Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

The reality of Starmer’s victory sinks in

It’s a crushing landslide – but the Tories will have enough MPs to form a functioning opposition

Photo: Alishia Abodunde/Getty Images

WhatsApp inboxes tell a story, but it’s not always a clear one. In the minutes immediately following the 10pm exit poll, my inbox pinged with jubilant messages from multiple Conservatives, while the cheeriest reaction from Labour figures was weary acceptance. Oddly, the wording of both was similar: “I’d take that”.

The story was a misleading one: the exit poll suggested that Labour would win in excess of 400 parliamentary seats, the Conservatives would take around 130, and that Reform would win a shocking 13 seats.

This would have given Labour a landslide comparable to those won by Tony Blair, and would be the worst-ever performance of the Conservative Party in its current incarnation: the Conservatives held on to 165 seats in 1997, and their worst-ever result was 156 seats. And yet the Tories were happy.

The apparent Conservative delight and Labour resignation could only have been a result of the bizarre world of expectations created by this most bizarre of election campaigns – in which the Conservatives all but conceded defeat weeks before polling day. 

Throwing away all of their previous messaging, the Tories ran a campaign focused on denying Keir Starmer a “supermajority”, without ever trying to define what that means in a political system where the concept does not meaningfully exist. Between that campaign and various extreme scenarios suggested in the polls, there seemed almost no limit to how bad the result might be for the Tories.

So at 10pm, 130-ish seats looked good to them. The hours that followed might have changed how those Conservatives felt, as the reality of going from more than 350 seats to 130 set in. Cabinet minister after cabinet minister fell, as did many of the most senior MPs.

Defence secretary Grant Shapps is gone. Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt is gone, as is her predecessor Jacob Rees-Mogg. Former deputy prime minister Therese Coffey is out, as is Brexit stalwart and Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, and former justice secretary Robert Buckland.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan lost her seat to the Lib Dems, while chief whip Simon Hart lost to Plaid Cymru – marking a total wipeout of the Conservatives in Wales. Father of the house Peter Bottomley is gone, as is Michael Fabricant. 

Some of the new blood Rishi Sunak had parachuted into what should have been safe seats lost out – neither No.10 deputy chief of staff Will Tanner nor former George Osborne aide Rupert Harrison won.

Shortly before 7am, the question “were you up for Truss?” entered the political lexicon, as former prime minister Liz Truss lost the seat she had previously held with a majority of more than 26,000. Evidently as shocked as the rest of us, Truss walked off the stage at her count without a word.

Across the country, Tories saw majorities of 20,000 or more fall. The reality of large-scale defeat and the work of rebuilding will feel even more real after a few days than it does this morning. This was a disaster.

Labour’s evening, meanwhile, was not without some black spots – Starmer’s ousted predecessor as leader, Jeremy Corbyn, comfortably won Islington North. Independents unseated three other Labour MPs, including frontbencher and reliable media performer Jonathan Ashworth. 

Wes Streeting – who will almost certainly be health secretary by the end of the day – only held on to his seat by 500 votes. Shadow culture secretary Thangam Debonnaire was roundly defeated in Bristol central by Green co-leader Carla Denyer. A split vote between deselected independent Faiza Shaheen and Labour allowed former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith to comfortably hold his seat.

That doesn’t, though, change any of the fundamentals: Labour has gone from a landslide defeat in 2019 to an even more convincing landslide victory in 2024. His opponents (especially those on the left) will doubtless mention Labour’s low vote share as compared with 2017, but the reality of a government with a large majority makes such quibbles easy to ignore.

Reform has had some successes, but not nearly so much as the exit poll first suggested: the party has won four seats and come third in total votes, albeit around two million votes behind the Conservatives. It can look forward to around £1 million a year in public funding for its activities in opposition (known as “short money”) but it hasn’t broken through quite as much as it hoped.

The Liberal Democrats have had an unequivocally brilliant night, on course to increase their seats from barely around a dozen to more than 60, while the SNP has had a calamitous evening that defies spin – a result of 15 seats was seen as a worst-case scenario before yesterday, and they are set to win fewer than 10.

The result might not quite be in line with Labour’s wildest dreams, but in reality that is probably to the good: parliament should be able to function. More than a third of MPs in parliament will be in opposition parties (or independent groups). The Conservatives should have enough seats to staff up a frontbench and sit on committees – just. They don’t have the excuse of being too small to function.

Labour still has a triumphant result, but one that is tempered by reminders of its fragilities on all sides: it is vulnerable on Gaza, to threats from the left, to charges of incompetence, to a resurgent right.

Since the 1st century BC, the tale of Roman triumphs – glorious parades held for victorious generals – has been repeated: behind the honoured general would walk a man, holding his laurel crown while whispering in his ear: “remember you are mortal”.

Starmer has triumph enough, he will become prime minister today with a commanding majority. But walking behind him, he has not just one man but many: a hundred or more Conservatives, 60 Liberal Democrats, and a cohort of others, including his immediate predecessor as leader.

Starmer will be reminded he is just a man, and that is good for him and for us all.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.