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  • Jamie Mutch

Behind the Landslide: The campaign which delivered Starmer to Downing Street

By Jamie Mutch

Labour has been returned to government in a historic win with an astonishing 172-seat majority in parliament. 

The party's victory had been long anticipated, with Labour leading in the polls since December 2021 and holding a near-record 20-point lead come polling day. Yet, Labour was still tasked with reversing one of its worst defeats and overturning a massive Tory majority. It would take something truly unparalleled to deliver Sir Keir Starmer to Downing Street. 

It was up to campaign chiefs – Morgan McSweeny and Pat McFadden – to seize the opportunity. Behind Labour’s victory lay a disciplined, data-driven, and ruthless campaign, winning votes where they needed them and sparing them where they did not.

The seeds of Labour’s winning campaign were sown at the local elections in May. Labour was able to prove that its operation was capable of delivering across the country, with the party winning all but one of 11 mayoral elections and increasing its number of councillors to over double the Conservative’s. Most impressive was the discipline and professionalism demonstrated by a Labour HQ capable of seeing the wood for the trees. In an early glimpse of what was to come during the general election, campaigners were transferred from London to the West Midlands in a last-minute effort to help secure a narrow victory against the Conservative's Andy Street when the result in the capital was all but certain. 

When Rishi Sunak announced a surprise election on that wet Wednesday afternoon, Labour was ready to spring into action. Starmer’s response was immediate and his message of change – brandished across the front of his lectern – couldn’t have been clearer. That’s not to say the campaign was without fault in the early stages. A row with veteran MP Dianne Abbott over her Labour candidacy was an unwelcome distraction and remained glued to the front pages for several days. A lacklustre performance from Starmer at the ITV debate allowed Sunak to deliver line after line accusing Labour of planning £2,000 tax rises. But although the ship had taken on water the wind was still firmly behind its sails.

Over the course of the campaign, gaff after gaff left Sunak’s Conservatives in a worse and worse position. It became clear Tory strategy was focussed on damage limitation, with Sunak increasing his visits to safe Conservative seats with majorities up to and beyond 30%, whilst Stamer spent 82% of his time in seats held by over parties.

It was in those seats, some of which Labour had never won before, where the party’s ground campaign was ready to deliver the final blow. Members across the country were readily deployed in their constituencies to deliver leaflets and knock doors – supporting candidates who joined them on the doorstep, delivering a personal touch to voters. The contrast between Labour candidates and their Conservative counterparts, some of whom were left to campaign on their own, couldn’t have been starker.

Meanwhile, appearances by Labour spokespeople were carefully choreographed and placed to match the priority of campaigns being fought in individual constituencies. In the battleground seat of Kettering, where Labour was attempting to overturn a Conservative majority of 16,765, visits by Rachel Reaves, Angela Rayner, David Lammy, and Sir Keir Starmer were used to bolster both the local and national campaign simultaneously.

Come polling day, in a display of the ruthlessness of Labour's operation, MPs and candidates in non-battleground seats were instructed to campaign elsewhere whilst members found they were unable to use Labour's doorstep campaign app in constituencies Labour HQ was confident they could already win.

"Behind Labour’s victory lay a disciplined, data-driven, and ruthless campaign, winning votes where they needed them and sparing them where they did not."

This strategy cut across thin margins. Winning seats such as Kettering came at the cost of losing in places like Bristol Central, the seat of then Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire. Wes Streeting, the now Health Secretary, came just over 500 votes shy of losing his seat in Ilford North after a strong challenge from an independent candidate. On a national level, Labour’s share of the vote, at 34%, saw them fall short of the number of ballots they received under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. 

The reality is that Labour played our electoral system to perfection. The party took some seats for granted in the pursuit of a majority that could only be achieved by convincing non-Labour voters to vote for them – a gamble which evidently paid off.

Labour's strategy has produced a majority that is wide but shallow. Many results were far too close for comfort. Unlike landslides of old, Starmer’s victory could be wiped away as quickly as it was built. Over the next five years, Labour will have to prove to the electorate that entrusting them with the keys to Downing Street was a worthwhile endeavour.

Image: Flickr



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