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Starmer's hollow victory: He won the UK election but not the popular vote

Labour has secured one of the largest parliamentary majorities in British political history, but with a pitifully low share of the vote
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer became Britain's new prime minister on 4 July 2024 (Reuters)

The bare results do not show it, but last night was not a win for Keir Starmer

While we witnessed a Tory collapse, it was not an endorsement for the Labour Party. Labour has undoubtedly secured one of the largest parliamentary majorities in British political history, but on a pitiful share of the national vote.

Labour is set to poll about 34 percent, not even two percentage points more than Jeremy Corbyn scored in 2019 and significantly less than the 40 percent that Corbyn scored in 2017.

To put it another way, thanks to the second lowest turnout since 1885, scarcely 20 percent of eligible British voters support Keir Starmer’s Labour. Yet, he will end up with approximately two-thirds of all parliamentary seats. 

The collapse in Labour's vote share is the direct result of Starmer’s calculated decision to run a passionless, risk-free campaign aimed at securing the support of big business, the pro-war British establishment and the Murdoch press.

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He succeeded in all three objectives but at the cost of turning his back on the party’s traditional supporters on the left and among Muslim voters.

Labour has taken Muslim voters for granted for far too long, and this time it paid the price on a bigger and more important scale.

Rising Starmerite star Thangam Debbonaire, billed to be shadow culture secretary, was defeated in Bristol West by Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party and certain to be one of the stars of the new parliament. Her victory was fuelled by revulsion against Labour's policy on Gaza

Down went shadow cabinet minister and Starmerite protege Jonathan Ashworth in Leicester, just a week after singling out Bangladeshi migrants to Britain as examples of people who came to Britain illegally and should be returned. 

These shocking remarks seemed like a bid to win far-right votes.

Ashworth was defeated by previously unknown local pro-Palestinian candidate Shockat Adam, whose elegant victory speech called for unity and declared: "This is for Gaza."

Much more will be heard from him now that he is in parliament.

Much more. 

'This is for Gaza'

Typical of this morning’s pro-Gaza rebels, Adam is a former Labour supporter.

In an interview with MEE ahead of last night’s result, he said: "The Palestinian cause is very close to the community’s heart. Yet, when they needed a loud and clear and distinct voice, it was lacking.

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"How can we stand by when we are seeing massacre upon massacre?" he said. 

After his victory, Adam sent a simple message to Starmer’s Labour: "This is for Gaza."

Adam spoke for countless Muslim voters across Britain who have been repelled by Starmer’s early support for Israel's collective punishment policies in Gaza and his persistent refusal to support a ceasefire.

Now, these independents will form a bloc in the House of Commons - a bloc that will include Iqbal Mohamed, a local engineer and IT consultant who secured a massive victory over Starmer’s Labour in Dewsbury and Batley. 

 Shockat Adam who defeated Labour's Jon Ashworth was speaking for countless Muslim voters across Britain who have been repelled by Starmer’s policy on Israel's war on Gaza (MEE/Imran Mullah)
Shockat Adam, who defeated Labour's Jonathon Ashworth, spoke for countless British Muslim voters who have been repelled by Starmer’s stance on Israel's war on Gaza (MEE/Imran Mullah)

In the wake of a historic victory, Mohamed declared: "I believe that politics has been hijacked by the corrupt, selfish, pro-war, racist elite and is being used against us. Both main parties have given their full support to the genocide in Palestine and continue to sell arms that are used to kill innocent civilians in breach of international law."

As MEE report highlights, Mohamed is another former Labour member who quit over Starmer’s blind support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war on Gaza.

It is important to stress that we are not talking here about a homogenous Muslim vote.

Khalid Mahmood is an example of a Muslim MP who lost his seat due to his support for Starmer.

The anti-war movement is supported by a wider coalition, including traditional Labour voters, students and others. This is the exact opposite of the sectarian movement based on race and religion portrayed by the Labour establishment.

Most extraordinary of all is the result in Blackburn. It’s said that Labour used to weigh rather than count the vote in this northwestern former industrial town. It has been represented by Labour MPs for 69 years, including the legendary cabinet minister Barbara Castle and one-time foreign secretary Jack Straw.

Last night, the local Labour MP, Kate Hollern, was swept away by Adnan Hussain, yet another former Labour activist.

In an interview with MEE,  Hussain said: "Gaza is important and it's the reason why I stood. But poverty is a massive issue too and so is healthcare." This last remark is likely a jibe at Labour’s incoming health secretary, Wes Streeting, who himself survived by the narrowest of margins in Ilford North.

A menacing development 

Alongside the phalanx of independents repelled by Starmer’s foreign policy will be Corbyn, who won a comfortable victory against all the odds in Islington North. With the Tories in free fall, Corbyn can become the de facto leader of the opposition.

With the Tories in free fall Corbyn can become the de facto leader of the opposition

He looks set to be the father of the House, the longest-serving MP, a position which gives him precedence when asking questions of the prime minister.

He will undoubtedly use this privilege to the fullest. Diane Abbott, his long-time ally, will be the mother of the House. Together, they will cause trouble for the Labour government. 

Some results suggest that Starmer’s election strategy, perhaps deliberately, aided and abetted the Conservative Party and even the far right.

Starmer’s vindictive decision to ban pro-Palestine advocate Faiza Shaheen from running in Chingford and Woodford Green handed the seat to former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.

Starmer’s extraordinary and baffling decision to withdraw support for the Labour candidate in Clacton paved the way for a smooth victory for Nigel Farage. Questions will be asked about this strategy.

While it is certainly true that the rise in the Reform party vote did profound damage to the Tories, the most menacing development from last night’s results was the rise of the far-right vote, marshalled by Farage.

As the leader of an allegedly progressive party, Starmer should have been determined to stop that at all costs. He wasn't.

A wide gulf

To sum up last night’s results: the Tory party has been shattered and may turn towards the dark politics of the European far right. 

The electoral argument for this strategy is tempting, as both Reform UK and the Conservatives appear to have a greater vote share than Labour.

The moral argument is very different.

In a seismic shift, Labour now occupies the centre-right ground once held by the Convervaties. 

This shift has ushered in the stunning success of smaller parties - the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the independents. Starmer has won a majority in parliament, but has only secured a fraction of the popular vote. 

The gulf between an entitled political class at Westminster and the mass of the British people has never been wider. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
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