Keir Starmer
© Justin Tallis/AFPKeir Starmer delivers a speech during a victory rally early on July 5, 2024.
Something pretty big is missing from Labour's historic landslide: voters. Keir Starmer is set to win 64 per cent of the seats but on only 33.8 per cent of the votes, the smallest vote share of any modern PM. Lower than the any of the (many) pollsters predicted. So Labour in 2024 has achieved just 1.6 percentage points higher than the Jeremy Corbyn calamity in 2019 - and less than Corbyn managed in 2017. 'But for the rise of the Labour party in Scotland,' says professor John Curtice, 'we would be reporting that basically Labour's vote has not changed from what it was in 2019.' And that's on the second-lowest turnout in democratic history. So where, then, is the supposed Starmer tsunami?

There certainly has been a Tory meltdown. Its vote share dropped from 44 to 24 per cent - by far the lowest in the party's history. But remarkably, almost none of this seems to have gone to Labour. It went to parties that had no chance of winning seats outright (mainly Reform) but this means that Labour has been the main beneficiary. Let's look at the share of the vote by election-winning parties.

party share votes britain elections 2024
© HoC Library/Spectator
You can take this chart back to 1832 and see that Starmer has a lower vote share than any UK prime minister in the democratic era. He has won a landslide majority with a significantly smaller vote share than that with which Theresa May lost her majority in 2017.

Where Starmer has done well is the translation of votes to seats - thanks, in part, to Nigel Farage - so well that he has a greater share of the seats, 65 per cent of the Commons, than any postwar prime minister. Seldom has the first-past-the-post system been kinder to any party - and never has a modern governing party won so many seats with so few votes. Starmer occupies both extremes.
seat share britain elections 2024
© HoC Library/Spectator
Let's look only at Labour vote shares: Starmer's result is middle of the road. He has cleaned up Labour, to be sure, but he has emphatically not widened its appeal in the way that Tony Blair did in 1997. The change in England only is even smaller (0.6 points) because the bulk of the increase in Labour votes was due to the SNP collapse in Scotland.
labour vote share britain elections
© HoC Library/Spectator
So yes, Starmer has won, but there has been no sea change. No meteor. There's just Farage - who enters parliament with just three other MPs. Reform UK's main effect in this election has been to split the conservative vote and, in so doing, open up more constituencies to the Labour and LibDems. Jacob Rees-Mogg was the highest profile of at least 145 Tories who would have won had Reform voters gone to the Conservatives. To most Farage voters, of course, more Lib Dem MPs is a price worth paying to give the Tories a kicking - and that mission has most certainly been accomplished. But all told, this looks far more an election that the Tories have lost than it does an election that Labour has won.

Of course, this is part of the system. The Tories won more votes than Labour in England in 2015 and never made the point. The vote share will not be part of the conversation. But it does matter as it shows how illusory this majority is: a Potemkin landslide which, upon inspection, does not have very much behind it. And this has implications. It is often said that Britain is an anomaly, parliament swinging to the left when Europe moves to the right. But have the British voters, really, moved left? The LibDems have more seats (71) than Reform (4) but Ed Davey's men won fewer votes (3.5 million) that those of Nigel Farage (4.1 million). So it would be misleading to take this parliament as a proxy for public opinion.

I expected Starmer to win a big majority, but neither I nor anyone else expected how low the Labour support would be. This time yesterday, I thought the Labour would be in for ten years. Today, seeing the shallowness of Starmer's support, I think there is all to play for next time around. The voters have turned away from the Tories but did not turn towards Labour. Never has a postwar prime minister had less popular support. Never in a century of elections have the two main parties had a lower combined vote share. All told, the next five years in British politics will be thrillingly unpredictable.