A New Dawn for Labour: Understanding the UK’s Electoral Shift

The difference between ‘right-wing’ or Conservatives in Britain and India. The Conservatives or right wing there are mostly against immigration policies of the government but none of them have ventured inside the personal lives of people. Right-wing in India and its neighbours are religious fanatics who have issues with your personal choices whether food, faith or marriage. There are no hate speeches and diversity of representation is always a plus point for political parties. Elections in vibrant democracies today are on the ballot paper and not through EVMs. We did not hear any complaints of electoral malfunctioning or fraud in the UK. The counting and declaration process was simple and prepoll surveys or Exit polls were not hyped

The smooth and quick transfer of power in the United Kingdom speaks volumes about the great democratic tradition in that country. The UK election results came out during the day and by the afternoon outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak went to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation. By the time he stepped out, Labour leader Keir Starmer was appointed the Prime Minister by the King and within minutes he addressed the nation at the historic entrance of No 10-downing street. The Prime minister paid tribute to his predecessor Rishi Sunak and acknowledged his contribution to Britain. Within hours, the Prime Minister announced his cabinet and the transfer of power was completed without any pomp and show. Britain, that way, is a great example, unlike the United States where the new President takes oath nearly two months after the results are out in November in great pomp and shows that both forms of government are based on majoritarianism and revolve around the white power elite of these countries.

The outcome of the result might sound music to many who might dance upon hearing the word ‘labour’ as in most of the world, the term is almost deleted in the ‘vocabulary’ of political discourse. In the United States, there is no Labour. There is a fight between two parties of white ruling elite dominated by corporate interests with little interest for the common person. Now, the Labour Party returned to power after 14 years and with a massive majority but are the Conservatives decimated in the UK? Has the Labour Party anything to do with the left politics? What brought Labour to power in the UK?

The fact is that the historical route of the Conservative Party does not indicate the growth of ‘left-wing’ political forces in Britain. The fact is this landslide to the Labour Party has more to do with the faulty electoral system that the UK has been following termed as First Past the Post System which resulted in a huge gap between the vote share and the number of seats. FPTP can be useful if there are only two to three parties as well as a high voter turnout. In the absence of it, the mandate can always be haunting though at the end of the day, it does not matter how much the vote share, it is the number of seats that matters.

The fact of the matter is that out of 650 seats, the Labour Party has won 412 seats which is almost 65% of seats though the vote share was merely 34%. Its rival Conservative Party with 24% vote share acquired 121 seats. Liberals got 71 seats with 12% votes. Another right-wing under the name Reformist Party, though, only got 4 seats but with a 14% vote share. Led by Nigel Farage, Reformists are being blamed for the rout of the Tory government. Conservatives, Liberals and Reformists mostly hail from the same variety of political ideologies of the right wing. Their combined vote share is much more powerful than that of Labour. The left-leaning groups are mostly independent and Green Party.  Interestingly, Labour could only increase its vote share by about 2% from 2019 when it fought under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who contested as an independent candidate and won from Islington North constituency by over 7,000 votes defeating the nearest Labour Party rival. Corbyn has been representing this constituency since 1983 and has won for a record 11 times.

Many people might be happy to see the return of a ‘Labour’ government after one and a half decades but is it so? Leave aside the ‘vote share and seat got’ issue, the fact is most of the Western electoral system particularly influenced by British and American models is already captured by the right-wing capitalist forces. The quality of the ‘Western democratic model’ is in its propaganda and comparison with the Russian and Chinese systems even though both the countries are today a powerhouse and rising high economically. Look at the rise of other powerful groups in the UK like Liberal Democrats and Reformists both ideologically close to Conservatives but is ‘Labour’ truly dedicated to the left or the working classes? The problem with the ‘liberal democracies’ in the world is their hypocrisy on human rights issues. If the Labour Party was truly dedicated to the idea as its name suggests then how come powerful leaders like Jeremy Corbyn were thrown away from the party? Is it because he was considered more radical and a threat to the Empire and its elite? How is the current leadership of Labour different from the Conservatives? The brazen shamelessness of Kier Stramer in refusing to condemn the Israeli brutalities and assault on Gaza shocked all those who filled the Streets of the United Kingdom demanding a complete ceasefire in Gaza. It was Kier responsible for humiliating and ousting Jeremy Corbyn and other left-leaning leaders from the Labour Party. Most of these leaders fought independently won with a handsome margin and defeated their nearest Labour rivals. The poll results suggest that the British electorate is swinging between different conservative forces and Labour got acceptability because it threw away radical left forces led by Jeremy Corbyn. So essentially, the British political system is highly dominated and controlled by the Conservatives who may not be the Conservative Party but also Labour, Liberal and Reformists.

The Crisis of the Electoral System

The British model of the electoral system or simply FPTP is not reflective of the real verdict of the people. It is manipulative of the power elite and therefore most of the time legitimizes a ‘minority’ government as ‘majority. All the colonies of the ‘Empire’ have this system which is used by the power elite of those countries using or misusing the contradiction among different groups. The difference between vote share and seat won is too high. The Labour got nearly 34% of the total votes polled out of 60% votes that were polled during these elections. Which simply means 40% of people did not vote during the election. Now, in terms of seats, the party got 412 seats out of 650 which is nearly 64%. Under the Proportional Electorate System, Labour with a 34% vote share would have just got 221 seats much below the majority mark. Conservatives with a 21% vote share would have got 156 instead of 121 which they have at the moment. Liberals with a 12% vote share got 71 seats while Reformists with a 14% vote share got just 4 seats. Under the Proportionate system, Liberals could have got 78 and Reformists 91. Even a 4-seat Green Party with a 7% vote would have got nearly 46 seats.

How credible is the electoral system where the party gets 34% of votes which also means 66% of votes that were polled did vote against you? Interestingly, a party with a 14% vote share get just 4 seats while that with a 12% vote share 71 seats. Now, how can such a system be justified as ‘democratic’? We all have the same crisis and the result is that the ruling parties and government rarely listen to people’s voices. The amount of massive street protests that London witnessed in support of Palestine was always looked down upon by the power elite and the media. The governments these days speak through the power elite and the opposition leader spoke the language of the prime minister when he openly supported the previous government’s stand on Palestine.

No change in Foreign Policy

Western democracies are liberal to a large extent related to individual freedom, right to faith, criticism of the government and allowing protests in the streets but at the same point in time we need to understand why a leader like Jeremy Corbyn was ousted from Labour. Why he has been a persona non grata for the ‘liberal’ circles? A similar thing happened in the United States where Bernie Sanders is despised by the ruling elite. The liberal democracies couldn’t accept Julian Assange and felt him the biggest threat. It needs to be understood why these democracies do not listen to the voices of protests in the streets.

Broadly, Western democracy will remain pro-capitalist and market-driven and nothing much is expected to change on foreign policy matters though the new Prime Minister has already rescinded the Rwanda policy for refugees which is a great step in the right direction. The Tory government wanted to privatise the prestigious National Health Services but could not do so. The railway network is already in distress. Will the new government take initiatives to strengthen these services or will it be the same government that was headed by Tony Blair?

The issue of minorities and immigrants is extremely important and resulted in the victory of four independent candidates who defeated Labour candidates. The party has to see whether it will follow the ‘right tilt of Tony Blair or work differently, particularly on the issue of Palestine. It needs to be understood that the combined vote share of the right-wing parties is much higher than it and if it ignores wider concern of minorities and immigrants then it might lose the support of progressive forces as well as ethnic minorities then Britain might see the rise of radical left forces in the coming years. Unlike the United States, Britain still has space for minorities and immigrants in the political structure. Will Jeremy Corbyn and other leaders emerge more powerful in the coming years or the pressure of capitalism?

Lesson for India

A democracy is successful when its institutions are robust. Britain has a powerful legacy in that regard. The election process is extremely simple and voting opens at 7 am and continues till 10 pm. The parliament still is responsible and debates there are worth watching. Prime Minister’s Question hour with the leader of the opposition is extremely fascinating but then we can’t have that in India.

The New Parliament has 23 Muslim members (a big country like India has just 24) and over 60% of the members belong to ethnic minorities reflecting Britain’s diversity. One thing needs to be clarified. A criticism of the British system does not mean we are better than them. They have a robust system and more over basic curtsies among the political class they remain far superior to us. The swiftness with which the new government took charge within a day remains remarkable. Everything was done without any chest thumping or ‘victory’ speeches. It is also important to understand the difference between ‘right-wing’ or Conservatives in Britain, Europe and India. The Conservatives or right wing there are mostly against immigration policies of the government but none of them have ventured inside the personal lives of people. Right-wing in India and its neighbours are religious fanatics who have issues with your personal choices whether food, faith or marriage. There are no hate speeches and diversity of representation is always a plus point for political parties.

Britain’s elections have big lessons for us and our political class. That elections in vibrant democracies today are on the ballot paper and not through EVMs is a reality. Secondly, we did not hear any complaints of electoral malfunctioning or fraud. The counting and declaration process was simple and Prepoll surveys or Exit polls were not hyped. The prime minister did not take time to vacate his official bungalow and went to submit his resignation to the King when results were just coming in and he conceded his defeat gracefully. The transfer of power was so swift and meticulous that there was no time for any confusion and uncertainty.  Yes, the electoral system has issues of representation\ and vibrant democracies find their solution. Britain will certainly have to look into it as this might become a major issue in the coming days.

Let us hope the new government will fulfil the aspirations of the people but expecting a different perspective on Ukraine and Israel will be next to impossible as foreign policy matters in these countries are mostly static and fixed with the United States. A change in its Ukraine or Palestine policy will need Jeremy Corbyn at the helm of the affair which does not seem a possibility, in near future.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The author is an activist and is currently working on Impact of Ganga and its tributaries in the Himalayas and the plains of India

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