A stroll in Stoke Central
“There’s a by-election coming up next week, did you know?”
“No, I didn’t”
“Are you going to vote?”
“Nah, cant see the point”
Voice away from camera shouts: “Labour sucks!”
Interviewer: “Why do you say that?”
Voice from window shouts down: “ ‘cause they’re shit! they don’t do anything for anyone do they? Look how much time they’ve had here[Stoke Central]? What 60, 70 friggin’ years of controlling this area – what have they done for anyone? They don’t give a shit about us!”
“If you’re not going to vote Labour who are you voting for?”
“I’m not going to vote for anyone”
“have you ever voted before?”
“Have I f**k! No!”
While it warms the cockles of my heart to know that Labour kept Stoke Central from UKIP’s grasp, everything else about Thursday’s election results sent a chill down my spine. And no, it was not because Labour lost Copeland to Conservatives, but the far bigger loss of an absent voting public – and what that means for democracy. That, and the unwillingness of Labour to work with other centre left parties.
But first the results:I have done these as pie charts that give the percentage proportion of votes going to each of the parties:
For Stoke Central
Labour took 37% of the vote – which means 63% of the public did not vote for them.
Then if we take into account the total electorate we get this:
So Labour won on only 14% of the electorate! 62% or six out of ten people did not bother voting at all
And now Copeland
Once more our broken First-Past-The-Post system ensured that the winning party – the Conservatives – took the seat on 44% of the vote, meaning that a majority of voters did not vote for them.
And if we include the total electorate it looks like this:
Meaning only one in four Copeland voters voted Conservative (roughly the same proportion who voted conservative nationally at the General Election in 2015)
Now you can argue the point that had more people come out to vote, the proportion of Conservative vote would have risen accordingly but research suggests that non voters tend to be the young and the poor – hardly natural Conservative voters.
Copeland could have been another opportunity for centre-left parties to work together but as a comment piece on the Compass website says “Many in Labour, it would seem, would rather lose to the Tories, than work with people they largely agree with in other parties. Anger at the Liberal Democrats for their role in the Coalition is understandable at one level but gets us nowhere. They did bad things and good things – just as Labour did when it was in office. What matters is what happens next.”
Galling as that may be, it is John Harris’s observation with regard to Stoke that is more like a punch in the stomach:
“There is a big cliché hanging over this by-election which I suppose is about shouty angry former Labour voters who might switch to UKIP but there is maybe something bigger going on here about people completely disconnected from politics and who don’t vote at all. At the last election the 20 seats with the lowest turnout were all held by the Labour party and the constituency with the lowest turnour was this one, Stoke-on-Trent Central which had the dubious distinction of being the one seat in the UK where a majority of people didn’t vote. Whichever way you look at it, politics here isn’t working”
And don’t think that Cornwall is somehow different. Similar sentiments of anger and disaffection were left in a comment here this morning. As John Harris says, politics is not working for ordinary people and with local elections coming up in Cornwall, we all of us need to ask the question ‘why?’. Winning votes means nothing when the greater part of our electorate couldn’t give a damn.