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Gary Younge

 In Harrow West, Labour doubled its majority. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
Voices and votes: how grassroots graft changed British politics

This is the tale of two Harrows. The first is the story I went to cover in Harrow West, which was Labour’s 19th most vulnerable seat. Working on the assumption of a predatory Tory takeover, Harrow West seemed ripe for the picking: Labour won it in 1997 for the first time and clung on to it – its 2015 majority was just 2,208.

The second is Harrow East, which the Tories had held since 2010 and now had a 4,757 majority. Had anyone at that stage thought Labour had any chance of taking Tory seats I might have known it was 49th on Labour’s target list.

Fast forward to 2am on election night and the Labour team from Harrow West is calm and comfortable. They know they’ve done well, there was an 8% increase in turnout and they knew the young had turned out in numbers. Sure enough, by around 3.30, the incumbent Gareth Thomas was duly returned with a 13,314 majority – double the best majority he’s ever had. Like the rest of London the national swing was amplified, and some of that would be due to the considerable personal loyalty to Thomas, as a diligent MP born and raised in the area. He said he heard Corbyn’s name come up a number of times on the doorstep as a concern. But in his victory speech he went out of his way to praise the Labour leader as “the only leader to come out of the campaign with any credit”.

The reason the declaration took so long is because Harrow East was so close. Nobody involved in the campaign had seen that coming. The Tory MP, Bob Blackman, managed to hold on with a severely reduced majority of just 1,757 – a narrower majority than Gareth’s had been. Maybe I’ll go there next time. Gary Younge

It was predicted to be a walkover for SNP newcomer David Linden, but the anxious look on his face at the count centre said it all.

In the end he limped across the line with the tiniest of majorities in Glasgow East, almost pipped at the post by fellow first-timer Kate Watson who was the beneficiary of a surprise revival for Labour in one of the most deprived constituencies in the country.


 John Wilson, with daughter Lacey, Elizabeth Steele and Nicola Wilson saw the SNP returned in Glasgow East – but only just. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian
John Wilson, with daughter Lacey, Elizabeth Steele and Nicola Wilson saw the SNP returned in Glasgow East – but only just. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

“Growing up in Cranfield 20 years ago, I never in my wildest dreams thought that one day I would be elected to the Houses of Parliament,” Linden said to an ecstatic reception in the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.

Although the SNP retains the seat, its majority has been slashed from 10,387 to just 75, with Labour within touching distance with 13,949 votes to SNP’s 14,024.

It was an astonishing result, with 20-year-old Conservative Thomas Kerr also denting Nicola Sturgeon’s hold on what was once a Labour citadel. On the back of the unionist campaign, he almost tripled the number of votes for the Tories.

Many I spoke to over the course of five weeks said they didn’t want a second referendum on independence; others snorted about how they were fed up with Nicola Sturgeon. But few would have expected that to translate into such a diminution of SNP support in Glasgow East.

This constituency, which voted Labour since the 1930s, has flip-flopped between the party and the nationalists since 2008 and now looks as if it will continue to do so.

At the count, many SNP and Labour folk spoke of a “Corbyn lift” on the doorsteps in the last two days. His manifesto had gone down well, particularly with younger voters – even in a country which already offered free tuition fees. His surprise visit to the city at 8am polling day may have helped seal Labour’s place back in the fight. But in the end, this stayed an SNP seat – just.


 Hartlepool had been high on Ukip’s target list, but stuck to its half-century tradition of returning a Labour MP. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer
Hartlepool had been high on Ukip’s target list, but stuck to its half-century tradition of returning a Labour MP. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

Lisa O’Carroll

The Labour party had spent the past six weeks fearing the worst in Hartlepool. With dire predictions of a national Tory landslide, many felt this coastal town would be among the first dominoes to fall in the north-east.

In the end, it wasn’t even close. Labour beat the Tories by 6,500 votes – double the number that separated Labour from Ukip two years ago – and Hartlepool stuck to its 53-year tradition of sending a Labour MP to Westminster.

What happened? Most Labour people believe a surge of young and first-time voters flexed their electoral muscle to back Jeremy Corbyn, who does not typically go down well with older, “traditional” Labour voters in Hartlepool. And Brexit, an issue the Tories hoped would swing votes in their direction, hardly featured on the doorstep.

Alex Muller-Nicholson, a 33-year-old business owner, said on Friday she had seen a noticeable shift towards Labour since Corbyn held rallies attend by thousands of people in Gateshead, County Durham, Northumberland and on Teesside.

“With Corbyn actually coming up here that’s made a world of difference,” she said. “One thing you can say for the people of the north-east and Hartlepool is they really do appreciate a straight-talking approach, someone making that effort to relate to us.”


 Labour activists at the count in Wells, where the Tory incumbent James Heappey’s tactics paid off. Photograph: Sam Frost for the Guardian
Labour activists at the count in Wells, where the Tory incumbent James Heappey’s tactics paid off. Photograph: Sam Frost for the Guardian

Hartlepool had been Ukip’s No 3 target seat but a low-key campaign was beset by local party infighting and a lack of support from the leadership. They still took 11.5% of the vote, a credible show, but an awful return on the 28% it got in 2015.

Hartlepool’s newly elected Labour MP, Mike Hill, said: “Brexit and Corbyn were not dominant issues in this town. The town voted 70% for Brexit – job done, and that’s the message that Ukip didn’t get in this town. The people of Hartlepool wanted to talk about everyday issues and their aspirations.” Josh Halliday

The bottom line might suggest that little changed in Wells. James Heappey, a former army major who brought a military exactitude and work ethic to his campaign, held the seat for the Tories, fighting off a vibrant challenge from the Lib Dem Tessa Munt.

But beneath the headline result there is plenty to mull over. Not least the performance of Labour in a seat the party has never won.

At the start of the campaign, the reaction to mention of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn tended to be a shrug or even a laugh.

Labour activists reported that when they first set up stalls in places like Glastonbury their opponents teased and jeered. As voting day approached, those rivals began to take the Labour loyalists seriously and by the end young people were queuing up to say they backed Corbyn – though most said they would vote tactically for the Lib Dems. Despite tactical voting, Labour doubled its number of votes on 2015.


 Jack Dromey’s largely working-class constituency was targeted unsuccessfully by the Tories. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
Jack Dromey’s largely working-class constituency was targeted unsuccessfully by the Tories. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The Labour candidate, teacher Andy Merryfield, argues that even in deepest Somerset a base is being built for Labour so that in a decade (or two or three) there could be a sensational result.

Heappey said it had been a “bruising” campaign and promised to work on improving access – real and virtual – to this tucked-away corner of the UK, on getting a viable industrial strategy and the right Brexit deal for Somerset.

Munt, a redoubtable campaigner, said she would continue to fight for the seat she held from 2010 to 2015 and insisted the constituency would be back in Lib Dem hands sooner rather than later. But her optimism may not be shared by all Lib Dems in Somerset, not so long ago a heartland.

Down the road in Yeovil, for example, Paddy Ashdown’s old seat, the Tories held on comfortably, their vote share up 10% on 2015, with the Lib Dems 3% down. There was a disappointing result for the Lib Dems in Somerton and Frome, too, where the Tories increased their majority. A Lib Dem revival here feels a distant dream. Steven Morris

It was by his own admission a “tough fight” – some even said the “fight of his life”. But Labour MP Jack Dromey managed to stop “Erdington Conservatism” in its tracks, keeping a seat which his party has held for more than 40 years.

Six weeks ago, when we began reporting from Erdington as part of our Voices and Votes series, Dromey had a healthy majority – yet his seat was not safe. The political situation in the staunchly working class constituency was complex. This north-eastern Birmingham suburb found itself, a target for the Conservatives, emblematic of their battle for the working class vote. Theresa May’s former key adviser Nick Timothy, who is from the area, even wrote about “Erdington modernisation” as a key to the party’s future.


 In Cambridge, young people voted in droves on education and the NHS. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
In Cambridge, young people voted in droves on education and the NHS. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

And it appeared to be working. Many were for the first time in their life considering voting Tory. They saw party leader Theresa May as safe: a new Thatcher with a steady hand for the uncertain times ahead. This was no surprise – the constituency had the highest Leave vote in the city.

But this was not to be a battle that Dromey would lose easily. He was seen out canvassing morning, noon and night. Some said they had never before seen so much of him. Hours before the polls closed Dromey tweeted that there had been 55 Labour teams out in Erdington.

When the results were declared in a small side room at the International Convention Centre Dromey appeared reserved and relieved. Sources close to him said they noticed a change on the doors – people’s politics had taken on a more national focus.

The brand of Erdington Conservatism was rejected – Dromey returned with an increased majority of 7,285 votes, up from 5,129 two years ago – even though the Conservatives themselves increased their tally by 4,000.

This will have been a bitter loss for the Tories, especially for Nick Timothy, one of May’s closest aides until he was sacked after the general election. His strategy failed to work. Nazia Parveen

At half past three in the morning, Daniel Zeichner’s huge win in Cambridge was greeted with dancing and singing in the streets outside the count by a delighted group of young Labour supporters. The 10 percentage point jump in turnout here, bringing it up to 71.4%, is the result of more students and young people getting involved and turning out to support Labour. This was a seat where the angry 74% voters who backed remain last year were expected to express their fury in an increased vote for the Lib Dems (who lost by just 599 votes to Labour in 2015).

In the end, the issue of Brexit was no longer much of a preoccupation on the doorstep, overshadowed by concerns over the NHS and education, and – in the last few days – a surge in enthusiasm for Corbyn’s Labour party. Zeichner increased his lead over Lib Dem opponent Julian Huppert to a massive, unexpected 12,661 votes. He described it as “a vote for hope and for optimism”.

The scale of this victory took everyone by surprise. When we first came to Cambridge in mid-May, just after the local elections, the Labour team was already beginning to think that anger over Brexit had peaked; there was a quiet confidence that this was a seat that they could hold.

But talking to people around the city we encountered an enormous amount of uncertainty, as voters weighed up whether they felt more angry about Brexit (and Labour’s decision to back the triggering of article 50) or more enraged by ongoing austerity, and the Lib Dems’ record in coalition; lots of people hesitated over whether a Labour or Lib Dem MP would offer more effective opposition to the Conservatives.

The Labour surge came late. Zeichner attributes his increased majority to young voters – although it’s an imprecise analysis, based on looking at the polling booths. These were voters that the Labour campaigners hadn’t seen before, hadn’t canvassed, so there was an element of nervousness, because they were such an unknown quantity.

Zeichner’s not sure that Labour’s tuition fees pledge swung the vote for him – “There was a lot of cynicism around tuition fees engendered by previous Lib Dem promises, which meant that a lot of people said ‘oh yeah? Really?’” Interestingly, he describes these as people “who voted for Labour” rather than “Labour voters”, and cautioned that their support would have to be actively retained. Amelia Gentleman

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