General Election 2019: a commentary

The Conservative party won an historic election victory last night, winning a majority at  the expense of Labour. But what does this election result mean? Some of the University of Bristol’s politics scholars comment below.

Professor Mark Wickham-Jones
Professor of Political Science

“More than anything else, this election is a decisive refutation of the Labour Party. In 2015 it lost its base in Scotland; in 2019 voters across its traditional heartlands in England rejected the party resulting a catastrophic loss of seats. How will the party’s left-wing membership react to such a reversal?

“It is hard to see how Labour can rebuild a winning coalition amongst the electorate in the short term. The outcome gives Boris Johnson’s Conservatives the opportunity to forge a decisive base amongst voters. The task for Labour over the next decade, not just the next general election, is Herculean.”

Paula Surridge
Political Sociologist

“Parts of Labour’s heartlands had been threatening to turn blue for some time, last night the threat became a reality as seat after seat that Labour had held throughout the post-war period fell to the Conservatives. At the start of the campaign ‘Workington man’ seemed like a media creation with little chance that the seat would fall, in the end the Conservatives won it comfortably. There is no doubt that this was a terrible night for Labour and that in some measure this reflected the Brexit vote in these areas.

“But it is also clear this was not a wholesale realignment of politics around only the ‘leave-remain’ axis, if it were the Liberal Democrats ought to have won Cheltenham and possibly Guildford. That the prospect of  Corbyn-led Labour government terrified some remain-leaning Conservatives, demonstrates the continued importance of the traditional economic divides in constraining the choices of some voters. It might be more accurate to call this the (not just) Brexit election.”

Dr Nieves Perez-Solorzano Borragan
Senior Lecturer in European Politics

“The UK will leave the EU at the end of January, which will be positively received by the EU and by the markets because it ensures the certainty that has been so elusive during the Brexit negotiation process.

“But Brexit is not done. Uncertainty will resurface because Boris Johnson has not outlined his preferences yet so it is unlikely a fully-fledged agreement will be completed by the end of December 2020. At best, a very basic free trade agreement may be put in place.  July 2020 is the deadline to request an extension to the transition period. Emboldened by his parliamentary majority, Johnson may be open to requesting an extension.

“The result in Scotland brings the Scottish question to the fore as the SNP has a pro-independence and anti-Brexit mandate. The European Union will need to consider whether and how an independent Scotland might be able to join the EU after Brexit.”

Dr Siobhan McAndrew
Political Sociologist

“While the result was hard to call beforehand, in retrospect it should not be such a surprise. The size of the Conservative Party majority reflects the clarity of their campaign, one disruptive of existing norms.

“The surprise result was arguably the 2017 election when many Labour-watchers expected a significant Conservative majority and the party exceeded expectations. This time, the manifesto was less credible, and ambiguity over Brexit damaged chances. Party members found the Brexit offer difficult to sell on the doorstep, while the antisemitism crisis damaged moral authority.

“Although the result looks decisive, it raises questions regarding democratic functioning and civic health in Britain. The concerns of Generation Rent and older generations perceiving status loss have combined to fuel politics of discontent. The scale of distrust perceptible during the campaign has been alarming. There is clear need for long-term projects to rebuild civic culture, to reconnect disparate communities, and address political anger.”


Professor Simon Tormey
Professor of Politics and Dean of Social Sciences and Law

“It’s clear that many voters didn’t trust Jeremy Corbyn. They saw him as too beholden to sectional interests, too evasive, too metropolitan and too left wing. Boris Johnson by contrast came across as a capable if lovably bumbling figure who was I able to articulate not only a clear line on Brexit but also to distance itself from the legacy of destructive Tory policies. In the end it was Corbyn not Johnson who proved to be political marmite.

“The right does not have a monopoly on effective communicators and charismatic leaders.  But what it does have is a keener appreciation of the dynamics of the moment: that policies do not sell themselves; they have to be sold by someone who has an ability to connect, to articulate a position that voters feel comfortable with, and which chimes with their own experience, values, hopes and fears.  Some call this populism. But the reality is simpler: this is – and always has been – the formula for how you win elections. It’s a formula the left would do well to memorise.”