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General election 2024: a jump to the left AND a step to the right


General election 2024: a jump to the left AND a step to the right

Dr Susan Kenyon shares her initial reflections after an electoral earthquake across the UK.

We are waking up to a new political landscape in the UK.  But the message isn’t as simple as it may first seem. 

After watching the results emerge live throughout the night, with our friends at KMTV, three observations jump immediately to mind. 

The first is the extent to which this is a victory for the left, or the right. 

In terms of seats in parliament, there has been a sizeable jump to the left.  Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has almost two-thirds of seats, larger even than Tony Blair’s share in 1997.  The Conservatives have fewer than 20% of seats. 

However, there has simultaneously been a step to the right, when we look at the share of the vote.  Labour have received around 35% of the votes.  However, parties of the right – Conservative and Reform – have received around 40% of the vote, a remarkably stable percentage share. 

Going forward, Labour will need to pay careful attention to building their support, speaking across political divides, if they are to take the country with them, consolidate their victory and avoid a swing back to the right in future elections. 

The second is that turnout is substantially lower than in recent years.  This is surprising – changes of government are usually accompanied, if not facilitated, by large turnouts.  If disaffection with politics is to blame, all parties must work hard to restore faith and trust.  Starmer’s key campaign message – that politicians are here to serve – must not only be heard, but also experienced, by the electorate, to restore belief and participation. 

Finally, there was a common theme in victory and concession speeches, at counts across the country: the return of civility and compassion.  At a time when our politicians are subject to constant verbal and physical threats – including Rosie Duffield MP in our constituency here in Canterbury – the importance of calm, respectful political participation, with passionate not poisonous debate, cannot be overstated. 

As we look across the channel to east and across the pond to the west, we can see how close we are to countries for whom liberal democracy may be under threat.  Starmer’s victory in parliament is an opportunity to restore political, not personal, politics and political, not populist, debate.  This ‘return to the political’ is undoubtedly the most pressing task for the incoming government. 

Dr Susan Kenyon is a Principal Lecturer in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University, where she teaches the innovative, groundbreaking modules ‘How to Change the World’ and ‘Insight for Impact’. 

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