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Jeremy Corbyn before nomination. Photo: Getty

Jeremy Corbyn before nomination. Photo: Getty

An in-depth analysis of the statistics from the 2019 election shows beyond doubt that it was the collapse of the Labour Leave vote that proved fatal for Labour, reports Richard Crawford

In the 2017 General Election, the Labour Party received 12,878,460 votes. This was a huge increase on what they had achieved in recent elections, indeed the biggest increase in vote share since Clement Attlee led Labour to victory in 1945, and was the Party's biggest tally since Blair's 1st victory in 1997. It was also a much bigger total than the Tories had achieved to enter government in 2010 & 2015. Those who argue that Labour's defeat in 2019 was due to Corbyn & the manifesto being too left-wing fail to account for why the Party had fared so well in 2017 with Corbyn as Leader, and a similar manifesto (only slightly tamer).  Certainly, there are millions of Britons who would not vote for Corbyn to be Prime Minister, but why did so many who had voted for his party in 2017 desert Labour in 2019?

Comparing the 2019 to the 2017 General Election, Labour lost nearly 2.6 million votes nationwide. The Party certainly lost some votes to Remain parties. In Lord Ashcroft's 2019 post-vote poll, 16% of 2017 Labour Remainers declined to vote Labour in 2019 - twice the proportion of 2017 Conservative Leavers who failed to vote Tory. However, Labour did not lose any seats at all to the Liberal Democrats or the Greens, or Plaid Cymru. Labour lost the 2019 election to the Conservatives in England & Wales (54 seats lost to & only 1 gained from the Tories), and to the SNP in Scotland (6 seats lost).

The Conservative Party vote nationwide rose by nearly 330,000 votes, a 1.2% vote share increase. These overall figures do not reveal the full extent of Labour defections to the Conservatives (and sometimes to the Brexit Party) in Labour seats which had voted Leave in the 2016 Referendum. Some of the declines in the Labour vote in these seats were huge. The overall loss of vote share that Labour suffered was 7.8%. In many of the strongly Leave-voting constituencies, the figure was around double that and sometimes much higher. The seats where Labour lost biggest vote share, with 2016 Referendum vote in brackets were:

  • Wentworth & Dearne, down 24.67% (70.28% Leave)
  • Bassetlaw, down 24.9% (67.8% Leave)
  • Barnsley Central, down 23.79%, Barnsley East 21.91% (Barnsley 68.3% Leave)
  • Doncaster North, down 22%, Doncaster Central 17.9% (Doncaster 69% Leave)
  • Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford, down 21.58% (69.26% Leave)
  • Jarrow, down 20.05% (61.78% Leave)

Labour lost 54 seats in England & Wales, all to the Tories, and all but 2 or 3 had Leave majorities in the 2016 EU Referendum (there is uncertainty over how Colne Valley voted, one estimate putting result there at 50.4% Remain, another at 50.06% Leave. The council area it is part of, Kirklees, which counted all its votes together, returned an overall result of 54.7% Leave). The Conservatives' vote tally of nearly 14 million was their biggest since 1992 (when there was a much bigger turnout), the 365 seats they won was their most since 1987, and their vote share of 43.6% was the biggest achieved by any party since 1979.

It is clear that the Tories' persistent slogan 'Get Brexit done' was what inspired this success, and that Labour reneging on their 2017 commitment to honour the Referendum result was the major factor causing their decline, including the change to supporting a 2nd Referendum & the perception that the Party had been blocking feasible Brexit deals. This not only alienated Leavers who feared the potential of the 2016 result being overturned, but may also have affected the votes of some who had voted Remain but believed that the result of the Referendum needed to be honoured for democratic reasons. In so far as support for Corbyn himself declined, a probable major factor was that he compromised too much with opponents, not standing firm to impose what he wanted — e.g. having called immediately after the Referendum for Article 50 to be invoked (giving notice to the EU that the UK would leave), he gave in to pressure within his own party more & more until the policy to have a 2nd Referendum was adopted.

The conclusion that Labour's change on Brexit cost them dearly is reinforced by Lord Ashcroft's 2019 post-vote poll. In this poll, only 64% of 2017 Labour Leave voters stayed with the Party. Among those polled who had voted to Leave in the 2016 Referendum 73% voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election, while only a paltry 16% voted Labour. The Labour Party remained the most popular party among those who had voted Remain in 2016, but Labour's support here came nowhere near counteracting the Party’s lack of support among Leavers - 47% of Remainers in the poll voted Labour in 2019, while 20% voted Conservative (21% voted Lib Dem).

Brexit Party performance

The Brexit Party and UKIP together stood in less than half of seats in 2019, so overall their increase in vote share appears insignificant. The combined Brexit Party/UKIP nationwide vote share rose 0.3% to 2.1% (a rise of 22,817 votes). However, the Brexit Party did make an impact in some seats which had strongly backed Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum. It scored over 20% vote share in some seats, including Barnsley Central (30.44%), Barnsley East (29.19%), Blaenau Gwent (20.57%), Doncaster North (20.38%), Hartlepool (25.84%). Labour managed to hold on to all of those seats, but the Brexit Party contributed to Labour's defeat in some other seats, taking a big chunk of Labour's 2017 vote & leaving the Conservatives to claim victory with a similar or smaller (sometimes much smaller) increase in vote share. In the following seats the Brexit Party gained a sizeable vote share (over 4%), and the Conservative majority was smaller than the total Brexit Party vote. In most of them Brexit Party finished 3rd, beating the Lib Dems:  

  • Blyth Valley - Brexit P. 8.31% 3,394. Tory majority 712
  • Bolton N.E. - Brexit P. 4.32% 1,880. Tory majority 378
  • Burnley - Brexit P. 8.62% 3,362. Tory majority 1,352
  • Delyn - Brexit P. 5.14% 1,971. Tory majority 865
  • Don Valley - Brexit P. 13.75% 6,247. Tory majority 3,630
  • Durham N.W. - Brexit P. 6.7% 3,193. Tory majority 1,144
  • Heywood & M. - Brexit P. 8.32% 3,952. Tory majority 663
  • Leigh - Brexit P. 6.73% 3,161. Tory majority 1,965
  • Stoke C. - Brexit P. 5.27% 1,691. Tory majority 670
  • Ynys Mon - Brexit P. 5.98% 2,184. Tory majority 1,968

Abstentions

Overall turnout declined by 1.5%, from 68.8% in 2017 to 67.3% in 2019. Previous Labour voters staying at home doesn't seem to have played much of a role in Labour's decline. Usually the biggest declines in turnout were in safe Labour seats which the Party retained - East Ham, Sheffield C. & the 3 Hull seats all had declines in turnout of over 5%, & all were retained by Labour. In Hull East the 6.2% drop in turnout of 4,196 played a part in reducing Labour's majority from 10,396 to 1,239. Where Labour lost seats, any lower turnouts didn't make the decisive difference - previous Labour supporters voting for other parties was more important e.g. Great Grimsby saw a decline of 2,434 in voter turnout, but this doesn't account for Labour's majority of 2,565 turning into a Tory majority of 7,331.

Lib Dem performance

As previously stated, in England & Wales Labour did not lose any seats at all to the Remain parties (Lib Dems, Greens & Plaid Cymru). The Green nationwide vote share rose by 1.1%, but from a very low base. Their total vote of 865,707 comprised 2.7% vote share, and the Party made very little impact beyond the single seat that they retained. Plaid Cymru's popular vote actually declined slightly - by 11,201 votes (standing aside in 4 seats to give other Remain parties a free run did not fully account for this decline - Plaid were very weak in those seats, having received a combined total of only 6,553 votes in them in 2017).

Even though the Lib Dem vote share increased by nearly 4.2%, gaining nearly 1.325 million more votes than in 2017, this was a very bad election for the Party. It is nowhere near recovering from the loss of popularity engendered by their participation in the coalition government (2010-2015). The Lib Dems had double the vote share in 2010 (23%) that they achieved this time (11.5%), and almost double the number of votes (6,836,824 v. 3,696,419).  Apart from the disastrous post-coalition performances in 2017 & 2015, you have to go back to 1970 to find a worse result for the Liberals.

The Lib Dems did achieve some very big swings in constituencies which had strongly backed Remain in the 2016 Referendum, (and Labour suffered declines in vote share of over 14 or 15% in a few of these), but they were nearly always Conservative seats, and they by and large remained Conservative e.g. Esher & Walton, 27.67%  increase of vote share to 45%; Surrey S.W., 28.86% increase to 38.74%,  Hitchin & H., 24.76% increase to 35.37%;  Finchley & G.G., 25.33% increase to 31.94%; Cambridgeshire S., 23.36% increase to 42%; Wimbledon 22.13% increase to37.24%; Wokingham 21.73% increase to 37.66%.

The Lib Dems captured 2 seats from the Tories (Richmond Park & St. Albans) and 1 seat from SNP (Fife N.E.), but lost 1 more seat than they gained. In the seats lost by Labour in England & Wales, the Lib Dems generally had a very low share of the vote (usually under 6%). Although the Lib Dem vote usually rose in these seats, it was generally a very marginal rise of 1 or 2% (occasionally the Lib Dem vote, like Labour's, fell: in Burnley they suffered a decline of 6.03% in vote share, in Durham N.W. it was a 1.15% decline, and in Redcar a 1.75% decline). The Lib Dems achieved a slightly bigger increase in vote share in Bassetlaw (up 4.35%), Penistone & Stocksbridge (up 6.1%) and Warrington S. (up 3.87%), but in all of the English & Welsh seats that Labour lost, it was only in the strongly Remain constituency of Kensington that they made any sort of impression, raising their vote share by 9.06% to reach 21.28% of the overall vote. Both the Conservative & Labour vote share declined there, but with an increased turnout, both parties had a rise in the number of votes received. Labour lost because their vote rose by a smaller number (285) than the Tories' vote (455), turning a Labour majority of 20 into a Conservative one of 150.

Scotland

Scotland provided a different scenario. It had voted strongly to Remain in 2016 (62%). In the 2019 Election, both the Conservatives & Labour lost vote share, while the pro-Remain Lib Dems & SNP increased theirs, but it was usually the SNP which achieved a bigger rise than the Lib Dems. The SNP vote rose by nearly 263,000 (a UK-wide vote share increase of 0.8%). All 6 of the seats which Labour lost were Labour-SNP marginals, and the Lib Dems languished in a lowly 4th place in all of them. The decline in vote share which Labour suffered in these seats was significantly less (ranging from 3.07% in Rutherglen to 7.24% in Coatbridge) than the Party's average vote share loss over the U.K. as a whole (7.8%), again showing that Labour lost far more votes among Leavers than Remainers. The only seat where leakage of Labour votes to the Lib Dems possibly cost them the seat (though the Greens & Brexit Party also increased their votes) was Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath where the SNP, Conservative & Labour votes all declined -  the larger Labour reduction of 1,691 votes allowed the SNP to turn a Labour majority of 259 into an SNP majority of 1,243. It's worth noting that the theory that Labour lost the 2019 election because its manifesto was too left-wing & radical doesn't convince in Scotland, where the SNP also had a radical manifesto - in one respect, at least, more radical than Labour's, as the SNP argued for the scrapping of Trident, freeing up tens of billions of pounds to spend on public services.

 

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