The Last Laugh: Might Corbyn outpoll Starmer?

The Last Laugh: Might Corbyn outpoll Starmer?

Labour activists may never stop arguing about 2017. Was it an almost-victory prevented only by centrist sabotage or a dead cat bounce which proved Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t even beat ‘The Maybot’ with several lucky breaks?

Whatever it was, it was the 5th most votes the Labour Party has ever won. Corbyn won more votes than Clement Attlee in 1945 or Tony Blair in 2001. Could he win more than Starmer in 2024/25? Actually, he could.

Electoral Equations

Obviously Corbyn’s result in 2017 was not more impressive than Attlee’s in 1945 nor Blair’s in 2001. Various factors make such comparisons far from fair. It’s not hard to win more votes than Attlee when the electoral roll is 50% longer.

Indeed, Corbyn benefited from an almost perfect storm.

Firstly, 2017 isn’t that long ago. Our population has grown over time* so the 46.8m registered voters Corbyn had to draw from was more than Blair or Attlee ever did. 2024 will no doubt have slightly more voters, though only a few years have passed.

Secondly, turnout was pretty high. It has dropped over time, particularly in the Blair years. But 2017 saw the highest turnout for 20 years. Perhaps Corbyn deserves some credit for this, motivating low turnout voters to cast a ballot. Whatever the reason, this turnout combined with population growth meant 2017 had more votes up for grabs than any election in history except 1992.

Finally, voters in 2017 bucked a long-running trend towards political fragmentation. Something about the post-Brexit dichotomy combined with an election where Brexit didn’t really feature led to almost half of non-Lab/Con voters switching back to the main two parties. Labour and the Tories captured more of the vote than any election since 1970.

All this resulted in Corbyn-led Labour receiving 12,877,918 votes, a tally Starmer may struggle to match. Turnout is expected to fall at the next election, as it often does when the result is not in doubt. William Hill has the over/under at 63.5%, compared to 2017’s 68.8%, while Betfair and Starsports have it at 64.5% but with punters backing the under quite heavily.

Target Acquired

Let’s imagine turnout does fall to 63.5%. Let’s also increase the registered voter count by 29,283 per month since the 2019 election, the same rate it grew from between the 2017/19 elections (though this was historically high, so we might be overestimating). That would give us an electorate of 49,325,598 in a December 2024 election, 31,321,755 actual voters and Starmer a target of 41.12% to match Corbyn’s 2017 total.

That’s…not such an easy task. Despite Starmer’s massive poll lead, Labour currently average 42%. Furthermore those polls are of Great Britain, since Northern Irish voters have such different choices on their ballots. Factoring that in puts Starmer only on par with Corbyn’s vote count, if our assumptions above are correct.

Of course, they might not be. Turnout might hold up, or Labour might outperform the polls for once. But the reverse is at least equally likely. Prof Sir John Curtice has repeatedly predicted a sizeable drop in turnout at the next election, and if it drops even more than the bookies expect Starmer would need to beat even current polling to keep up with Corbyn. Alternatively, a significant narrowing of the polls (or simply another anti-Labour polling error) could drop him well below the target.

Dec 2024 TurnoutLab Vote Share Target (UK-wide)


You may be wondering why I’m telling you this, but believe it or not you can bet on precisely this scenario. SkyBet have a general election special bet on Labour getting fewer votes next time than in 2017, and have priced it up at 8/1. I think this is a pretty great price and would take that bet all the way down to 2/1 or 3/1 at least.

You can also bet, at 50/1, that Labour fall short of Corbyn’s 2019 bar. While there might be a tad of value there to cover a big disappointment for Starmer, it is far less likely (at 63.5% turnout, for example, Starmer would only need 32.79% of the vote).

Corbyn claimed to have won the argument after resigning in 2019. Perhaps he’ll win another one next election.

Pip Moss

*(So far, have you seen global fertility rates these days?)

Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts and BlueSky at @Quincel.Bsky.Social

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