July 12, 2024

Elections in Great Britain: Most Britons are politically centre-right

Elections in Great Britain: Most Britons are politically centre-right

Representative Al Pinkerton sat down on one of the benches he had arrived early on. The London House of Commons met on Tuesday for the first time since the election to elect the Speaker. And the chamber at the Palace of Westminster did not have enough seats for 650 MPs, so many had to stand or squat on the stairs. But not Al Pinkerton, the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP – he thought. It wasn’t until minutes before kick-off that Nigel Farage made his way through the crowd into the room. Party leader Farage was scheduled to be one of the speakers, so he needed a seat. And those responsible for the seating arrangement chose a place in the back row of the opposition benches: Pinkerton Place.

A few days ago, Nigel Farage described his election and that of four other reform MPs as “the start of a movement”. He refers to a different movement, but it is one of the questions that will loom large in the kingdom after the election: is the effect of Reform UK evidence of a shift to the right, masked only by the larger Labor party? The majority?

There are various parties to the right of the conservative Tories in the United Kingdom. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) was founded in 1993. The most popular member and longest-serving leader is a certain Nigel Farage, who failed to win a constituency seven times before succeeding on his eighth attempt. Farage left UKIP after the 2016 Brexit referendum and founded the Brexit Party in 2018, which was renamed Reform UK in 2021. In between, he was a well-paid TV host on right-wing mainstream television and saw himself as Donald Trump’s future campaign aide before he decided to take back his party as leader just before the election.

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Reform UK is more of an institution than a party, with Farage as the majority owner

By the way, “his party” should be understood literally here: Reform UK is not a party in the classic sense, but a “limited company”, whose majority owner is Farage. A second stake is held by businessman and multi-millionaire Richard Dice, a former party donor to the Tories. Guardian Dice recently announced that it is funding the party with its own money. Dice is one of five reform MPs elected to the lower house since last week.

Farage and supporters of the British Right thesis like to point to the absolute numbers of this election: Reform UK received 4.1 million votes, corresponding to 14.3 percent – which would make Reform UK the third strongest force. United Kingdom. However, due to the electoral system in which only the winner of the respective constituency enters the House of Commons, the figures for the Reformed UK resulted in only five seats in the House of Commons. But as Farage says, the numbers are far from clear.

In the election, 1.9 million Britons voted Green – more than ever before. The Liberal Democrats won the same number of votes as in 2019, and 9.7 million Britons voted Labour. In total, more than 15 million Britons voted for centre-left parties. Even if you add up the votes of the Conservatives, Reform UK and UKIP, there is a difference of more than four million: four million Britons preferred left-wing parties to those on the right. Expressed as a percentage: 38 per cent chose the right, including the Tories, and 53 per cent the left, including Labour.

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In 2024, most Britons voted for left-wing parties

Even on a historical comparison, there is no evidence of a supposed shift to the right, at least if you look at the whole party spectrum, not just excluding the decision for a reformed UK. In 2019, 14.8 million Britons voted for Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens (46 per cent) – and 14.6 million for the Tories, the Brexit Party and UKIP (45 per cent). The Tories won the 2019 election with a clear majority as Labor came second in many constituencies. This means: in 2024, more people voted for left-wing parties in percentage and absolute terms and fewer voted for right-wing parties. Notable progress for the Reform UK and Brexit Party alone can be explained by the party’s strategic decision: in 2024 the party fielded twice as many candidates as five years earlier.

A shift to the right? Or, maybe even: turn left? Neither was Claire Ainslie, a former policy adviser to new prime minister Keir Starmer and now director of the Progressive Policy Institute think tank. British voters “have traditionally been and will be at the center of politics,” says Ainslie. If you differentiate it further, you can only say, “Economically, the country appears to be more center-left, culturally more center-right.”

However, British voters are dissatisfied with both sides, as shown by the second lowest turnout in a hundred years. At the same time, there were more parties and candidates competing than ever before—which, combined with voter discontent, led to unprecedented voter indecision. Half a million Britons voted for six independent MPs alone. There have never been more non-party members of parliament after an election than there are now. Also: 14 parties, counting non-party members as a group, won one or more seats. This is also a novelty in recent election history.

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