 10% of the Commons, this unfortunately is record-breaking. Still, at least those numbers aren’t going down.
Shadow Women’s and Equalities Minister Dawn Butler, the UK’s first woman African-Caribbean minister, took to Twitter to celebrate these successes with a photo of the newly elected women of colour. There was a notable contrast between it and Conservative MP Jake Berry’s photo of the freshly arrived Northern Tories.
However, privately-educated individuals remain massively overrepresented. More than a quarter of MPs went to private schools, four in five of which are Conservative MPs.
Time for reform?
The Electoral Reform Society shared how poorly-represented millions of voters are left by comparing how many votes a party received against their representation in parliament, and it’s damning. For example, 38,300 votes were required to elect one Conservative MP to around 50,800 votes per Labour MP. The Greens required almost 865,000 votes for their sole MP. In a winner-takes-all system, smaller parties like the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Change UK (or whichever name they’re currently known as) are struggling for air.
The political landscape is in flux. Thanks to populism, we have one of the furthest right governments we’ve seen for generations. We still have many decisive moments ahead of us. Who will take over as Labour leader? Will we leave the European Union on 31st January? How will Trump’s impeachment affect us? And are we really going to make it to five years before we have another election?
If I can urge you to do anything, it is to not take your eye off the ball. It’s up to us, the people, to remain vigilant and make sure Boris is unable to squirm his way out of accountability.
Artwork by Delara Youseffian.