Did Labour win?

American astronauts did not set foot on the Moon in July 1969. In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were brought down by a controlled explosion, and not by hijacked airliners that flew into them. Russia did not invade Ukraine but merely launched a ‘special military operation’ in self-defence against the threat of a Nazi regime in Kyiv. Climate change is not real. The earth is flat.

Let’s add one more to that list: the Labour Party did not win the general election last week.

In the US, the last President to lose an election, Donald Trump, insisted that it never happened. He won the election and the vote was rigged.

Thankfully here, no one is saying that. Even Rishi Sunak conceded that Keir Starmer and the Labour Party had won in a fair fight.

And yet, there is a kind of “election denialism” happening here now in the UK, and among some observers abroad. In their view, as opposed to that of the British Conservatives who actually lost the election, Labour did not win.

Here is how the argument goes, more or less: The actual vote total for Labour was up just 1.7% compared to the disastrous result of 2019, when the party was still headed up by Jeremy Corbyn. And that result was a historic low for the party. That was a big part of the reason why Corbyn was ousted as party leader. A gain of less than 2% can hardly be called a landslide, can it?

The election deniers are not unaware of the fact that Labour did win an astonishing 412 seats, a gain of 214. For observers from outside the UK, this must seem like a kind of mystery. How did a vote gain of 1.7% translate into a near-doubling of the party’s representation in Parliament?

And their answer is that while Labour did rather poorly under the uninspiring leadership of the bland Keir Starmer, the Conservatives imploded due to the rise of Reform UK, headed by the charismatic Nigel Farage. Reform UK won over four million votes but gained only a handful of seats in the House of Commons. Farage, who finally won a seat after many attempts over the years, leads the chorus of outrage. Labour didn’t win, but the Tories most certainly lost.

But here is how the system actually works: Sinn Fein and George Galloway’s party got the same number of votes (210,000). This translated into 7 seats in the Commons for the former and none for the latter. And for that, we can thank the first past the post system.

I got an insight into what is actually going on when I looked into volunteering for a few hours on election day to help out my local Labour candidate. As the Labour website made clear, my help was not needed as my local MP was very popular and would easily win re-election (which she did). Labour needed me elsewhere — especially in Amber Valley, which is 130 miles north of where I live. I chose instead to work in a marginal seat slightly closer to my home. (We won there too. And despite my unwillingness to help out, we won Amber Valley too.)

Why was I discouraged from working locally? Not because the Labour Party was keen to show off the sights of Derbyshire, appealing though they must be. It was because Labour wanted to win the election.

The way elections work in this country is that it doesn’t matter at all how many votes your party wins nationally. Even Nigel Farage understands this. No one cares that you won four million votes. We don’t have a national election. We have 650 local elections. You have to win as many of those as possible.

Those are the rules and everyone understands them. Maybe they’re not good rules. Maybe we should switch over to proportional representation. But until we do so, every party plays according to those rules.

If there had been a national election where the vote totals across the country mattered, maybe Labour would have fought harder to get more of those votes. But that’s not how it works, and Labour played according to the rules. Labour had just one job to do this year, and that was to defeat the Tories and win the election. And that did they spectacularly well.

The victory Labour won is historic and expectations are high. No one can take away from its triumph by playing with imaginary election results. The election denialists should take a deep breath and repeat after me, “Labour won.”

This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.