On 12th December 2019, the United Kingdom returned to the polls. Hailed as one of the most important General Elections in living memory, it would decide the future of the country, and the fate of Brexit.
Boris Johnson and the Conservatives were ultimately victorious, winning an 80 seat majority, and a renewed mandate to remove the UK from the EU. However looking at the election more closely, especially at some of the seats that switched hands, shows just how momentous Boris’ victory was, and how poorly Corbyn’s Labour performed.
It is true that the Conservatives only managed a small 1.3% increase in their vote share compared to the 2017 General Election. However, it must be remembered that the 2017 result represented a high voter base. Overall, just over 13.96 million people voted for the Conservatives under Boris, the highest number of voters any political campaign has managed to poll since John Major in 1992, and the 2nd highest number of voters polled in history.
Highest number of votes won by political parties:
- John Major (1992) – 14.09 million
- Boris Johnson (2019) – 13.96 million
- Clement Attlee (1951) – 13.94 million
- Margaret Thatcher (1987) – 13.76 million
- Harold Macmillan (1959) – 13.75 million
- Winston Churchill (1951) – 13.71 million
- Margaret Thatcher (1979) – 13.69 million
- Theresa May (2017) – 13.63 million
- Tony Blair (1997) – 13.51 million
- Anthony Eden (1955) – 13.31 million
Whilst the number of votes Boris managed to poll is remarkable, it is known that the main measure of a party’s success is the number of seats it can win, with which it can form a majority.
On this metric, Boris performed exceptionally as well, getting a healthy majority of 80 seats, the 8th largest majority since the Second World War.
Largest majorities since 1945 (seats):
- Tony Blair (1997) – 179
- Tony Blair (2001) – 167
- Clement Attlee (1945) – 145
- Margaret Thatcher (1983) – 144
- Margaret Thatcher (1987) – 102
- Harold Macmillan (1959) – 100
- Harold Wilson (1966) – 98
- Boris Johnson (2019) – 80
- Tony Blair (2005) – 66
- Anthony Eden (1955) – 60
What makes Boris’ victory even more remarkable is that it followed a decade of Conservative government, either alone or in coalition. The Tories’ presence in government, presiding over what was referred to as “constitutional crisis” did not seem to hurt them at the ballot box.
Neither was the Conservatives’ success confined to England. In Wales, traditionally a heartland of the Labour party, the Conservatives pulled off a record setting result, polling over 35% of the vote for the first time in modern history, although still remaining as the second largest party.
Best Performances by the Welsh Conservatives:
Leader Vote share No. of seats won
- Boris Johnson (2019) 36.1% 14
- Margaret Thatcher (1983) 31% 14
- Margaret Thatcher (1979) 32.2% 11
- David Cameron (2015) 27.2% 11
- Stanley Baldwin (1924) 28.3% 9
- Theresa May (2017) 33.6% 8
- Margaret Thatcher (1987) 29.5% 8
- David Cameron (2010) 26.1% 8
- Edward Heath (1974, Feb) 25.9% 8
- Edward Heath (1974, Oct) 23.9% 8
To pull off such a resounding overall victory, Boris had to attract blue collar, working class voters in Labour heartland seats, using Brexit as a tool to try and shift decades-old loyalties.
And that’s exactly what he did, on an unprecedented scale. Swathes of seats previously considered as “safe” for Labour saw huge, dramatic swings towards the Conservatives.
Seats which had been safe Labour seats for decades were won by the Conservatives in 2019.
In this historic General Election, Boris was able to do what Thatcher, Major, Cameron and May before him were not – to pierce through Labour’s “red wall” of heartland seats in the North of England and north Wales.
The progress made was stunning. Rother Valley, held by Labour since 1918, is now represented by a Conservative MP, as are Don Valley and Leigh, which before the election had voted Labour continuously since 1922. The Conservatives were particularly potent in the North East of England, taking Bishop Auckland, Darlington, North West Durham and Redcar, former mining constituencies which hadn’t elected a Tory MP in decades, if ever before.
Former seats of well-known Labour names such as Andy Burnham, Mo Mowlam, Dennis Skinner, Tristram Hunt, Caroline Flint, Tom Watson, Betty Boothroyd and Geoff Hoon fell one by one to relatively unknown Conservative candidates. Looking at the vote share, it became apparent that the unpopularity of Corbyn’s Labour was to blame as much as anything else.
A selection of seats which the Conservatives managed to win from Labour for the first time in decades.
Whilst the Conservatives were only able to marginally increase what was already a high level of support in 2017, polling showed Corbyn’s support falling off a cliff, enough to ensure that the “red wall” crumbled. Boris tried to re-invent the Conservatives in order to appeal more to Brexit voters in the North and Midlands, which Labour have taken for granted for so long, and to an extent it worked.
Survey polling conducted by Yougov after the election suggested that the Conservatives are now the party of the poorer working class, with those earning under £40k more likely to vote for the Conservatives than those on £40-70k and £70k+. More people voted for the Conservatives than for Labour in every single wealth tier, even amongst the working classes. In addition to this, pollster IPSOS Mori found that Boris managed to largely unite the Leave vote (undoubtedly helped by Farage standing down all his Brexit Party candidates in Tory held seats). One constant from previous elections persisted however – the age divide. The young still overwhelmingly supported Labour, whilst the older generations largely voted Conservative.
What the Conservatives achieved in the 2019 General Election truly cannot be overstated – a decisive victory bordering on a landslide. Boris Johnson now has a renewed mandate to take Britain out of the EU, and carries on his shoulders the hopes of constituencies and voters who have put their faith in the Tories for the first time.
Now begins the momentous task ahead, to fulfil and repay this trust, and in doing so, banish Labour to opposition for another decade.
This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog: https://joelrwrites.wordpress.com/2019/12/31/the-scale-of-boris-victory-cannot-be-overstated/