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Starmer’s ‘Supermajority’: A Product of Conservative Propaganda and Client Journalism

How a Conservative campaign line became the weaponised mantra of the Daily Mail – and infected the entire general election campaign

The Daily Mail Front Page on 29 June 2024. Photo: UrbanImages/Alamy

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What is a ‘supermajority’?

It is often held to refer to a significant majority; perhaps two-thirds. To win a majority this big, would clearly be a remarkable result for the Labour Party in this General Election.

But, in the UK’s House of Commons, such a majority has no value in and of itself. 

Governments require only a simple majority to pass legislation. A small working majority makes life difficult for them, as MPs in the governing party who don’t vote their way can cause delays, or even prevent a government’s legislative agenda from progressing. But big rebellions are relatively rare, so there is not much advantage in securing a majority of more than, say, 30 to 40 seats.

So why is it, then, that this election campaign has been dominated by talk of Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s potential ‘super-majority’?

All of the major newspapers have adopted this phrase, and now, so too have current affairs magazines and broadcasters, including the BBC. Given its lack of relevance in our system of democracy, is it worth asking: what explains the media’s obsession with it?

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It is easy to forget that the phrase ‘supermajority’, in the context of this election, was not introduced by a neutral commentator, reporter, or member of the public. It is a phrase which was first deployed in the campaign by Conservative minister Grant Shapps, intended to damage the Labour vote by warning voters over the (unspecified) risks of Labour winning by a large margin.

It is, in other words, Conservative Party HQ propaganda. It is 2024’s ‘demon eyes’: frightening, partisan, and essentially, ungrounded in reality.

So how did it become one of the major themes of this General Election campaign?

Hacked Off, which campaigns for a free and accountable press, has followed the first time Shapps used the phrase, and tracked its evolution.

It started on 12 June, when Shapps first coined the phrase. Rapidly, it was published in most national newspapers as a news article, which was perhaps fair enough as it implied a significant admission from the Conservative Party, that its strategy was about avoiding a large defeat rather than outright victory. Nevertheless, there was limited scrutiny of what it really meant.

By the next day, the phrase was being used in the broader context of the campaign, with The Sun referring to it in a report about the rise in support for Nigel Farage’s Reform.

Also on 13 June, The Times, the Telegraph, and Express carried opinion pieces using the phrase.  On 14 June, the phrase was used in a piece on Boris Johnson in the Telegraph.  Similar articles were published over the following week.

On 20 June, the narrative took a turn, as the Daily Mail warned that a “Labour supermajority would allow party to ‘rig’ future elections”, citing the Conservative Party’s Deputy Prime Minister. A flurry of pieces in several other publications followed.


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A few days later, and the Mail’s coverage became (even) more fevered. On 23 June, it published a voting guide, stating: “Seat by seat, how you can help stop a Starmer supermajority.”

The Mail and The Sun then published the Prime Minister’s warning that there were “10 days to save UK from disastrous Labour supermajority”; The Sun urges voters to “act now”.  The Mail’s piece on the topic was splashed across its front page.

On 25 June, the Express warned that “the Keir Starmer supermajority problem” was about to “hit Britain”.

A string of articles, in the Mail and elsewhere, then carried militarised warnings about Starmer’s “unchecked” power under a “supermajority”.

On 29 June, the Mail published an eight-page guide to “avoid a Starmer supermajority” – again, on its front page. Boris Johnson also spoke out, and his comments about the risk of a “supermajority” appeared in several newspapers, including the Telegraph.

The Times had reported with some scepticism on the “supermajority” phrase throughout June, but by the start of July it had joined in – with an article on 3 July, the eve of the General Election, reporting on “how 100 marginal seats could dash Labour’s hopes of a supermajority”.

On the same day, the Telegraph announced: “Labour ‘will launch £15bn tax raid’ if it wins super-majority” on the back of comments by a financial analyst which, at least as quoted in the article, made no reference to a ‘supermajority’ whatsoever.

The Sun’s talk of a ‘supermajority’ has also become more intense, with an interactive map to guide voters on how they can avoid such an outcome: “Interactive map shows how Labour supermajority can be STOPPED with just 130k votes & key seats which could swing result.”


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Altogether, Hacked Off found a total of 34 references to a ‘supermajority’ across just five national newspapers: The Sun, The Times, the Telegraph, the Express, and the Mail – a concept which barely exists in British parliamentary democracy, let alone has any real-world implications.

It is a Conservative Party campaign line – one which its friends in the media have pummelled into the national discourse, through story after story and front page after front page.

It is a classic example of client journalism: newspapers which fail to scrutinise or report upon political slogans appropriately, but instead trumpet them and act as politicians’ mouthpieces.

Anything other than a Conservative victory in this election will be a humiliation for these newspapers; evidence that the low levels of trust in the press, which they have exacerbated by their low-standards approach to journalism in recent years, has finally come back to expose them.

Jimena Loza-Naveja is a policy intern at Hacked Off, the campaign group for a free and accountable press. Nathan J Sparkes is the CEO of Hacked Off

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