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Opinion

Vote efficiency or failed democracy?

09 Jul 2024 6 minute read
A polling station in Cardiff. Photo Mark Mansfield

Gwern Gwynfil

Superficially our brave new world of Labour political hegemony across England, Scotland and Wales looks wonderful for Keir Starmer and the Labour faithful.

Labour has ‘won’ this election on the back of a visibly broken and inadequate first past the post (FPTP) voting model, designed for a two-party system in a different century, clearly unfit for purpose in the new multi party reality.

If we scratch the surface, we can see that this new Labour dominance is no more than a paper palace. Let’s dive into the statistics!

Worrying Numbers?

Starmer’s Labour party has secured a huge majority in government. For five years they have the scope and power to do anything they choose. The opportunity is there for them to be bold, radical and transformative. An opportunity handed to them on the back of an utterly anodyne platform by a small minority of the electorate.

To put this in perspective for you, when Jeremy Corbyn lost the 2017 election on his radical left wing platform, the Labour party secured 12,877,918 votes for 262 seats (the Tories bagged 317 seats with around 750,000 more votes).

This year Starmer’s Labour received fewer than 10 million votes. Yes, turnout was poor but even when we take this into consideration there is no escaping the reality that Labour have secured two of every three seats in Parliament with only one of every three votes cast.

In terms of the total registered electorate, barely one in five voters gave their support to Labour. This is not a resounding endorsement.

Take some time to absorb this. We have a majority government in Westminster with enormous power, placed there by 20% of eligible voters.

This is both undemocratic and extremely dangerous in a state which has far too few constitutional checks and balances, where ‘sovereignty’ resides absolutely in the Palace of Westminster.

In Wales, Labour wiped out the Tories and have 27 of the 32 residual seats (cut from 40 by boundary commission changes). The reality is not as rosy as it appears for them.

Labour support in Wales has actually fallen dramatically. Fewer votes, a much lower vote share and a harbinger of challenges ahead when the Senedd elections in 2026 arrive mid term for a UK Labour government who seem startlingly averse to rewarding Wales for their eternal Labour loyalty.

Winners and Spankings

Whilst the Tories certainly got spanked in this election (well deserved after the chaos and confusion of the last Parliament), at first glance their sister party Reform did very well.

In Wales the combined Tory and Reform vote share was only 2% lower than Labour’s – this is less than 25,000 votes in total. For avid data heads it’s worth noting that in many ways Reform actually underperformed relative to results for UKIP, their ancestor party, in 2015 – this time around Reform increased their number of votes by a few percentage points, adding 120,000 to the UKIP tally of 3.8 million nine years ago. Nothing new to see here.

The Greens on the other hand are most definitely big winners in 2024. In Wales four times as many voters put their cross in the Green Party box in spite of the reduced turnout. This kind of momentum will almost certainly mean that the Senedd will have its first Green MSs come 2026.

Plaid Cymru can also be considered winners in Wales having secured their best ever Westminster election result. Perhaps more importantly, their still shiny new leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth, was undoubtedly the standout campaigner in the Welsh general election campaign (as Ed Davey was for the Liberal Democrats across the border).

With Labour’s underlying performance showing them going backwards whilst Plaid surges it is not outside the realms of possibility that Plaid could even become the largest grouping in the Senedd in 2026.

They will need to continue to improve their campaign machine, taking advantage of stand out efforts from effective Young Turks like Kiera Marshall and Wil Rees (both of whom ran excellent local campaigns in Cardiff West and Pontypridd respectively) to revitalise their grass roots structures and create a new unity of purpose across the party machine.

Are the Liberals Back?

In simple terms, no, no they are not.

Despite their claim that winning the seat of Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe ‘demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats are back on the up in Wales as the party looks to make gains ahead of the 2026 elections’.

The reality is bleak for the Liberals in Wales. Median forecasts would suggest that the likeliest outcome in 2026 Senedd elections is for Jane Dodds to retain her seat with the prospect of adding more seats currently very slim. This is partly due to the peculiarities of the D’Hondt voting system and the relatively high threshold it imposes on smaller parties before they can win seats.

Voting systems aside, the truth is that the Liberal Democrats in Wales have allowed themselves to slip into irrelevance and lack the vision (and ambition?) to reinvent themselves in ways which can put them back at the heart of Welsh politics.

Whilst it is less than 25 years since the Deputy First Minister of Wales was a Welsh Liberal Democrat, it is very hard indeed to see them regaining any influence or relevance if they continue on their current path.

Will they keep their heads firmly buried in the sand, fooling themselves that their one MP means they are back in the game? Indications are that yes, yes they will.

Our European Parliament

It is very early to be making predictions but by the end of 2026 it seems likely that the Senedd in Wales will be very much European in its make up. A blend of parties across the political spectrum. Hopefully the expansion to 96 members will help to accommodate the disruptive right and whatever presence Reform may have (if at all) will be outweighed by positive co-operation and potentially coalition between parties of the centre and centre left.

It is highly likely that there will be six parties in the Senedd, Labour, Tories, Plaid, Liberals, Greens and Reform.

A shame that it will remain a shadow government at the mercy of Westminster and the deep reluctance of the Welsh Labour MPs to invest it with greater power and authority. At times the antipathy of the Welsh Labour Westminster Parliamentary party towards devolution is palpable.

Perhaps 2026 will be the first step towards breaking the Labour umbilical in Wales – a more diverse Senedd with a diminished Labour presence. By 2030 we may even have a Senedd which by its very composition shouts loudly for Welsh interest and demands far more for the people of Wales.

Papering over the Cracks

Whatever the future brings it is certain that ‘Change Labour’s’ apparent dominance across Great Britain is superficial.

The tensions and shifting attitudes beneath that umbrella will not be going away. The cracks in the Union may well be slightly obscured but it remains brittle, all the more so as England is beginning its journey towards understanding that its identity too is subsumed within this aging imperial construct.

Interesting times ahead.


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Llyn
Llyn
5 days ago

A frankly delusional article where the big losers are Labour with 37% of the vote in Wales (nearly 20% more than any other party) and “most definitely big winners in 2024” were the Green Party with less than 5% of the vote.

Gwern Gwynfil
Gwern Gwynfil
5 days ago
Reply to  Llyn

Not sure you’re reading the message accurately here Llyn The points I’m making are about the fragility of the Labour victory when you look at the underlying data, how the data demonstrates that FPTP is no longer fit for purpose and that other parties have ‘won’ in the sense of significant growth in support The data suggests very strongly that there are some deep shifts in the political landscape Perhaps the reality here is that your own political preferences are steering personal delusions? I like to rely on the data and try to treat it objectively to reach informed conclusions… Read more »

Llyn
Llyn
5 days ago
Reply to  Gwern Gwynfil

I agree with you on FPTP and the Labour Pty needs to take lessons from the result. But as someone who would have without hesitation voted Plaid in the 4 constituencies which they won, I have to say the big winner was Keir Starmer and the Labour Pty. The Labour Pty like Plaid focussed their campaigning on the seats they needed to win and this succeeded. I find it slightly disturbing for our democracy the way those, mainly on the right, are now peddling a narrative that Starmer’s victory is somehow illegitimate and the landslide (that’s what it is) is… Read more »

Gwern Gwynfil
Gwern Gwynfil
5 days ago
Reply to  Llyn

The victory is certainly legitimate and Labour clearly have a landslide majority but this does not change the reality that FPTP has shown itself to be incredibly undemocratic Labour have two thirds of the representation with one third of the vote, they have a massive majority on the back of support from barely one in five of the total electorate imagine if that level of ‘vote efficiency’ installed a far right party like Reform? With the inevitable authoritarianism that would follow There is a fundamental issue here that should not be ignored – everyone who cares about democracy should be… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
5 days ago

Jeremy Corbyn did not have a radical left wing platform in 2017 or 2019. All of the policies on offer were mainstream socially democratic. Corbyn himself maybe moderately more to the left of a social democrat, but he certainly isn’t the ultra-leftist that the Keir faction of the Labour Party and the Tory press try to paint him. The very fact that the Tory press chose to attack the man rather than his policies shows that those forces knew full well that the policies were moderate and also very popular. And no, I’m not a Corbyn cheerleader, just someone who… Read more »

Ifor l'engine
Ifor l'engine
5 days ago

If you want the figures comparing 2019 to 2024 … Firstly note that there are 8 fewer total seats in Wales due to boundary changes 2023 . Secondly all figues are approx and based on early reporting of the results taken from the English media channels. Finally please check the mathematics for yourself – I’m only on my first cup of coffee !!! WALES: The Labour vote actually fell in Wales from 40.9% to 37.11% But their number of seats increased from 22/40 ( 55% ) to 27/32 ( 84% ). There are now no Conservative MPs (0/32) in Wales compared… Read more »

Gwern Gwynfil
Gwern Gwynfil
5 days ago
Reply to  Ifor l'engine

Diolch Ifor

Never enough space in an oped for more than a statistical snapshot (which means picking and choosing)

Anyone else wants to add more analysis in the comments please do so!

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
4 days ago
Reply to  Gwern Gwynfil

What about the results for Mr keir starmer standing in Holborn and St Pancras?

In 2019 he achieved 36,641 (64.5% of the local electorate) and in 2024 he obtained 18,884 (48.9%).

He was more popular when Jeremy Corbyn was labour leader!

John R
John R
5 days ago

Has anyone worked out how the general election votes would translate into Senedd seats in the 2026 election? As for Reform, while they only got a certain percentage above the UKIP 2015 vote, they’ve now got 5 MPs and a Tory Party unsure what to deal with them.

Gwern Gwynfil
Gwern Gwynfil
5 days ago
Reply to  John R

Shwmae John, Senedd voting patterns differ a great deal from Westminster ones but the recently launched New Wales crunches the numbers whenever there’s any relevant polling.

Follow on Twitter/X @anewwales

Website has launched as a beta site too but bear with us as that will be taking shape as we grow and establish ourselves

Before anyone asks – New Wales is currently entirely staffed and run by volunteers and as of yet we have no funding from anyone
A labour of love for Wales : )

John R
John R
5 days ago
Reply to  Gwern Gwynfil

Thanks for replying. I’m sure we’ll be getting number crunching over the next couple of years. Good luck with New Wales, I’ll have a look at the web site when it’s up and running. As for X, I deactivate and reactivate my account every 3-4 weeks as the pointless arguments gave me a headache. But I don’t want to kill it off as yet as there are people who say interesting things that I want to read.

Crom
Crom
4 days ago

Some very interesting comments here (from both ends of the spectrum), but I find myself reminded of the old “lies, damn lies and statistics” adage. There is perhaps not a lot of point forensically dissecting the figures from this recent and other past elections as it is likely there are going to be seismic changes ahead. We should now be trying to work out how the introduction of votes at 16 will alter the political landscape and, from a Welsh point if view, how the new PR scheme will work and whether or not the increase in the size of… Read more »

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