Voter apathy lost Labour Hartlepool, not Jeremy Corbyn

Hartlepool by election results and Jeremy Corbyn

The Tories won the Hartlepool by-election by a fairly large majority. The kickback within the Labour Party, along with possible analysis, has been swift. But the real story of the by-election was not that Labour lost because of Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy. It was that people in their thousands simply didn’t vote.

Not that this problem is anything new.

Hartlepool turned blue

The result on the Hartlepool by-election that was held on 6 May was as follows:

So, Labour lost the seat to the Tories. As The Canary reported, some people are blaming Corbyn; some are defending Starmer by implying he’s still clearing up the former leader’s mess. Others aren’t. ITV political editor Robert Peston even tweeted:

But he managed to miss the most crucial point to the Hartlepool story.

Bottomed-out turnout

Turnout was just 42.6%. That means 57.4% of the electorate didn’t vote.

So, the real majority went to the ‘Didn’t Vote’ party. The Canary wrote on Wednesday 5 May that voter apathy would be “the real threat” in the elections. As we reported in terms of Hartlepool it needs to be viewed:

versus a 67.3% turnout in the 2019 general election.. [but] the by-elections in 2018-19 tended to get lower turnouts than general elections – anything between 37-59%.

So, it seems that’s what happened. This is hardly a new problem. But it’s one that acutely affects the poorest people.

Measuring by social grade

Social grade is a standard measuring system which breaks people down into the following socioeconomic groups:

  • AB: “Higher & intermediate managerial, administrative, professional occupations”.
  • C1: “Supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative, professional occupations”.
  • C2: “Skilled manual occupations”.
  • DE: “Semi-skilled and unskilled manual occupation
Breaking it down by class

In the 2019 general election, around 68% of AB’s voted; higher than the overall result. But for the poorest people (DEs) only 53% voted. It was an almost identical story in 2017 (69% versus 53%). But this has not always been the case. The figures were historically as follows:

  • 2015: ABs – 75%; DEs – 57%.
  • 2010: ABs – 76%; DEs – 57%.

So, it seems after 2015 the issue of poor people not voting has become worse. In terms of numbers, in 2016 around 25% of the population were DE. Due to austerity this number may now be higher.

In March 2020, 47.6 million people were registered to vote. Applying 2016’s DE figures, and at best in the 2019 general election nearly 5.6 million DE didn’t vote.

This could crudely be applied to Hartlepool.

Poor people not voting en masse

First, the turnout was a 36.7% drop on 2019’s general election. In 2019, the number of people registered to vote in Hartlepool was just over 70,000. That would mean based on the national picture at least 17,500 of these were DEs. Moreover, if the 36.7% drop in turnout on 6 May (versus 2019’s general election) was transferred to the percentage of DEs, this would equate to only 33.6% of them voting.

So, in the by-election on 6 May, over 11,500 of the poorest people in Hartlepool probably didn’t vote. When looked at in those terms, that’s at least 11,500 poor voters Labour failed to convince. Based on recent data, most of these people would be living in poverty. But once more, this is not new.

Labour: losing the working class

As The Canary previously reported, low income people (C2s and DEs) have been abandoning Labour for decades. As we documented, based on Ipsos Mori data:

the moving away of the working classes from Labour began in the early 2000s under Blair. But post-2010 the problem became entrenched.

C2s and DEs continued to move away from Labour, and as The Canary wrote:

Fast-forward to 2019, and it was game over. The Tories won majorities in the C2s (47% to 32% Labour) and DEs (41% to 39%). This represented Labour’s worst ever Ipsos Mori result in DEs.

So, even under Corbyn, the poorest voters were turning away from Labour. Or they were not voting at all in higher numbers than previously.

A national-level problem – not a Hartlepool one

Hartlepool is a microcosm of a national problem. It’s not all Corbyn’s fault. It’s not all Starmer’s fault. Nor is it the people who didn’t vote’s fault. Voter apathy among poor people is a systemic problem. The establishment political parties have not done much to address this.

The Tory’s win, Labour’s loss, and the biggest majority going to the ‘Didn’t Vote’ party in Hartlepool is a pertinent example of this.

Featured image via This Morning – YouTube and Sky News – YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. But WHAT would voters be voting for Labour FOR? It has no principles, and no policies (except that its leader clearly hates Corbyn …. but not sufficiently to turn down a shadow ministers job in the shadow cabinet ……..).

      Starmer should go, and go now. If a large business, a hospital, a school, or any other organisation, it is ALWAYS the top bod who goes, not the teamaker, the caretaker, the office manager, the receptionist. And the Labour Party is no different. It is failing in every sense, but especially in its core business of attracting voters. He HAS to go.

    2. As the old anarchist adage has it: “Don’t vote, it only encourages them.” In Hartlepool, representative democracy has failed. People haven’t become more right-wing. They haven’t transmogrified into Tories. They have lost faith in the system which is supposed to ensure their wishes prevail. There has been arrogance, entitlement and corruption on the Hartlepool Council for decades. Power corrupts. Lord Acton was no anarchist but he was astute. Because Labour had a stranglehold in Hartlepool, its apparatchiks became greedy, lazy, self-serving. Blair/Brown brought some temporary relief for the town’s poor: child poverty fell by 13% during Blair’s time as PM. But it was Brown who pushed the policies which made that happen. Blair is part of the picture of failure. A very rich man thanks to being leader of Labour and PM. He runs off with the loot, and the people of Hartlepool get it in the neck. Then, to add insult to long-standing injury, Mike Hill is accused of sexual harassment by a London employee. Maybe’s he innocent, but the very fact that it might be true that a man elected to represent one of the most deprived areas of the country might have used his power to try to seduce an employee, hardly gives the folk of Hartlepool the sense they’re being looked after by Labour. Worse still, Labour selects a convinced remainer for a constituency where 70% voted leave. That is simply stupid. But Hartlepool is a special case. Look at Preston. All ten Labour seat retained. The majority of twelve retained (30/48). The council is led by a left-winger who, inspired by the Democracy Collaborative, has created the well-known Preston Model: anchor institutions to keep wealth in the area, co-operatives helped into life and a community bank in incubation. No corruption among the councillors and the people can see things being done for them. The folk of Preston are no different from the folk of Hartlepool. A Hartlepool Model could do the trick. But Hartlepool has been left behind. Preston has a university, County Hall, police headquarters. Hartlepool is a hollowed-out town. Why didn’t Blair do something about that? Simple. He believes in cities. His stated view was that the future belongs to cities where the fleet-footed, the shape-shifters, those able to change to rapidly altering circumstances would flourish. Those unable to keep up would be left behind. That was Blair’s doctrine and it came true in little towns and in particular in Hartlepool. Why didn’t Mandelson see this coming? Because he agreed with Tony. Those who can’t keep up get their legs cut off. That was New Labour’s vicious ideology. They poured money into the public sector on the understanding it would be run as a business but they had no belief in a transformed economy (of the kind the Preston Model aims for). They believed in capitalism. The money for the public sector was a sop and an electoral calculation, not an attempt to shift the economy to co-operation in addressing needs. Hartlepool is the chickens of Blairism coming home to roost. But the voters are on the verge of recognising something: they couldn’t make a worse job of running the town than the politicians. When representative democracy fails, it creates a vacuum. All kinds of things can rush in: racism, nationalism, parochialism, but also enlightenment. All those who refused to vote were expressing disdain for politicians. They despise them. In doing so, they are implicitly recognising their wisdom is superior to the politicians’ folly and that is the first step towards self-regulation. The new Tory MP does not have the confidence of the people of Hartlepool. She was chosen by just over half of c 38% of the electorate. If the Tories think that’s endorsement they’re in for a shock. Starmer was rejected because, as one voter said, he’s a “ghost”. Representative democracy works only if the representatives put the people first. They seldom do because power corrupts. The cure is to dissolve it. Don’t encourage them.

    3. Very well spoken Mr Manc!

      The sole problem with ‘not voting’ is that the PTB tend to see that as a victory and endorsement of them. While in the back of their minds they may be well aware that the voters aren’t voting because they loathe them, what they will spout out of the lying hole is the precise opposite, that voters aren’t voting because they are comfortable.

      It was something of a shock to hear that from Peston!

      The political system in the UK is failing the poor, because it was never designed to help them. It is explicitly set up as an Elitist system in a Class-dominated society. The poorest get as much help as the greedy ‘toffs’ decide they are worth… and the poorest’s needs come FAAAR below their own needs of corporate donations, post-Office corporate positions, various lobby groups corruptions, and wanting to show ‘loyalty’ to the sociopathic systems that are in control.

      I think the UK population had a very good inkling that the Corbyn Project was really the last chance to have a decent Govt in place before the climate and financial chaos overwhelms us. And I genuinely think that in reality he won that election.

      If the poorest did not support Corbyn, that is purely because ‘their’ brand of corporate media did their level best to misinform.

      And they obviously succeeded.

    4. 40 odd years ago Thatcher began to ‘dumb down’ the national education levels by closing grammar schools and introducing comprehensive schools.. The effects are clear for all to see; Society is largely detached from Westminster preferring to accept the commentary and narrative given by the likes of Rupert Murdoch..

      Point; Most struggle with the script of coronation street, never mind fact checking of Boris de Pfeffel….

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