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Labour didn't do as well in last week's general election as they seem to think

A detailed look at the general election results shows they weren't quite as bad for Theresa May or as good for Jeremy Corbyn as some people think

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told his MPs this week: “We are now a government in waiting”.

Speaking to the Parliamentary Labour Party in a House of Commons committee room on Tuesday night, he said: “This was a remarkable result achieved because we stayed united and worked as a team, and I have no doubt together we can win the next general election, whenever that may be.”

Many Labour supporters appear to be equally delighted with the result of last week’s general election .

But Labour didn’t do as well as they think.

Was the election a disaster for the Conservatives?

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead in the morning that general election votes are counted

The Conservatives lost 13 seats, taking them down from 330 to 317.

And it meant they no longer had a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

So it was a terrible result for them. And given that many people expected Theresa May to increase her majority significantly, it’s reasonable to call it a disaster.

But the Tories aren’t finished.

Theresa May’s party won 42.4% of the vote in the June 8 general election.

That’s significantly higher than the 36.9% David Cameron won in 2015, when he gained a majority in what was seen as an historic success for the Tories.

It’s a higher share of the vote than Tony Blair’s Labour Party received in the 2001 general election, in a landslide victory, and higher than Labour received in their victory in 2005.

Theresa May also got a higher share of the vote than former Conservative leader John Major received in 1992, an election the Tories won, or than Margaret Thatcher received in her 1987 election win.

You have to go back to 1983 to find a general election in which Conservatives got a higher share of the vote. If you measure it that way, Mrs May is the most successful Conservative leader for 34 years.

Of course, this is the wrong way to measure success. What counts in the British political system is how many seats you win, and the Tory seat numbers went down.

Mrs May failed. It’s just not as bad as it might appear.

Didn’t the Tories get a massive boost from the collapse of the smaller parties?

Victoria Jones/PA Wire Former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron talks with activists at the Rose and Grants cafe in Glasgow on the General Election campaign trail.
Former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron talks with activists at the Rose and Grants cafe in Glasgow on the General Election campaign trail.

Some people might argue that the Conservative vote share is up because smaller parties, such as the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, did badly in this election.

The first answer to that is, so what? Every party, in every election, is affected by the performance of their rivals.

But there are two further points.

First, the only general election in which UKIP received a significant share of the vote is the last one, in 2015.

That’s the anomaly. As far as UKIP is concerned, the results of last week’s election just means things are back to normal.

It’s true that the Lib Dem share of the vote last week was relatively low, at 7.4%. That’s in line with 2015, when the Lib Dems gained 7.9% of the vote, but it's still a bad result for them (before 2015, the last time the Lib Dems or their predecessors fell below 15 per cent of the vote was 1979).


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However, when the Lib Dems do well, it’s usually seen as a problem for Labour rather than the Tories. Historically, a strong Liberal Democrat vote, or before that a strong vote for the Liberal/SDP Alliance, was regarded as a split on the left and something that should actually help the Conservatives.

The Lib Dem decision to join a Conservative-led Coalition from 2010 to 2015 may have tarnished their left-wing credentials,

But that Coalition is also the reason their vote fell so sharply, suggesting much of their support did indeed come from the left. There’s no reason why a fall in the Lib Dem vote should help Theresa May.

Wasn’t this a triumph for Jeremy Corbyn?

Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Labour Headquarters on June 9, the day after the general election

If the measure of success is proving many Labour MPs and journalists wrong then it was a huge triumph.

If the aim of the Labour Party is to change the country by winning an election - allowing it, for example, to abolish the bedroom tax or give nurses a pay rise - then no.

Labour’s share of the vote was high, at 40.0%. And just as the Conservative vote of 42.2% shows the Tories “aren’t finished” and the result “wasn’t as bad as it might appear”, as noted above, so it would be wrong to claim that the Labour party is finished, if anyone was saying that.

But against a terrible Conservative campaign, Labour not only came second in share of the vote but won just 262 seats, nowhere close to a majority.

One might argue that Labour deserves to be judged not on the final result, but on how much progress it made compared to the last election.

Labour gained 30 seats.

When Michael Howard was leader of the Conservative Party in the 2005 general election, an election the Conservatives clearly lost, the Tories gained 33 seats.

Mr Howard then resigned to let a new leader take over.

Parties do make comebacks in British politics. It’s not that unusual. It’s how governments change.

In 2010, for example, when Labour lost power and the Tories gained power as leaders of a Coalition government, it was because the Conservatives came back from behind and gained 97 seats.

And in 1997, when Conservatives lost power and Labour gained it, Labour gained 145 seats.

Gaining 30 seats under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in last week’s election is not the same as getting close to winning. It’s more than enough to prove his critics wrong, but the question is how much that really matters in the long run. You still have a Tory government.

So you’re saying this was a triumph for Theresa May?

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead on the morning the general election votes are counted.

No, it was a disaster for Theresa May, and pretty good for Jeremy Corbyn.

It just wasn’t half as bad for her, or as good for him, as some people seem to believe.

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