The victory of the Conservatives or of certainty?
Alicja Pawłowska, Queen Mary University of London Graduate
Although the victory of the Conservatives in the 2019 General Elections was expected, the overwhelming rise in their number of seats implies that above all, the British people demand certainty, especially when putting forward the decision of choosing the path for Brexit.
The party won 43.6% of votes resulting in 365 seats – a rise by 48 in comparison with the 2017 elections. It is the highest number since the times of the second Margaret Thatcher victory. To the contrary, Labour achieved the worst result since the 1930s with only 32.1% and 202 seats, compared to 40.0% and 262 seats in 2017 giving a net change of 60 seats.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) won 48 seats, a net change of 13 since 2017, and its vote share was 3.9%. Liberal Democrats enjoy 11 seats, having lost 1 seat and achieved a rise in the vote share, from 7.4% up to 11.5%. Democratic Unionist Party experienced a loss in both vote share and the number of seats, eventually claiming 8 seats. Sinn Fein won 7 seats, the same result as they achieved in 2017, however, they lost the vote share of 0.2%. Plaid Cymru gained 4 seats and 0.5% vote share. Social Democratic and Labour Party gained 2 seats and the vote share of 0.4% experiencing a rise in both in comparison to 2017 results. The Green Party gained 1 seat with a vote share of 2.7% which has risen by 1.1%. The Alliance Party won 1 seat and 0.4% vote share.
The Conservatives and Labour shared 76% of the vote, an interesting decrease, given that in 2017 the shared vote amounted to 82.3%. This might be partially due to a rise in the support of smaller parties – e.g. Social Democratic and Labour Party winning 2 seats. Overall, 81 seats were switched between the parties, and 60 of them were of The Labour Party.
The importance of switched seats
The comments spread across the UK reaffirmed its joining of the emerging European trend giving such overwhelming support to the Conservatives and a rise in the vote for nationalist parties. Although it is a valid consideration, the main conclusions coming out of 2019 elections are twofold.
Firstly, the clarity of the Brexit policy and the way it was delivered to the people by Boris Johnson along with his public speaking skills presumably contributed to the sudden switch of many previously Labour owned seats to the Conservatives. It goes against the history and the nature of the electorate in these areas. However, it does send a straightforward message to The Labour Party: we deserve stability and clarity which you cannot give. Secondly, the switch also brings out to light another failure of not only Labour but most liberal or leftist parties: it is a high time to change the narrative - abandon the gloomy portrait of the contemporary world and focus on how it can be changed [Read more in Maciej Gorazdowski’s article in the 2nd issue].
Labour always had its safe harbours such as the Blyth Valley: since the 1950s, there was no single victory of any other party than Labour. In the 2019 elections, however, the swing in Blyth Valley was 10.2% in favour of the Conservatives resulting in awarding the seat to them for the first time in history. The same situation was noted in other safe harbours such as Darlington which swung to Johnson’s party with 7.4%, Workington by 9.7% and Clwyd South (Wales) was lost to the Conservatives at 7.5%. This situation repeated and contributed to the loss of Labour’s 60 seats. Although the party remains strong in some areas such as London’s Putney, where the campaign was also highly targeted, Labour took for granted the votes that they used to achieve overlooking the need of certainty even in their safe harbours.
Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done” policy portraits Brexit as a necessary step towards creating a stronger country. It gives the impression that Conservatives are just a few steps away of solving the uncertainty that the people struggle with since the 2016 referendum. In the manifesto a time frame is established in bold text, stating the UK will leave the European Union in January. In order to reinforce the priority of solving the uncertainty, the Party puts “Get Brexit Done” as the first point in their manifesto and say: “[Our deal] puts the whole country on a path to a new free trade agreement with the EU.”
Labour deals with this issue only towards the end of their manifesto after discussing environmental issues, public services, poverty and inequality. The party predicts it will “secure a sensible deal” and will put it to a public vote alongside the option to remain. Although it corresponds with the plan advocated by Jeremy Corbin, namely that the vote should be given to the people once again, it seems that the society is tired of promises and plans that rapidly become inefficient and obsolete in a matter of days.
Labour outlines the changes it would like to see in the deal, the form is much less digestible than the Conservative’s manifesto. Also, Corbin’s multiple PR problems led to a simple loss of trust of the people. As Tony Blair put it, Corbin “pursued a path of almost comic indecision” that has led to the worst result of Labour since the 1930s and consequently, to Corbin’s resignation from leadership.
These reactions are well justified by the strong rise in the support of populist and nationalist groups and parties across Europe and beyond, the ignorance and indifference of Donald Trump; it all combines into this depressive and dark picture of the present times that especially the liberal and the left paints for the society. Johnson broke this trend, and his behaviour was often reckless throughout his term as a PM and beyond, he did not add to the miserable picture of modern times. Instead, he is enthusiastic about the changes and managed to create an alternative view of Brexit – in place of a chaotic accident leading to unforeseeable consequences, Johnson made it a step towards a stronger Britain. Instead of overusing words “crisis” or “catastrophe” making people simply immune to this narrative, Johnson gave it a smart twist and avoided all the negativity that surrounds us every day proposing a solution without gloomy predictions. The quality of this solution is, of course, another issue.
Therefore, it should become the next lesson for Labour – not only a necessary change of a leader creates a path forward, but also the change in the narrative as the pessimistic view is no longer in fashion. Although the Conservatives won the highest number of seats since Thatcher, it is important to remember that these were elections in specific circumstances. The real test for the new government will be, of course, the conclusion of Brexit and how it will then evolve. It might be said that in 2019 the voters did not vote “Labour” or “Conservative” – they voted “Certainty above all.”