Huge majority is double-edged sword for Labour government, say allies

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As the dust settled on Labour’s seismic victory on Friday morning, party strategists were already raking through the election results, warning that such a large majority was a double-edged sword.

Labour won a landslide on a relatively low slice of the vote — around 34 per cent — thanks to tactical voting and the splitting of rightwing support between the Tories and Reform UK.

Party aides could not contain their delight at winning a general election for the first time in 19 years. But they were also aware that while previous governments have been able to blame small majorities or hung parliaments for slow progress, Sir Keir Starmer will not have that luxury.

Having a huge majority was mixed blessing when it comes to public expectations of delivering change at a time of straitened public finances, they noted.

“The thing about having a majority of close to 200 is that people think that gives you a green light to get everything done, that there’s a magic wand to achieve results,” said one senior Labour figure.

“But it doesn’t work like that, you can’t just pass a bill and suddenly the NHS no longer has any financial problems,” they added.

Starmer’s team were taken aback by the strength of the pro-Palestinian vote in some Muslim areas, which led to the loss of five seats and nearly claimed the scalps of two of the party’s most high-profile figures: Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips. Labour was criticised last year for initially refusing to back a ceasefire in Gaza.

Labour MPs who lost their seats included Jonathan Ashworth, former shadow paymaster general and a close ally of Starmer, in Leicester South, which has a large Muslim population.

Morgan McSweeney, Labour’s head of campaigns, is set to carry out a review of the election performance in the coming weeks alongside think-tank Labour Together to find lessons for the next election in five years’ time. 

Starmer’s aides are aware the party won barely a third of the total vote — less than his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn won in the 2017 election when the party was defeated, but more efficiently spread across the country. 

They also recognise that the new balance of the House of Commons is strikingly out of step with voting preferences. Leftwing parties now represent 78 per cent of the Commons, despite getting 57 per cent of the vote. 

Labour is likely to feel pressure from some of its own backbenchers, and from the arrival of four Green MPs in parliament, to tack to the left. But Starmer’s allies are determined to resist.

“We know that we can’t shift an inch to the left now that we’re in government, we are completely aware that it would be politically dangerous,” said one. “Keir was very clear about that in his speech.”

Addressing hundreds of supporters gathered at the Tate Modern after dawn, Starmer said: “We ran a changed Labour party and we will govern as a changed Labour party.”

His words were a deliberate echo of Tony Blair’s promise in his 1997 election victory speech that “we ran for office as New Labour, we will govern as New Labour”. 

Labour’s vast majority should make it easy for Starmer to ram his legislative programme through parliament, with a King’s Speech pencilled in for July 17 that will include setting up Great British Energy, a new publicly-owned clean energy company, and a package of employment reforms. 

Starmer will face pressure from his own Labour ranks on a handful of issues, for example, his insistence there is no money to reverse the government’s two-child benefit cap, which prevents families from claiming support for more than two children.

Pro-EU MPs could start to bang the drum for Britain to rejoin the single market, despite Starmer saying this will not happen in his lifetime. But for now, at least, these are low-level concerns for the Labour leadership as it finds itself the dominant force in British politics.

There is no example in living memory of a major political party bouncing back from major defeat to a land victory in just five years.

Labour MPs and aides are revelling in the feeling of being winners for the first time in a very long time. “I keep wanting to cry, but it’s happy tears,” said one member of staff. 

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