The second mystery is why skilled and presumably clever experts do not understand election results. This is shown by the co-incidence of the Batley by-election results of 1919 and 2021. A century or more apart, the same mistakes are made and in the meantime in 1971 a top Cambridge historian, Maurice Cowling, jumped on the same bandwagon and lost the plot.
The bandwagon consists of taking the victory in terms of a minority of votes as a sign of a breakthrough. The Times called the 1919 win for the Labour candidate as a “political event of great significance” and Wiki rightly quotes Cowling as saying that “Simon’s defeat by Labour marked the point at which Labour began to be seen as a serious threat by the older parties”. The by-election did not give any evidence for this, and whatever may have been seen in the Westminster bubble, the win was a short-term boost for Labour – Sir John Simon won back the seat at the General Election – and Labour did not win the seat again till 1945.
This was a Liberal constituency and the Liberal vote was split. While the Labour vote went up, from 8504 to 11962, the Liberal vote went up from 10,664 which had secured the victory in 1918 to 18,798. But in 1918 there was one Liberal. In 1919 there were two, and neither got more than Labour;s 11962.
This is a simple calculation, but comment on this year’s by election in the nearly identical constituency was even odder. In this election the Labour vote actually went DOWN partly due to the lower turnout. From 2017 when the Party won with 29,844 our of a total electorate of 79,558 to 2019 when they had 22,594. Only July 1st Labour got 13,296 and the lead over the Tories dropped to 323. George Galloway took 8264 votes in an anti-Keir Starmer campaign – presumably if there had been PR he would have ordered a vote for the Tory, and Labour would have lost. As it was with the high total for the 13 minor parties, which polled 3162, the total of non-Labour votes with the Tory candidates 12,973 was 24,399 and clearly Labour did not have a stunning victory.
Indeed Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West is quoted as saying that on the night “Everyone had stories of finding two people or a house post 7pm who hadn’t delivered a postal vote or had no polling card or needed a bit of a push. We had 400 out so it was our GOTV” (Go to vote, Labour’s legendary ability to get voters out in the last hours of polling day he sees this as delivering the victory.) I agree with him. Labour just scraped in.
None of this penetrated in the Westminster bubble which assumed that as Labour had secured a Westminster seat for its candidate, any other issue was irrelevant. The question is why so many well-trained people – cannot understand how by-elections work. There are other issues, notably the Red Wall seats, which also raise questions of how the commentariat understands electoral politics – what are the Red Wall seats? Why are they just located in the North of England in 2019 when the collapse of Labour in Scotland happened in 2015 – and the Party had lost control of Holyrood in 2007? Within the Westminster bubble, do the commentors understand election results?
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