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Low turnout, 600,000 votes lost and the first-past-the-post: The 'buts' of Labour's victory in the UK

Keir Starmer's party declares itself the absolute and overwhelming winner despite the fact that 80% of the British electorate did not vote for his party and the party's vote share only increased by 1.9%.

The newly elected Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria Starmer.(Cordon Press)

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The elections in the United Kingdom completely changed the configuration of the House of Commons for the new term. After 14 years of Conservative governments, Labour leader Keir Starmer has met with King Charles III, who has entrusted him with the task of forming a government.

Labour has sold this victory as a landslide, a sentiment echoed in the majority of headlines from the international and British press, highlighting the supermajority of 412 seats for Labour. The number is remarkable, marking Labour's strongest parliamentary result since the 1930s. Sky News commentators were visibly excited as the first results trickled in after polling stations closed.

However, to what extent does the narrative of absolute victory reflect reality? Turnout was remarkably low, with Labour securing fewer votes this time around than when it lost the 2019 election. Meanwhile, Reform U.K., led by Nigel Farage, won only four seats, despite the 4 million British voters who voted Reform UK. So why did Labour win?


In the U.K., elections are general elections. In these elections, representatives from each district are elected to the House of Commons. This same result determines how the government is formed and who becomes prime minister. The voting system used is first-past-the-post, also known as single-member plurality voting. 

In the same way as it is used for Congressional elections in the United States, the single-member district system only allows the candidate with the most votes in each parliamentary district to obtain a seat. Only one.

The Labour Party won in 412 voting districts, totaling 9.6 million votes across the United Kingdom. That is just under 3 million votes more than the Conservative Party, who won in 121 districts. The percentages are 33.7% versus 23.7%.

This year's election had the lowest turnout in a British election since 2001. Only 59% of eligible British voters went to the polls on Wednesday. That's 3 million fewer voters than in 2019, when turnout was 67.3%.

In 2019, Labour won more overall votes than in this election, despite now claiming a landslide victory. The reality is quite different. In 2019, they received 600,000 more votes than in 2024 and the Conservatives won with a much higher percentage, 42% of the total. Despite losing in total votes compared to 2019. Labour has only acheived a 1.6% improvement in its share of the vote. Nevertheless, this has translated into 211 more MPs for its parliamentary bench.

Taking into account only those who voted, it is important to note that Labour will govern with a supermajority despite the fact that 67% of those who went to the polls did not vote for them. The figure is even more striking if we consider the total British electorate, i.e. more than 48 million individuals. In this context, only 20% of the British electorate has supported Keir Starmer's party. The great victory declared by Labour is one that does not have the support of 80% of the country.

Greens steal votes from Labour

The environmentalist party The Greens managed to quadruple its number of seats in this election. It went from having only one representative to four after Wednesday's election. It achieved this thanks to the more than 1.9 million voters who supported them across the country. It took two seats away from the Conservatives and one from Labour.

However, the Greens' increase of 1.1 million votes helps explain the 600,000-vote drop for Labour compared with 2019. In Waveney Valley and North Herefordshire, where the Greens have won, Labour fell well short of second place, scoring below 10%.

Reform U.K. lost big

Last decade, the Liberal Democrat Party, which became the third party by number of seats in this election, ran a campaign to call out the unfairness of the first-past-the-post system. The Liberal Democrats claimed that if there was an alternative system with a proportional distribution of votes, they would get more seats and it would be fairer.

The criticism was not misguided. In 2010, the Liberals obtained 22% of the total votes, a percentage similar to that of the Tories in 2024, but only secured 57 seats in the House of Commons, five fewer than in the previous parliament. In 2011 a law was then passed to hold a referendum proposing to change the electoral system. The British voted 67% in favor of maintaining first-past-the-post. In the following elections in 2015, the Liberal Democrats' result was even more dramatic. They were reduced to just eight seats.

The 2015 election was also an example of the impact of first-part-the-post in a national election. That year, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), led by Nicola Sturgeon, achieved its best results to date, with 56 Scottish independence representatives entering the House of Commons in London. This was achieved by the SNP thanks to a strategy of concentrating votes in the right districts. This strategy is easier for parties with regional interests. This phenomenon also occurs in other democracies with pro-independence parties, such as Spain, where a considerable number of national seats are won by parties with a secessionist agenda.

Reform U.K., led by Nigel Farage, is satisfied with the results but could have won many more seats. The party of the controversial Brexit promoter won four seats, opening the doors of the House of Commons to them for the first time. Farage won representation for the Clacton district on the British east coast. In three other districts he took seats away from the Conservatives.

The number of U.K. seats Reform U.K. has secured in proportion to the votes it has won is much lower than that of the other parties. Reform U.K. won over 4 million votes nationwide, accounting for 14.3% of the total. This makes Reform U.K. the third most popular party in the country, beating the Liberal Democrats by more than half a million votes. However, it is nowhere near the 71 seats the Liberal Democrats won. If the system were not first-past-the-post, proportionally 14.3% of the U.K. vote would have given around 93 seats to the Conservative party.

Reform U.K. will not have as much weight in the House of Commons as it will have influence in British society. With these results, it is predicted that the parliament that begins now could be very distant from what British people really want. This could dent Labour's voting discipline in the medium to long term.