Tristram Hunt's Stoke-on-Trent Central seat had the lowest turnout. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid
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20 seats with the lowest turnout show Labour voters drifting to Ukip - or not voting at all

Tristram Hunt was elected by just 19 per cent of his constituents. 

All 20 of the seats in Britain with the lowest turnout in the general election were won by Labour.

It is a reminder of how apathy and disillusionment permeate many of the party’s heartlands. Even in Doncaster North, Ed Miliband was re-elected on a turnout of just 55.7 per cent: here, the number of Labour voters has collapsed from 34,135 in 1992 to 20,708 today.

It is even worse elsewhere. In Stoke-on-Trent Central, Labour has shed 14,000 votes since 1997. Would-be Labour leader Tristram Hunt is Britain’s least popular MP: a derisory 19 per cent of constituents voted for him. Stoke-on-Trent Central was the sole seat in Britain where the majority of the electorate did not vote.

Hunt acknowledges the threat Ukip, which came second with 22.7 per cent in his seat, poses to Labour. “In too many parts of the north of England and the Midlands, the electoral challenge we faced was from Ukip – selling an anti-metropolitan message about political elites uninterested in those ‘left behind’,” he wrote on Monday. “These were historically Labour areas who just simply felt that Labour was no longer for them.” Ed Balls, who lost by 400 votes in Morley and Outwood, where Ukip picked up 8,000 votes, was one Labour casualty of Ukip’s surge.

One of Ukip’s main aims of the election was to establish a base from which to launch a renewed assault on Labour’s heartlands at the next election: the 2020 strategy. Paul Nuttall, Ukip’s deputy leader, told me in January that he hoped Ukip would “crack the dam” in the north this time and make “big, big gains” at the next election. Of the 120 seats in which Ukip came second, 44 were in Labour seats. Nine of these were in the 20 seats with the lowest turnout; across the 20, Ukip averaged 17 per cent.

Ukip’s hope is that Labour chooses a leader who reinforces the party’s status as the party of the metropolitan elite – only one of the 20, Ilford South, is in London and none are further south – and it can turn some of these second place finishes into victories in 2020.

Yet, while these seats are brimming with voters who see nothing they love in Labour, the ruthless way that first-past-the-past discriminates against challenger parties leaves Ukip needing extraordinary swings to turn them purple in 2020. Of the 20 seats with the lowest turnout, Ukip was closest to Labour in Stoke-on-Trent North – but even here, they finished 15.2 per cent behind Labour, even being squeezed out by the Tories into third.

Ukip gained 3m votes in this election, yet it only has one MP (and with Douglas Carswell’s row with Nigel Farage over whether to accept £650,000 in short money, even that might not be for long). For all the disconnect many in core Labour areas feel with the modern day Labour party, Ukip needs a far better ground game to avoid similar disappointment at the next election. Really it needs a new electoral system, but under David Cameron there is no chance of that.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.