It takes six hours to drive from London to the West Cumbrian seat of Copeland. About the same time it takes to fly from Heathrow to Rome. And back.
After eleven years of tortuous commuting, Labour’s Jamie Reed is calling it a day, announcing his retirement from Parliament before Christmas.
Distance matters in this by-election.
Copeland is a long way from Westminster, physically and culturally. This almost exclusively White, working class and heavily unionised seat has been loyal to Labour for generations.
It is competitive, yes, with Reed winning in 2015 by just 2,564 votes over the Tories, but it’s still a realistic prospect for the party.
Despite talk of the Tories grabbing it, it remains Labour’s to lose.
And the party still has some advantages to exploit.
Good organisation and grassroots support matters in by-elections held in wet winter months.
It seems unlikely the by-election will be held over for five months until May’s county council elections, so that means each party trudging the highways and byways of Copeland (and there are rather a lot of them) in the cold wet evenings of January and February, with voters loathe to open the door.
It also means street stalls are a wash-put and bussing up activists is costly, with few enough volunteers willing to make the epic journey.
The weekly Whitehaven News will only report so many key campaigner visits, so despatching half the Cabinet up there to accrue little or no media coverage becomes a pointless task.
Everyone will struggle with their ground game.
What matters, then, is having existing relationships with the voters and it is here where Labour has some cards to play.
If the party picks a decent local candidate (preferably someone working at nearby Sellafield, the biggest employer in the area) and runs a relentlessly local campaign utilising its existing voter contact, it has a good chance of holding the seat.
It’s easier for Labour to build on its existing support than it is for the Tories and Ukip to make inroads in the time available.
As a Cumbrian MP himself, Tim Farron will probably judge Copeland a bridge too far for the Liberal Democrats (who came a distant fourth in 2015). A weak Lib Dem effort would help shore up Labour’s vote.
So call the by-election early and make the other parties feel the disadvantages of distance, weather and terrain.