Despite coming first in both the popular vote and seats won, many commentators – and indeed many Conservative candidates – have described the 2017 UK general election as a defeat for the Conservative party, and especially for it’s leader Theresa May. By comparison, Labour’s second place finish has been hailed as a triumph for the party’s Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who going into the election had been described as “unelectable.”
The reality, however, is that both May and Corbyn deserve credit, with each improving their party’s vote share from the 2015 election: while Labour had the biggest gain from 30% to 40%, the Conservatives still rose from 37% to 42%.
That both major parties could improve their vote share by a combined 15 points speaks to a broader trend from the 2017 election – the collapse of support for the smaller parties to the lowest level in more than 40 years. This decline was most notable for UK Independence Party, whose share of the vote fell from 13% in 2015 to just 2%, but could also be seen for the Greens, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cyrmu as well. Only in Northern Ireland, where the major parties do not compete, did the vote share for the small parties hold by default.