Monday, June 28, 2021

GUEST POST Why the Progressive Alliance is irrelevant in Batley and Spen

Matthew Pennell says those arguing for a Progressive Alliance in the Batley and Spen by-election don't understand the seat.

I’m a massive track and field freak and I learnt an important life lesson from an Athletics Weekly editorial a while back - it talked about having a ‘no short cuts’ approach to the sport. 

This wasn’t, as you’d expect, about not taking performance enhancing drugs, but weight loss. It’s known that getting on the Slimfast can boost your performance in the short term but what you gain in speed you lose in strength so you’re far more likely to get ill/injured in the long term. Adopt a ‘no short cuts’ approach to life in general and you won’t go far wrong. 

For this reason I smell a rat in the recent calls for a Progressive Alliance in politics as it seems like a classic short cut approach.

You may have already noticed calls for a Progressive Alliance in Batley and Spen, they’re utter drivel and I’ll explain why. Batley and Spen isn’t a classic red wall seat, it’s toggled between Labour and Conservative throughout the years and has never been a particularly safe Labour seat since Mike Wood gained it in 1997. It’s competitive, Labour know it’s competitive, how much does Labour want to win?

What’s the pathway to Labour victory in Batley and Spen? 

This seat has developed a micro-climate which Labour will have to negotiate in order to reach the winning post. Unlike Hartlepoolm there’s no overwhelming Brexit sentiment in Batley and Spen, the Brexit party polled far lower in 2019 and Reform UK isn’t standing this time. There was a major third party, however, last time out - the Heavy Woollen District Independents (HWDI), who polled a whopping 6432 votes. 

This is a rare example of localist politics breaking through at a general election. This smacks of disaffection with the political establishment, but it’s not an overt right-wing Eurosceptic statement - HWDI aren’t standing this time. 

Due to problems with their candidate the Greens aren’t standing this time either, If you aggregate Brexit, HWDI and Green votes from 2019 that amounts to 8800 - this voter cohort will be crucial in determining the result on July 1.

Another ingredient in the micro-climate is the latest chapter in the George Galloway’s Massive Ego show. He’s standing under the Workers Party banner, with what looks like a straightforward Blue

Labour platform, and has already been very active in the constituency. Early polling suggest the Workers Party pulling in 6 per cent of the vote, enough to be a spoiler for Labour.

For those wanting Labour to win, there are four key outcomes:

  • Labour retains its vote from 2019
  • Labour manages to persuade some Conservatives to switch back to them having left Labour due to Brexit and Corbyn
  • Labour wins over 50 per cent of Heavy Woollen District Independents votes 
  • Labour neutralises the threat of the Workers Party

If Labour is successful in doing the above it will win the seat, and quite frankly the voting behaviour of Lib Dems and Greens, who would be shoehorned into a Progressive Alliance, won’t matter. 

The notion of a Progressive Alliance simply isn’t relevant to Batley and Spen, and most of those who do don’t live there, aren’t campaigning there and clearly don’t know its recent electoral past and present.

Matthew Pennell blogs at returnoftheliberal and you can follow him on Twitter.

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