Why we should stop fretting about the new Labour government

by Suw on July 7, 2024

It’s just utterly boggling my mind, all the weird concern trolling and catastrophising that people are doing about the new Labour gov’t. Not just from Tories either – most of what I’m seeing is from people I know to be left-leaning. Concerns no one had about the last Tory landslide are suddenly common currency.

Firstly, when did was start expecting a gov’t to ‘win hearts and minds’ as well as a majority? Did the Tories win hearts and minds in 2019? 2017? 2015? 2010? Did Blair in 2005 or 2001? People were excited in 1997… but hearts and minds? Really?

We elect a political party into government. We aren’t selecting a life partner, we’re getting on a political bus that’s going in roughly the right direction. Some of us hope that perhaps we can help steer it a little by being politically engaged; most just sit at the back and get on with their lives.

No one has ever expected a government to win hearts and minds before, and no one should. That’s populist bullshit that belongs in the bin. We have voted, Labour have won, now we judge them on their actions, not whether we’re in love with them or not.  They don’t have to be perfect and, indeed, how can they be perfect? Everyone’s idea of a perfect government is different, so expecting perfection or purity is unrealistic and perpetuates negative thinking. I want competent, and so far that’s what Labour has been.

Next. When did vote share suddenly become important? Because again, no one cared about vote share in any of the last 7 elections that I remember. And guess what? Vote share doesn’t matter, especially not in this election.

People vote according not just to their preferences, but the system they know they are in, and their feelings about the way things are swinging. The narrative in the final weeks of this very overtly FPTP election was that Labour were on their way to a ’supermajority’, known the UK as just a majority because the word ‘supermajority’ is meaningless propaganda.

But the propaganda worked – people felt empowered to protest vote not just against the Tories but also against Labour, having fallen for the story that both parties are the same. (That particular piece of propaganda comes largely from the far left, from what I’ve seen, but I dare you to look at Starmer’s Cabinet and his first actions in office and tell me that Labour are the same as the Tories. They are palpably not.)

In FPTP, people can protest vote knowing that it probably won’t make a difference. In fact, this knowledge is so baked in to our national voting psyche that a lot of people protest voted against Cameron in the Brexit referendum, thinking their vote didn’t matter. (Except it really did, that one bloody time.)

When people are angry, they protest vote. People are, currently, very rightly very angry. They have protest voted. Would they have voted the same way had the race been tight? Maybe not, though we’ll never know.

Furthermore: tactical voting. Because there were Tory seats where the Lib Dems had perhaps a slightly higher chance of winning than Labour, people were encouraged to vote tactically. The Lib Dems ended up gaining an additional 64 seats and now total 72, the best result for them in 100 years so it would seem that the tactical voting worked.

And we do need to talk about turn out. At 60% it was the lowest since 2001. Again, how much of that was Labour voters not bothering because they were (correctly, as it turns out) sure that a Labour win was inevitable? I certainly heard from people on the ground that Labour turnout was low, but would like to see actual evidence about that.

All of this — protest voting, tactical voting and a potentially low Labour turnout — means we can’t read anything significant into the vote share. It absolutely cannot be taken to mean that Labour doesn’t have a true mandate, or that their win is somehow fragile. They’ve got a majority of 172, and they got a majority in every nation, which is about a solid of a mandate as it gets.

This all brings me on to proportional representation. Is it a fairer system? Yes. Does this election’s vote share tell us anything about how many seats parties would have won under some form of PR? No. No, it absolutely doesn’t, because people vote understanding the system they are voting in, and they may well have voted differently under a PR system.

The fact that Reform got 4m votes says nothing about how many votes they’d get under PR, as people who voted Reform to kick the Tories in the teeth on Thursday might not take the risk if they knew their vote mattered in a PR system.

We don’t have an alternative world in which we can re-run Thursday’s election under PR in order to see what would have happened. Personally, I would like PR, but I don’t think it’s an important priority when there are so many more serious things to fix first.

I am confused, though, as to why so many people are now concerned about FPTP vs PR, when no one gave a shite after Johnson’s 80 seat majority. Why is a Labour majority so threatening, even to left-leaning people, that PR has now floated to the top of people’s minds? Genuine question, I really don’t know the answer.

Finally, for this thread at least, why are so many on the left wallowing in foreboding joy? Brené Brown defines ‘foreboding joy’ as that feeling of needing to plan for disaster when we start to feel joy. You could also call it castastrophising or imagining the worst, though some of it is certainly anti-Starmer concern trolling.

But just look at who Starmer’s appointed to his Cabinet and advisory roles. Not only is it incredibly diverse, there’s not a single Eton grad: Louise Haigh (Sheffield High School) and Anneliese Dodds (Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen) went to non-elite private schools that fall more in the ‘aspirational middle class’ schools bracket.

Hilary Benn is possibly the most privileged appointment, having gone to two prep schools, but then a comp and the Uni of Sussex. He has been MP for Leeds, so knows the urban North.

Angela Rayner grew up on a council estate, left school pregnant and trained in social care. Rachel Reeves, the chancellor, worked as an economist. David Lammy’s mother raised him alone and he was the first black Briton to study a master’s in law at Harvard.

Starmer is also leaning heavily on expertise: Sir Patrick Vallance, an actual scientist, is science minister. James Timpson, whose Timpson’s key cutting and cobbling business employs ex-offenders and care leavers, is prisons minister. Human rights lawyer Richard Hermer KC is attorney general.

Then let’s look at Labour’s first actions in government: They’ve scrapped the horrendous Rwanda scheme and Streeting has already arranged to go into pay talks with the junior doctors to try to avert a strike. And they haven’t even had a full working day in office yet.

Starmer’s first press conference as PM yesterday was also a breath of fresh air. Calm, self-assured, friendly and polite, Starmer spoke in clear and complete sentences, with no waffle or bluster. The media’s going to have a hard time adjusting to that, I suspect.

So maybe it’s time to set aside all that catastrophism and foreboding joy. Maybe we should give Labour a chance to get their feet under the table, after all, parliament doesn’t even return until 17 July. Let’s stop expecting either perfection or disaster and reacquaint ourselves with both compromise and participative democracy.

I think we’ve all disengaged from our politics over the last 14 years, so perhaps now would be a good time to remind ourselves how to contact our local MPs and what political engagement looks like. Perhaps we can start with a clearer understanding of Labour’s manifesto https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/cml2en8xlxko and remind ourselves that https://www.writetothem.com/ exists.

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