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.