I’ve looked at the actual figures for a third recent by-election and I can’t work out why the substantial fall in voter turnout is not being widely discussed.
Some of those registered to vote in 2019 will have died or will have moved away since, and some of those registered to vote in 2021 will have only recently become old enough to vote or have moved in. But broadly it is the same pool of people – and 18.9% of them (between one in six and one in five of them, about 15 000 people) voted in 2019 but didn’t do so in 2021.
To be clear, of the people who actually voted last time, more woke up yesterday and decided not to vote at all than went out and voted Labour, and more people decided not to vote at all than went out and voted for Conservative.
Put it another way, in 2021 Labour held on to only 59.4% of its 2019 voters and the Conservatives held on to only 68.6% of its 2019 voters. This will be expressed in the standard media as a ‘swing from Labour to Conservative’, but it is actually a heavy swing against both.
There was a maverick candidate who came third in both 2019 and 2021, two quite different people. The first gained the support of 8.1% of the registered voters in 2019 and the second 10.4% in 2021, about 1830 more voters in 2021 than in 2019. But this is a much less significant fact than the striking one that more than half of those registered to vote did not actually do so.
There is now a Conservative MP for Hartlepool, a Liberal Democrat MP for Chesham & Amersham, and a fresh Labour MP for Batley & Spen. They and their supporters will be pleased. But is it the disconnected whose size of the vote surged in all three by-elections.
The pictures are both public artwork close to each other in central Bradford.