Labour Realism: With Starmer's Landslide Win, Is All Good For Britain?

Beneath Labour’s supermajority of 412 seats, there are worrying undertows

Photo: AP
The New PM: Starmer’s Labour has landed with a supermajority without winning the proverbial ‘hearts and minds’ of the people Photo: AP

In the dying days of his vapid campaign, Rishi Sunak desperately urged voters to prevent a Labour supermajority: it would give Keir Starmer absolute power and would have lasting effects that would ‘wreck Britain’. This seems only to have reminded voters of how 14 years of Conservative rule had actually wrecked Britain. His warning, like the green shoots of economic recovery, came too late. Too many voters wanted to punish the Tories for too many things for them to return to the fold.

Labour’s supermajority of 412 seats is not the outcome of voters peeling off from the Tories and voting Labour: while no doubt some did, if outcomes on some dyed-in-the-wool Tory bastions like Witney, Henley or Maidenhead are anything to go by, the Liberal Democrats, who, at a record 71 seats, were the main beneficiaries of such defections.

As his detractors point out, Starmer’s Labour, in the end, received only 34 per cent of the vote, six points below the last opinion polls, but managed 65 per cent of the seats in Parliament. The Tories recovered from their projected 19 per cent votes to win a mere 18 per cent of the seats with their 121.

Nigel Farage’s Reform Party, another haven for further-to-the-right voters seduced by his siren-song of xenophobic nationalism, polled 14 per cent of the vote but managed merely five seats. Labour’s own vote was actually split, but less badly than the Tories’, and they managed to gain some support among those who had moved to the Tories previously.

While the electoral map of Britain was transformed from largely Tory blue to Labour red, the supermajority was produced by the geographical concentration of voters, and the first-past-the-post electoral system.

The weak position adopted by Starmerites on Israeli atrocities in Gaza repulsed Muslim voters, for whom Gaza and the rise of the anti-Muslim far-right were key issues, but this was concentrated in some seats. Likewise, while Reform’s vote-share has alarmed many, it, too, was concentrated in some areas, primarily where voters still wait for the ‘benefits of Brexit’ and sentiments against immigration run high.

In effect, Starmer’s Labour has landed with a supermajority without winning the proverbial ‘hearts and minds’ of the people. The tailwinds of a popular mandate have eluded Starmer, which is not surprising, as he ran more as ‘not-Tory’ than on a well-specified Labour project.

Starmer’s robotic blandness might have won him his supermajority, but the time has come to take decisions and defend positions.

Strategic ambiguity, and the fact that the Tory opponents collapsed like an excessively well-beaten souffle with too many air bubbles, gave Starmer a supermajority without a super-mandate. It would thus be a mistake for Labour, and the recipe for a limited stint in office, to ignore this somewhat paradoxical and contradictory outcome.

There are some strong undertows just below the surface, eddies of those who feel unrepresented by Labour or the Tories. On the positive side, the good showing by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens indicates that there is a sizeable section of the electorate that would want to go beyond what Starmer has been able to commit himself to.

For example, Starmer has played down reversing Brexit, going to the extent of saying that he did not anticipate even joining the customs union and common market (what was once called ‘soft Brexit’) in his lifetime, when only 30 per cent of the voters feel voting for Brexit was the right decision, with 55 per cent feeling it was a mistake. This leaves the ‘re-joiners’ unrepresented by Labour currently.

Their enhanced presence in Parliament is likely to support any move towards looking for new post-Brexit synergies with Europe, and they will certainly push for a transition to ‘green’ technology and economy, and to protect a host of human and environmental rights.

The second strong undertow is produced by the alienation of Muslim voters from Labour. This is a process that began more than two decades ago with Tony Blair’s enthusiastic participation in illegal wars in retaliation for 9/11, which decimated several Muslim countries, and cast a shadow of suspicion on Britain’s sizeable Muslim immigrant population at the same time as cases of domestic terrorism increased.

The feeling of no longer being represented by Labour among this already disenchanted segment of the electorate has been heightened by the support from the Tories AND from Labour for Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza, televised in its obscene lethality daily on television. Starmer was too keen to exorcise the ghosts of ‘antisemitism’ in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, a charge manufactured by the media and the right-wing of the party, and his pusillanimous position supporting Israel’s ‘right to self-defence’ to the extent of supporting closing access to food, water and medicine to Gaza’s besieged Palestinians, has caused genuine, wide and deep anger. A flock of Labour supporters stood and won as independent candidates. As Shokat Adam, independent candidate from Leicester South, said after his victory, “This is for Gaza”.


It would be Starmer’s mistake to pin solidarity with Gazans as merely a ‘Muslim’ issue, and not recognise and address wide response across Britain, including in Labour and the independent left, trade unions, peace movements and unaffiliated anti-war individuals. To be fair, some of the early policy positions after Labour’s victory seem to recognise and address this anger: the new Foreign Secretary David Lammy, otherwise known for near-total support for Israel, has pledged to work towards a ceasefire, and the new Attorney General, Richard Hermer, is in favour of the UK abiding by the International Court of Justice’s rulings on Israel’s actions in Gaza.


Finally, the febrile ill-wind of xenophobic populism blowing across the western world, represented in Britain by Nigel Farage and his Reform Party, does present a real threat to the political establishment as a whole, and has already damaged the Conservative Party. Farage says he is now coming after Labour. The inability and unwillingness to address working class xenophobia by Corbyn and left-wing Brexit supporters allowed it to morph into something bigger and more menacing: an entire politics based on a class compact between venture capitalists and segments of the working class, between the City, and those places that remain largely white but feel menaced by black and brown bodies fleeing catastrophes around the world and seeking refuge elsewhere in Britain. It remains to be seen if the five MPs Reform currently has are a thin end of the wedge that will do much lasting damage to a country where multiculturalism has not yet resulted in the sorts of civil wars that have become common both in Europe and in America, or whether it will be a flash-in-the-pan rebellion of the right.


Such majoritarian identity politics has its analogues among cultural minorities too: not only Islamism, but also Hindutva, whose activists, many affiliated with the transnational Sangh Parivar and with Hindutva influencers based in India, have sought to influence the elections by producing a ‘Hindu Manifesto’, endorsed, knowingly or unwittingly, by 28 of the new Parliamentarians. How will Starmer deal with the xenophobia and authoritarian populism of Reform and Farage while having a truck with others of his ilk?

There is much to play for, and much to lose, in the months to come. Starmer’s robotic blandness might have won him his supermajority, but the time has come to take decisions, defend positions, and offer an agenda of renewal.


(Views expressed are personal)

Subir Sinha is reader in the politics and theory of development at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

(This appeared in the print as 'Labour Realism')