EventsEventsPodcasts
Loader
Find Us
ADVERTISEMENT

UK election results: 6 key takeaways you need to know

Labour's Keir Starmer seems the clear victor in UK elections
Labour's Keir Starmer seems the clear victor in UK elections Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Jack Schickler
Published on Updated
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Keir Starmer's Labour have scored a triumphant victory — and the Conservatives now face a fork in the road.

ADVERTISEMENT

After securing one of his party's biggest electoral wins in history, Labour leader Keir Starmer has been asked to form a government and appoint ministers this Friday.

Here's six things to know about a night that saw a transformation, if not a bloodbath, in the UK's politics, with eleven Conservative cabinet ministers losing their seats and even former prime minister Liz Truss ejected from Parliament.

1. Voters wanted change, and handed a historic victory

The centre-left Labour Party swept to victory across the country, more than doubling its MP count and securing a majority comparable to that Tony Blair achieved in 1997.

Starmer took back the "Red Wall" of northern English left-wing heartlands that had been captured by Conservative Boris Johnson's triumphant 2019 victory and more.

The Conservatives are left with just around 121 seats, around one third of their 2019 tally, according to near-final results with just two seats left to count. 

That follows multiple losses in traditional heartlands such as the shires around London. Finchley, Margaret Thatcher's former seat, now has a Labour MP.

Voters sent a clear signal after five years in UK politics that saw multiple scandals and multiple resignations, including of two Prime Ministers, Johnson and Liz Truss. 

Apart from Boris' pre-election promise to "get Brexit done", there have been few policy advances — not aided by a constant changeover of senior personnel.

Westminster energy has been more focused on scandal and subterfuge than the cost of living or fixing healthcare.

In a victory speech, Starmer called for an "end the politics of performance, and return to politics as public service", drawing a contrast between Johnson's theatrics and his own more sober style.

He's now in a unique position to do something about it. In the UK political system, there are few constitutional checks on a leader that controls the House of Commons — all the fewer since Brexit.

The electorate seems to want the change that Starmer promised. The question is whether Labour — not exactly immune from its own intrigues and internal warfare — can deliver it.

2. High-profile heads rolled

The Conservatives lost hundreds of lawmakers, and many senior politicians lost their day jobs. 

That includes serving or former cabinet ministers such as Robert Buckland, Penny Mordaunt, Grant Shapps, Gillian Keegan and Johnny Mercer.

It also includes Jacob Rees-Mogg, a high-profile Brexiteer and Johnson loyalist who gained notoriety for his relaxed approach to the prospect of quitting the EU without a deal. He lost his Somerset seat, despite having a majority of over 14,000 in 2019.

ADVERTISEMENT

Jeremy Hunt kept his seat in South West Surrey with a slim majority of under 1,000 and so narrowly avoided being the first serving finance minister to lose their seat. 

Highest profile of the slain Tories was Liz Truss, whose tenure as Prime Minister — just 49 days — was famously shorter than a lettuce's lifespan, and who lost her South West Norfolk seat to Labour. 

That's not to mention the big names who are disappearing without facing the electoral drama — including former Prime Minister Theresa May, though media reports from Thursday evening suggest she'll now be appointed as a lawmaker in the House of Lords. 

The phrase "sinking ship" doesn't quite do it justice. 

ADVERTISEMENT

On one measure, Conservative MPs' survival rate tonight was around 33%. As Politics Professor Philip Cowley and Matthew Bailey note, that's slightly worse than the prospects for second-class passengers on the Titanic — 42% of whom lived. 

3. Beyond the headlines, there were many other winners and losers.

Even in a system dominated by two parties, there's more to report than the headline figures. 

The Scottish National Party appears to have lost its stranglehold on Westminster politics north of the border. It's left with just nine MPs after taking 48 of Scotland's 59 seats in 2019. That follows a series of scandals and switches in the party's leadership, including the loss of Nicola Sturgeon.

The Liberal Democrats, nearly wiped out after entering a coalition government from 2010 to 2015, rise from just 11 seats in 2019 to 71, returning the centrist party to its more familiar role as the third largest force in Westminster. 

ADVERTISEMENT

At his victory speech in the early hours, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey spoke of voters who felt "let down, taken for granted and desperate for change" by long waits for ambulances and family doctors, and sewage-strewn rivers. 

Another big winner of the night was Nigel Farage, the right-wing populist who spearheaded the UK Independence Party that pushed for Brexit. 

His right-wing Reform Party took four seats — including Farage's own. It also appears to have had significant influence by diverting the Conservative voter base — which cost Sunak seats such as Darlington.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn — the former Labour leader ejected in an anti-Semitism scandal — successfully won a bid to stand as an independent MP in the North London constituency, which he's held since the 1980s. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A frequent rebel even when a Labour backbencher, he's now likely to prove a thorn in Starmer's side if unreconciled.

4.  The UK political system can be brutal

The UK is perhaps unique in Europe in having a single-round first-past-the-post system for its legislature: whoever gets the most votes takes the prize.

Many point to the unfairness of that system for smaller parties, such as Reform or the Greens, who garner many votes but have few seats to show for it.

But when voters are aligned and prepared to vote tactically, the Westminster system can deliver results that are radical, if not brutal.

ADVERTISEMENT

5. The Brexit revolution ate its children

This was the first UK general election since the UK formally departed the EU.

Brexit was often described as a revolution — and, as Pierre Vergniaud once noted, revolutions have a habit of devouring their children.

The Conservatives who spearheaded Brexit — Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove — are all now out of the House of Commons, while Sunak, a prominent leaver, seems fatally wounded.

There won't be any U-Turn on the policy: Starmer, though he supported remain, has ruled out rejoining the EU's single market or customs union.

ADVERTISEMENT

But, unconstrained by Brussels, he's now left with a number of crucial decisions about the UK’s economic model and place in the world.

It's he, not those who masterminded Brexit, who will get to take them.

6. Conservatives face some tough choices.

There's a fork in the road for the Conservatives, the UK's dominant party of government for the past two centuries, which may have now endured a historic defeat on a scale not seen since 1832.

Robert Buckland, a former Cabinet minister, offered one suggested way forward after he lost his seat in a significant swing to Labour. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Buckland told the BBC he was "fed up of performance art politics" and that the party needs to "get back to the ethos of doing stuff well".

Penny Mordaunt, another senior Conservative who lost tonight, urged a shift back to the centre.

"Renewal ... will not be achieved by us talking to an ever smaller slice of ourselves, but by being guided by the people of this country. Our values must be the people's," she said. 

But other options are available.

ADVERTISEMENT

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. 

Whoever becomes the next Conservative leader — and there's now just a slate of 120-odd candidates to choose from — will have some tough dilemmas to resolve.

UPDATE (5 July, 14:17 CET):story updated with near-final seat figures.

ADVERTISEMENT
Share this articleComments

You might also like

Keir Starmer names Reeves as chancellor and Rayner as deputy PM

Labour wins UK general election, Tories suffer huge losses

UK Prime Minister Sunak announces surprise election on 4 July