The real story of Batley and Spen isn’t George Galloway

George Galloway Keir Starmer and Matt Hancock over the Batley and Spen by-election
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The news from the Batley and Spen by-election held on 1 July is that the Labour Party held the seat. But when you remove the Westminster bubble chatter about the ‘who’s, where’s and why’s’, there’s only one story to emerge from the election. It’s one that no-one’s talking about. And it’s not about George Galloway, Keir Starmer, or Matt Hancock.

Batley and Spen: the result is in

Labour previously held the seat in the 2019 general election, and has done so since 1997. Its previous MP Tracy Brabin was elected West Yorkshire mayor in May. This caused the by-election. So, the vote on 1 July was seen as a test of Starmer. As Newsnight‘s Lewis Goodall tweeted, the result was close:

As the Guardian reported, Labour dropped from a 42.7% share of the vote in 2019 to 35.3% now; a 17.3% fall. The Tories share fell slightly to 34.4%. Galloway and the Worker’s Party got 21.9%. It’s clear that he was responsible for some of both parties vote share loss.

The chattering class strike again

Starmer called it a “fantastic result”. Former Labour cabinet minister Peter Mandelson accused ‘Corbynites’ of trying to wreck Labour’s campaign. Meanwhile, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell did similar. Sky‘s Beth Rigby essentially said the result was OK for Labour, but not good for the Tories. LBC‘s James O’Brien thought the Matt Hancock scandal may have “delivered” Labour votes.

But it was New Statesman editor George Eaton who summed up the detached, Westminster bubble chatter the best. He called Galloway’s defeat an “unambiguous positive for British democracy”:

If you happened to be one of around 41,500 people in Batley and Spen – you might be wondering what all these people are going on about. Because that’s the number of people that didn’t vote on 1 July. And that’s the real story of this by-election.

Entrenched disenfranchisement

Once more, voter disenfranchisement has haunted another English exercise in so-called democracy. The by-elections in 2018-19 tended to get lower turnouts than general elections – anything between 37-59%. So, Batley and Spen sat in the middle of these figures. As The Canary wrote about the Hartlepool by-election in May, the majority went to the ‘Didn’t Vote’ party. As we also noted, based on election data it was highly likely that in Hartlepool a large proportion of non-voters were the poorest people:

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.

It’s likely to be a similar story in Batley and Spen, where in the past the child poverty rate has been above the national average. Both Hartlepool and probably Batley and Spen also show the decades-long decline in the poorest people voting Labour; a trend which continued under Jeremy Corbyn.

Democracy in crisis?

But ultimately, it shows the crisis in English democracy. Both the low turnout and Galloway’s result show the same thing. As The Canary previously wrote:

The poorest people know the system doesn’t work for them. They also know that the system is under strain – they see it in their everyday lives.

This disillusionment sometimes manifests in votes for alternatives like the Worker’s Party. But most of the time, it shows in poor people not seeing the point in voting. Given our not fit for purpose First Past The Post voting system, they’d be right. Moreover, given much of the Westminster bubble’s flat-out ignoring of poor people’s democratic disenfranchisement, they certainly have no reason to vote in the future.

Featured image via Garry Knight – Flickr, the BBC – YouTube and Guardian News – YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. “They all piss in the same pot” – not quite, Mum.

      Sure, the votes dropped even under Corbyn, but that is almost certianly entirely due to the corporate media’s total blanking of his policies and manifesto. And needless to say the emotional damage caused by non-stop attacks from across the media ‘spectrum’.

      Sadly, not enough people are reading the canary yet, although now it is too late.

      Galloway is a windbag, as much as I want to like him he gets annoying quickly. But at least you can say this for him – he has authenticity, genuine anger, and wishes to right the actual wrongs for the Population, rather than spin them for his corporate masters and owners.

      Shame he didn’t win.

    2. Yes I agree Galloway can be irritating at times, but he has set up a brand new party..The Workers Party.
      He is trying to get back into Government and his vocality would be really welcome.
      Shame he didn’t win, but the publicity for an alternative party has to be welcome.
      He would make mincemeat out of most of the current politicians.
      He is an formidable opponent.

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