Watching the 2017 general election results and the way the media and the bulk of the Labour party reacted to the results and to Corbyn was interesting yet somehow unsurprising.
After a brief moment of surprise and elation when people generally spoke with honesty, the naysayers and that beacon of partiality the BBC were back to their usual “ah but he didn’t win”, “he didn’t do so well really now did he…”
The implication being that he did good “for a leftie” or in spite of himself, but seriously now, not nearly so good as a serious politician would’ve done in the same scenario.
Well, is there any truth to this? Can we take a look beyond the stats the media are choosing to share and see just how good this result really was?
Seats vs. vote share
The first thing everyone does know and discuss is the difference between the share of seats (Labour won roughly 40% of each, but our archaic system gives the Tories 49% of the seats for just 42% of the vote). This isn’t news, its unfortunate but it is what is is…
Vote share vs. vote mobilisation
More interesting is to look at the results against a different backdrop – not as a percentage of those who voted, but as a percentage of those who were eligible to vote. This figure takes more account of the mobilisation of previously uninterested voters and the impact of the Labour campaign on turnout overall.
By this measure, Labour won 27% of the popular vote against 29% for the conservatives. Pretty close but, so far, not to different from the traditional measures.
If we look at this historically though, it shows just how impressive Corbyn’s results are. Not just as a bounce-back from a historically low base, but compared to the Labour party history.
Looking at the chart below comparing the results since 1970, we can see that the 2010 and 2015 results were historic lows – 19% and 20% were the worst performance for Labour since at least 1970 (perhaps ever) as a result of the total electorate – i.e. of all those who could’ve voted – a more meaningful figure in many ways than a percentage of those who DID vote, as it includes reflections of voter apathy vs. commitment and mobilisation.
So Corbyn as bounced back from the worst performance of the Labour party in over 30 years, to 27%. Follow the dotted-line back and see when the last time any Labour leader did so well was. Blair in his landslide of 1997 did better (on 31%) but interestingly not in his other wins. And we have to go back to 1979 for any other comparable results.
There are some interesting questions to ask about why Labour are still, consistently under-performing compared to their 1970s results (which let’s be honest were hardly monumental anyway!), but Corbyn is the first leader since 1997 who has shown any hint of being able to change this, can we please stop playing down the scale of this achievement and think about how much better it might’ve been if Labour MPs, non-Momentum Labour activists and the so-called progressive press had been behind him for the last few years instead of taking every opportunity to talk him down.
That’s a lesson we can learn!
Any Corbynista’s looking for some even better (if perhaps statistically slightly dubious given a rising population) figures – here’s how he did if you just look at the absolute numbers of people who voted Labour – an interesting representation of his ability to mobilise people.
|Labour % of voting-age pop||25%||18%||17%||20%||23%||30%||26%||23%||20%||28%||28%||29%||30%|
|Tory % of voting-age pop||26%||22%||22%||19%||18%||21%||32%||32%||31%||33%||26%||29%||32%|
|Labour % of electorate||27%||20%||19%||22%||24%||31%||27%||23%||20%||28%||29%||29%||31%|
|Tory % of electorate||29%||24%||23%||20%||19%||22%||33%||32%||31%||33%||26%||30%||32%|
 I originally did this using the voting-age population – perhaps a better indicator as it would give a clearer picture of the people who had previously not even registered to vote, but the results are not that different and the population figures are problematic for a variety of reasons…
 Estimate based on linear extrapolation from 2015