The British General Election – some personal reflections

The result of yesterday’s General Election in Britain is stunning. There has already been a great deal of analysis and comment and there will be a lot more in the days and weeks to come. Here are some of my early observations:

First, the turnout. This was two percentage points up on the last General Election in 2015. The figure was 69% which is the highest turnout since Tony Blair’s first election victory in 1997. We will have to see the detailed analysis, but it looks as if lots of young people registered to vote once the election was called and that a larger proportion of the young demographic turned out to vote than has usually been the case.

Next, Theresa May. It’s been a terrible election for her. She became Prime Minister without having to face a contest in the Conservative Party and she had a remarkably easy year in office. Then, having repeatedly said that no General Election was necessary, she changed her mind for what was rightly seen as crude party political advantage. Her manifesto contained some electorally damaging proposals which seriously derailed the Tory campaign. May herself targeted the wrong seats in her travels and refused to face genuine audiences or debate directly with Corbyn. The “Guardian” political satirist John Crace dubbed her Maybot because of her robotic responses to questions, when she attempted to dodge the issues and repeated the same meaningless phrases.

Now, Jeremy Corbyn. I confess that as a lifelong Labour Party member I did not vote for him in either of the Labour leadership elections, felt that his performance of the last couple of years has been very poor (although improving), and feared that a General Election with him as Labour leader would result in substantial losses. I was wrong. He performed well on the stump and in the studios, he enthused voters (especially young ones), and he has done remarkably well to improve Labour’s share of the vote and number of seats so significantly. Indeed the increase in Labour’s vote share of 9.6 percentage points was the largest for any party between two general elections since 1945.

Let’s look at the other parties. For decades now, the combined share of the vote taken by Conservatives and Labour has diminished as the two-party model fractured. This election has dramatically reversed this trend (the two parties took 82.4% of the votes). The Liberal Democrats, the Greens and especially UKIP all did badly and only have a mere 13 seats between them (losing Nick Clegg in the process). The UKIP leader has already resigned and the party is in melt-down (which is excellent news).

Scotland: The Scottish National Party could never have done better this time than in 2015 when they won every seat but three in Scotland. But their loss of 21 seats is a disaster. The big issue north of the border was the SNP demand for a second referendum on devolution (known as indyref2). Clearly voters in Scotland don’t want another referendum in the near future and have punished the SNP – taking some big scalps (Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson) – for pushing for one.

Wales: The result in the principality was a really good one for Labour and all credit to the leadership of Carwyn Jones. There was grand talk of the Conservatives taking more seats than Labour but, in the end, they won a mere 8 against Labour’s 28.

Northern Ireland: If we have seen a reversion to two-party politics in England, the trend in Northern Ireland has been even more definitive. The DUP and Sinn Fein between them took every seat bar one (although SF do not actually send members to Westminster). It is a tragedy that the moderate Unionist party (the UUP), the moderate Republican party (the SDLP) and the secular party (Alliance) do not have a single seat.

A few comments on other parts of the UK: My constituency of Brent North had a spectacular result for Labour with Barry Gardiner’s majority increasing from almost 11,000 to  to 17,000. He himself has had a terrific election, turning in some very effective media performances on behalf of Labour nationally. I have some connections with Milton Keynes and, although both seats there remained Conservative, Labour came remarkably close to taking both. I was with friends in Oxford on election night and it was good to see Oxford West and Abingdon taken by the Lib Dems.

And then we have to consider the pollsters. Again most of them got the result seriously wrong. On the eve of the election, most pollsters were forecasting a Conservative lead of between 7-13%. In the end the difference was a mere 2.5%. The only pollsters who got it right were Survation and YouGov (although their analysis was not an actual poll).

So now Britain will have a new government just days before the Brexit negotiations begin. May said she offered “strong and stable government” compared to the alternative of “a coalition of chaos”. The minority Conservative Government will not be strong or stable and will be beholden to the demands of the 10 MPs from the DUP in Northern Ireland. Two years ago, the Tories said that Ed Miliband as PM would be a prisoner of the SNP (which at least had powerful representation and progressive policies) but now the Tories are the prisoner of a socially-conservative party with less than a dozen seats.

So, what lies ahead? When the election was called, I expected Labour to do so badly that Corbyn would be forced to resign. Instead he is stronger than ever and critics like me have to accept that in the ultimate test of electoral opinion he has done really well. Conversely I expected May to win a majority of around 40-60 seats and be secure in No 10; instead, she now heads a minority government in a hung parliament facing immensely complex Brexit talks and her days as leader must be limited. The whole political situation is so unstable that it seems likely that, in the course of the next year or two, we will have another General Election or another EU referendum or both.


  • Iain McLaren

    I recall disagreeing with you on Corbyn’s chances at the RAC Club (if you recall I placed a small wager with Jumby). I take no pleasure in coming closer to the result, only in the result itself.

  • Roger Darlington

    You were right and I was wrong. An amazing result.

  • Alan Surtees

    I still have reservation about Jeremy Corbyn and his leftist views, but he has done very well in the campaign while the Conservatives have scuttled themselves. I was totally wrong about the outcome, like you. I do feel that the Labour Party’s acceptance of Brexit albeit a softer version was the key factor in their remarkable reversal of the predicted result. Brexiteers still have a mandate, but only for a good deal and no walking away if you cannot get one.

  • Mavis

    I looked back and thought, yes he is on the right track and that from an old middle of the road Labour person, whose left hand would drop off if I did not vote for Labour.

    What everyone forgets is that the majority of Brits are compassionate people without shouting about it.

    Ask for donations for people in trouble abroad and money pours in and always has, who does it come from, mostly the people at the bottom.

    I loathe it when Labour people cannot bring themselves to work with other Labour people in the party and it shocked me when it looked like another split. Nobody is right on everything and if you cannot work together with those with whom you disagree and find a joint solution, then walk away.

    Many times in your life Roger, and mine, we have swallowed the pill and got on with it and managed a compromise in the end.

    A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.

    I would add that each twig is different, just like

    Keep the faith………….

  • Hanna (Johnney) Khabbaz

    Well done my Friend & Neighbour Roger.

    As a Citizen who does not exercise his right to Vote (for various reasons), I did Vote in this General Election.

    If our Politicians were half as Honest and Gracious as you are, our Country “in General” and our People “in Particular” will have been in a much better shape.

    Fingers crossed for a better Future on ALL fronts.

  • Roger Darlington

    Thanks for voting and for your comment, Hanna.

  • Greg

    Hi Roger
    Corbyn did much better than expected however came second and should also be considering resignation. He may bask in his glory for a few more months but there are plenty within his party who would happily get rid of him given the chance. Give it a few months.
    Personally I thought Labour would do badly and not helped at all by the awful Diane Abbot. I was very surprised.
    Had May approached it differently then she would have the majority and JC would be history by now.

  • Jumby

    A really good article Roger. Very balanced.. and honest. And some interesting insights. Like you, I did not believe JC could increase Labour’s share of MPs and am the poorer for it now! I am particularly concerned that that we appear to be quite fickle country given the apparent ~15% swing in Labours polling in the course of a few short weeks.. how can we have decided last year to leave the EU with a simple majority vote?

  • David Howarth

    The surprising thing about this election result is that investing in public services and wealth redistribution has significant public support. Previous Labour leaders have been very timid in this area thinking it would be electoral suicide to commit to such policies. Jeremy Corbyn has demonstrated that there is an appetite for building a more just and fairer Britain. And people are drawn to his authenticity, honesty and refusal to engage in personal attacks (despite the vitriol heaped upon him). Like you Roger I was sceptical. I voted Labour because of the manifesto. If there is a Labour government in 6 months time (a possibility) if it only does achieves half of the manifesto commitments Britain will be a better place. And Greg, the idea that Corbyn should be considering resignation is ridiculous (I don’t remember any suggestions that Kinnock should have resigned in 1987).

  • Jim Moher

    So much humble pie being eaten here
    Roger, yet little humility! It isn’t just a case
    of being wrong, (that’s easy to admit), its
    the sheer cascade of rubbishing that has
    passed for commentary from the Right
    , especially from the majority of the PLP,
    that persuaded me to give the twice
    landslide-elected leader a chance.
    In a flash, Jeremy has
    helped moved the Brexit goalposts,
    discredited austerity, Tuition fees and much
    more. Not bad for a start.

    Time for a deeper heart-search?

  • Paul Thompson

    I think we need to take a step back and ask was it pro Corbyn or anti May that gave the Labour Party a better result?

  • albert wright

    We have a highly polarised electorate.

    The “middle” saw the fight as Labour or Tory to form a Government and voted, this time, for one or the other, primarily to block the party they liked least from winning.

    Perhaps the truth is that neither of the 2 major parties, (each with around 40% of the vote) neither the remainers or leavers (52% v 48%), will get beyond a “draw” for a long time.

    Is what is happening in France a possible way forward?

    In the UK we have gone from “little to choose between the two main parties” to tribal warfare. This level of division is not good for society. Common ground is disappearing fast. There is no winner, no consensus on the way forward as a nation.

    A sad result with no real winner.

  • stephen johnson

    Orange the new Blue.


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