Unconventional wisdom on Labour ‘heartlands’ | Letters

Ian Wrigglesworth discusses the awkward fact that there is a substantial Tory vote in the north, Roger Backhouse advocates Old Lefties for Labour to win back the pensioner vote, Robert Leach says Labour should take a tip from the late former MP Jack Dunnett, and Dr Alyson Hall Yandoli proposes a new way of testing the leadership hopefuls

Redcar voters have not “ditched lifelong political allegiances” (Cash for Redcar: Steelworks site gets £71m as Tories seek to cement support, 11 January). It was a Liberal Democrat seat from 2010-15. Also, the £71m for the Redcar steelworks site – which you say is Boris seeking to cement his support in former Labour strongholds – was agreed before the election when Redcar was not a Tory seat. Indeed, it flowed directly from Michael Heseltine’s excellent 2016 report, Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited.

Pandering to the current narrative of recent Tory victories in the north ignores the awkward fact that there has always been a substantial Tory vote there, which has been masked by our electoral system. In 2017 Labour won 90% of the seats in the north-east with only 42% of the votes, while the Tories won just 10% of the seats with 34% of the vote. It also ignores the fact that many of those traditional Labour voters often had extreme rightwing views, but voted Labour for longstanding class and cultural reasons – as I know only too well from first-hand experience on Teesside.
Ian Wrigglesworth
Liberal Democrat peer; Labour & Co-operative MP, Thornaby 1974-81; SDP MP Stockton South 1981-87

• Andy Beckett’s election analysis (Journal, 11 January) shows that Labour needs a strategy to win back ageing constituencies which went Conservative. May I suggest that, instead of going to Glastonbury, future Labour leaders should try seafront appearances at Seaton Carew or Budleigh Salterton, going on coach trips and running bingo groups? Instead of Momentum we need Old Lefties for Labour to win back the pensioner vote.

Conventional wisdom holds that Labour benefits from high turnouts. Evidence suggests otherwise. Labour’s crushing victories in 1997 and 2001 were achieved on turnouts far lower than in the Thatcher years. 2019’s turnout was reasonably high but the Conservative vote rose.

This suggests Labour should promote voter boredom. In October 1974 William Whitelaw accused Harold Wilson of going round the country “stirring up apathy”. Labour then won a decent majority. Time to overturn outdated thinking.
Roger Backhouse
Upper Poppleton, North Yorkshire

• There is much soul-searching in the Labour party to explain losses in the so-called “heartlands”. Rather than exploring the strengths or weaknesses of the manifesto, the ambiguities of the Brexit stance or the popularity or unpopularity of the leader, perhaps those who lost their seats (and others) might remember Jack Dunnett (Obituary, 8 January). On Friday evenings this former Nottingham MP “would hold his MP’s surgery, then visit pubs in his constituency, having a pint in each and chatting with anyone – and it could be hundreds of people – who chose to bend his ear”. A lesson here?
Robert Leach
Selkirk, Scottish Borders

• It is dispiriting for Labour party members to have to experience Jeremy Corbyn representing the party at prime minister’s questions until April. We are constantly reminded of our electoral defeat just as our hopes should be rising with an excellent field of candidates for the leadership.

This is a crucial time for the party to hold Boris Johnson to account. It is essential that we select a new leader who is best able to meet these challenges effectively and set the stage for a powerful opposition that can influence public opinion and the press, to protect the country from the worst excesses of this government and provide the groundwork for the next election.

To this end I propose that, now that the field of five candidates is confirmed, each should in turn stand in for Corbyn at PMQs.
Dr Alyson Hall Yandoli
London

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