General Election 2019

A historic victory for the Conservatives

The 2019 general election was pitched as a ‘People versus Parliament’ vote, with voters urged to break the Brexit ‘deadlock’


The 2019 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 12 December 2019. The Conservative Party, having failed to obtain a majority in the 2017 general election, had faced prolonged parliamentary deadlock over Brexit while it governed in minority with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a situation which had forced the resignation of the previous Prime Minister, Theresa May. Boris Johnson took a huge gamble by calling a December general election for the first time in almost a century. But he was celebrating on Friday morning after the Conservatives scored one of their biggest general election victories in recent years


Sinn Féin: 7 seats Green Party of England and Wales: 1 seat Plaid Cymru: 4 seats Social Democratic and Labour Party: 2 seats Scottish National Party: 48 seats Labour Party (UK): 202 seats Liberal Democrats (UK): 11 seats Alliance Party of Northern Ireland: 1 seat Conservative and Unionist Party (UK): 365 seats Democratic Unionist Party: 8 seats Speaker: 1 seat



In July 2019, after May's resignation, Boris Johnson was elected as Conservative leader and appointed as Prime Minister. Johnson could not induce Parliament to approve a revised withdrawal agreement by the end of October, and chose to call for a snap election. The House of Commons supported the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019 by 438–20, setting the election date for 12 December. Opinion polls up to polling day showed a firm lead for the Conservatives against Labour throughout the campaign


The Red Wall falls Election night 2019

The impact of FPTP in 2019

In the 2017 election the UK’s ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system operated quite proportionately, as the Conservatives and Labour level-pegged at high levels of support, and squeezed out support for other parties. In 2019, however, FPTP reverted most of the way back to its historic pattern, awarding a huge ‘leader’s bonus’ of seats to the Conservatives in England and to the SNP in Scotland.

A quarter of votes went to parties other than the largest two, but they returned less than 13 percent of seats. Bolstered by the discrepancy of vote and seat share for the SNP in Scotland, this figure conceals an even greater inequality for smaller parties. Nationally, over 865,000 votes were cast for the Green Party, but they elected just one representative

Due to the oddities of First Past the Post (FPTP) – or one-party-takes-all results – the Conservative Party was rewarded with a majority of seats (56.2%) on a plurality of the vote (43.6%) – with a 1.3 percentage point increase on its 2017 vote share giving the party a 7.4 percentage point increase in seats. The Scottish National Party (SNP), who support a move to a proportional system at Westminster, also benefited from FPTP, gaining 7.4 percent of seats in Westminster on only 3.9 percent of the vote.


While the Labour Party’s results were much more proportional, the Liberal Democrats were again disadvantaged by FPTP – the party saw an increase of 4.2 percentage points in its overall share of the vote compared with 2017, but actually suffered a net loss of seats at this election. The number of votes needed to elect an MP differed quite significantly for each party. On average, it took 38,264 votes to elect a Conservative MP, while it took 50,835 votes for a Labour MP. Strikingly, it took 865,697 votes nationally to elect just one Green Party MP and 336,038 votes for a Liberal Democrat –

Once again, smaller parties were penalised by Westminster’s broken electoral system, with the Green Party only securing one seat, despite winning almost three percent of the vote. Brexit Party voters were denied any representation despite getting two percent of the vote.

While the Conservative Party is benefiting from Westminster’s voting system across the UK as a whole, in Scotland, a substantial Conservative vote share (25.1%) yielded just six seats (10.2%).

This election saw an increase in vote share for smaller parties – from 18 percent in 2017 to around 25 percent in 2019 – that is more in line with previous elections, and reflects the long-term trend towards multi-party politics.

In an election campaign characterised by uncertainty and volatility, it came as a surprise to many that the result would deliver such a decisive majority for one party. The Conservative Party made a net gain of 48 seats – an increase of 7.4 percentage points in their seat share compared to the 2017 general election and the largest majority for the Conservatives since 1987. The final polls had predicted Conservative seats ranging between 311 and 367.1 That the difference between a hung parliament and a large majority for one party rested within a polling margin of error shows just how erratic the electoral system can be, particularly when there are more than two parties in contention.

There were some pacts and tactical voting- but with no great effect


In England and Wales, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party of England and Wales – parties sharing an anti-Brexit position – arranged a "Unite to Remain" pact. Labour declined to be involved. This agreement meant that in 60 constituencies only one of these parties, the one considered to have the best chance of winning, stood. This pact aimed to maximise the total number of anti-Brexit MPs returned under the first-past-the-post system by avoiding the spoiler effect.

In addition, the Liberal Democrats did not run against Dominic Grieve (independent, formerly Conservative),Gavin Shuker (independent, formerly Labour), and Anna Soubry (The Independent Group for Change, formerly Conservative).

The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage had suggested the Brexit and Conservative parties could form an electoral pact to maximise the seats taken by Brexit-supporting MPs, but this was rejected by Johnson. On 11 November, Farage announced that his party would not stand in any of the 317 seats won by the Conservatives at the last election.


Turnout

The 2019 general election was the first election to be held in December since 1923. Prior to polling day, there was speculation that bad weather and reduced daylight hours might affect not only campaigning but also turnout at the election itself. However, this does not appear to have been the case. Turnout at the 2019 general election was 67 percent across the UK – 1.4 percentage points lower than in 2017, but higher than at any other election since 1997

Parliamentary Representation

This election saw 220 women elected, 34 percent of the total number of MPs. In the last election 208 female MPs were elected (32% of the total), up from 191 in 2015. Once again, we see only minor increases in the proportion of women elected. At this rate, it will take another nine general elections (45 years) for women to reach parity in the Commons.

The Corbyn Factor

The Labour vote dropped dramatically in many areas. In some places, the Conservative vote did not go up hugely but Johnson’s candidate came out on top because traditional Labour voters appeared to have stayed at home or voted for the Brexit party. Some were put of by anti Semitism and the perception that Labour was in the hands of the far left. Defeated MPs have variously blamed the party’s Brexit position and Corbyn’s leadership for the suppression of the Labour vote .Candidates said throughout the election that while Jeremy Corbyn was unpopular on the doorstep, there was little enthusiasm for Johnson either. However, he was clearly a stronger candidate throughout the campaign than May in 2017, submitting to two head-to-head leadership debates in which he made no major slip-ups.

The Conservatives kept the message simple

The Tories’ message was much more focused than Labour’s. Johnson focused relentlessly on the “get Brexit done” slogan as well as pledges about more police officers and nurses. In contrast, Labour had a multiplicity of huge policy offers from mass nationalisation to free broadband and compensating women born in the 1950s for the rise in the pension age. Ultimately, concentrating on a small number of core pledges seems to have given Johnson the appeal which resonated with voters.. The Labour Party proposed a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement (towards a closer post-withdrawal relationship with the EU) and would then put this forward as an option in a referendum alongside the option of remaining in the EU. The Labour Party's campaigning stance in that referendum would be decided at a special conference. In a Question Time special featuring four party leaders, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would stay neutral in the referendum campaign.

However, Labour's manifesto was consistently shown to be popular when individual policies were identified. Although Labour proposed significantly increasing government spending to 45% of national output, which would be high compared to most of UK history, but is comparable with other European countries. This was to pay for an increased NHS budget; stopping state pension age rises; introducing a National Care Service providing free personal care; move to a net-zero carbon economy by the 2030s; nationalising key industries; scrapping universal credit; free bus travel for under-25s; building 100,000 council houses per year; and other proposals. Within this, the Labour Party proposed to take rail-operating companies, energy supply networks, Royal Mail, sewerage infrastructure, and England's private water companies back into public ownership. Labour proposed nationalising part of BT and to provide free broadband to everyone, along with free education for six years during each person's adult life. Over a decade, Labour planned to reduce the average full-time weekly working hours to 32, with resulting productivity increases facilitating no loss of pay.



An end to austerity

In September 2019, the Conservative government performed a spending review, where they announced plans to increase public spending by £13.8 billion/year, and reaffirmed plans to spend another £33.9 billion/year on the National Health Service (NHS) by 2023. Chancellor Sajid Javid said the government had turned the page on 10 years of austerity .The Conservative Party proposed increasing spending on the NHS, although not as much of an increase as Labour and Liberal Democrat proposals. They also proposed increased funding for childcare and on the environment. They proposed more funding for care services and to work with other parties on reforming how care is delivered. They wish to maintain the "triple lock" on pensions. They proposed investing in local infrastructure, including building a new rail line between Leeds and Manchester.

The Conservatives avoid unpopular policies

The party was keen to avoid the disaster of Theresa May’s 2017 manifesto when she unveiled an unpopular policy on social care that was soon dubbed a “death tax” by Labour. This time, the party steered clear of any controversial pledges. The manifesto was so cautious it even contained promises not to do things, such as a pledge not to bring back fox-hunting.

Labour won the social media campaign

The use of social media advertising is seen as particularly useful to political parties as they can target people by gender, age, and location. Labour is reported to have the most interactions, with The Times describing Labour's "aggressive, anti-establishment messages" as "beating clever Tory memes". In the first week of November, Labour is reported to have four of the five most "liked" tweets by political parties, many of the top interactions of Facebook posts, as well as being "dominant" on Instagram, where younger voters are particularly active. Bloomberg reported that between 6 and 21 November, the views on Twitter/Facebook were 18.7m/31.0m for Labour, 10m/15.5m for the Conservatives, 2.9m/2.0m for the Brexit Party, and 0.4m/1.4m for the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives managed TV exposure


ITV aired a head-to-head election debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on 19 November, hosted by Julie Etchingham. ITV Cymru Wales aired a debate featuring representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Brexit Party on 17 November, hosted by Adrian Masters. Johnson cancelled his ITV interview with Etchingham, scheduled for 6 December, whilst the other major party leaders agreed to be interviewed.

On the BBC, broadcaster Andrew Neil was due to separately interview party leaders in The Andrew Neil Interviews, and BBC Northern Ireland journalist Mark Carruthers to separately interview the five main Northern Irish political leaders. The leaders of the SNP, Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party were all interviewed by Neil and the leader of the Conservative Party was not, leading Neil to release a challenge to Johnson to be interviewed. The Conservatives dismissed Neil's challenge. BBC Scotland, BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Northern Ireland also hosted a variety of regional debates.

Channel 4 cancelled a debate scheduled for 24 November after Johnson would not agree to a head-to-head with Corbyn. A few days later, the network hosted a leaders' debate focused on the climate. Johnson and Farage did not attend and were replaced on stage by ice sculptures with their party names written on them


Situation normal - the papers attacked Labour


A large proportion of the newspaper coverage of Labour was negative. Researches from the CRCC commented that this indicated the press was partisan and were "pulling out all the stops against Labour". James Hanning, writing in the British Journalism Review, said that, when reporting and commenting on Boris Johnson, Conservative supporting newspapers made little mention of "a track record that would have sunk any other politician". In the Loughborough analysis, during the first week of the campaign, for example, the Conservatives had a positive press coverage score of +29.7, making them the only party to receive a positive overall presentation in the press. Labour, meanwhile, had a negative score of -70, followed by the Brexit Party on -19.7 and the Liberal Democrats on -10. Over the whole campaign, press hostility towards Labour had doubled compared with during the 2017 election, and negative coverage of the Conservatives halved.

The Result- evidence of realignment

The Conservative Party won a landslide victory, securing 365 seats out of 650, giving them an overall majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons. They gained seats in several Labour Party strongholds in Northern England that were held by the party for decades, which had formed the so-called 'red wall', (northern- safely Labour constituencies) such as the constituency of Bishop Auckland, which elected a Conservative MP for the first time in its 134-year history. In the worst result for the party in 84 years, Labour won 202 seats, a loss of 60 compared to the previous election. This marked a fourth consecutive general election defeat. The Liberal Democrats won 11 seats, down 1, despite significantly increasing their share of the popular vote.

The results have been attributed to leave supporting areas backing the Conservatives, the Conservatives broadening their appeal to working-class voters, and the Conservatives making gains in the Midlands and the North of England. Most notable was the 'red wall' turning blue in the election, which secured the Conservative majority. Voters cited Corbyn's leadership and Brexit as to why they either switched to the Conservatives or stayed at home.

A YouGov post-election survey determined that the age over which a plurality of voters opted for the Conservatives was 39, down from 47 in the 2017 election. In contrast to previous elections, the YouGov survey additionally found that a plurality of voters in the DE social grade – comprising the unemployed, state pensioners, and semi-skilled and unskilled workers – had opted for the Conservatives over Labour.

Between 26% and 33% of voters said they were trying to prevent a victory by the party they liked least, i.e. voting tactically. Recommendation by tactical voting websites had some benefit for Liberal Democrat candidates.

The new Parliament reportedly had the highest number of openly LGBTQ MPs in the world, with 20 Conservative MPs, 15 Labour MPs and 10 SNP MPs who identify as LGBTQ. For the first time in both cases, the majority of elected Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs were female.


A historic change?

Class dealignment means that no party can rely on heartland support. In particular the Labour party will increasingly find it hard to appeal to middle class and southern voters who are pro EU, internationalist in outlook relaxed about immigration and globalization as well as northern, working class voters who have seen their manufacturing jobs exported, seen immigration change their communities around them and feel powerless and ignored by the forces of globalization.

Back to a two party system?

Is there now a realignment of the main parties back to the centre? Johnson declares himself to a 'one nation conservative' and with the election of Keir Starmer as Labour leader will Labour adopt more social democracy instead of socialism. The Liberal Dems failed again to recover form the disaster of 2015 which suggests limited support for third party.

The end of the UK?

Has the UK just lost Scotland? After a fall in support in 2017, Scots voters returned to the SNP with its clear opposition to Brexit. Since Brexit will now happen will this lead inevitably to a second independence referendum?