Jam-eaters will decide Copeland. Based on her trip north, Theresa May has clearly never heard of them

by Jonathan Todd

It is easy to poke fun at Cumbria. The land that time forgot. Northern accents that can’t quite be placed – “I thought you were from Yorkshire”. Withnail and I going, “on holiday by mistake”. Lots of sausage. Little hip and happening.

Most people in Cumbria, I feel, look at Millom, a town of 8,000 people in the south of Copeland, scene of one of this week’s byelections, as the rest of the country looks at Cumbria – far-flung, incomprehensible. “It is,” I was once told by a friend from Workington, “a funny place, Millom, isn’t it?” Millom, in turn, redirects this perception to Bootle, a nearby village.

“What is it that you don’t have in Bootle? Electricity?”

Coming from Bootle, I grew accustomed to mocking enquiries such as this in the Millom schoolyard. At least, no one called me, “bad Bootle UKIP meff”. That is Paul Nuttall from Bootle, Merseyside – a more gritty and urban place.

The sitcom Porridge is set in a prison just outside Millom. A hapless guard bemoans losing his wife to, “the bright lights of Workington”. A lag, played by Ronnie Barker, sympathises that he, “can’t compete with that”. As much as the canned laughter indicates that the rest of the country find the notion of a cosmopolitan Cumbria oxymoronic, the Millom prison guard and my Workington friend would see themselves as coming from different places.

While there is a rivalry between Whitehaven, very much in the Copeland constituency, and Workington, a town just north that gives its name to a separate seat this side of the boundary review, they’d see each other as fellow jam-eaters and Millom and Bootle as remote outposts.

The bulk of Copeland are jam-eaters. They are born (like me) in West Cumberland Hospital, they work (like my Dad for 50 years) at the Sellafield nuclear facility, and they usually vote Labour. As politics is a numbers game, and there are more jam-eaters than anything else, this by-election will be decided by jam-eaters.

When the prime minister last week visited Copeland, she might have gone to Sellafield to give Copeland’s nuclear ambitions a prime ministerial lift. She might have gone to the hospital to give her personal guarantee that it won’t be downgraded. She might have done both of these things – and, in doing so, done everything in her considerable power to influence the decisive issues of this byelection.

Instead the prime minster squandered her political capital, and wasted a day in which she might otherwise, based upon the reports that emanate from a Downing Street that already gives off a bunker vibe, have been failing to take decisions and effectively delegating responsibility.

The prime minster visited my primary school in Bootle, fluffed the inevitable hospital question, uncomfortably played Lego with kids, and did nothing to underline the Tory commitment to nuclear.

Perhaps the prime minster was dazzled by the bright lights of Whitehaven and Workington but it was odd to travel so far and do all media in a place removed from the jam-eater citadels, while intervening so ineffectively on the by-election’s crucial issues – indeed, in the case of the hospital, actively damaging the Tory case by failing to give straight answers.

While, as prime ministers prefer to avoid association with losing causes, her appearance must signal Tory confidence about their chances in Copeland, the visit was so botched that the possibility remains that the Tories are capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The reasons, in any case, for Uncut anticipating a Labour victory in Copeland largely still hold.

Something we didn’t really factor in, though, is the role of the Liberal Democrats. Lack of whole hearted advocacy for nuclear has historically rendered the Liberal Democrats irrelevant in West Cumbria. But Brexit has given them a new purpose across the country. And the town of Keswick, less jam-eater and more Lake poets, recently reallocated to Copeland from Workington, gives them a foothold of some traditional support.

It remains difficult to envisage the Liberal Democrats winning the seat – but whether they draw support from Labour or the Tories may be decisive. Ditto UKIP.

These shifting sands heighten unpredictability but Labour have a candidate, Gillian Troughton, whose backstory plays well against the central issues of the by-election, and have sensibly made the hospital the centrepiece of her campaign. Hopefully, this keeps the seat red. The notion of it being anything else fills me with foreboding.

Incidentally, it is, actually, gas that Bootle doesn’t have. It is off the grid. Like the prime minister’s visit.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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6 Responses to “Jam-eaters will decide Copeland. Based on her trip north, Theresa May has clearly never heard of them”

  1. Wynkin de Woorde says:

    Super article. I liked the bunker mentality – which is true, apparently with two gatekeepers making sure the ministers are kept in their boxes. I am a conservative by nature, but I do not like the direction the Conservatives are taking at all. they seem to be leaderless despite Mrs May’s otherwise (than in Copeland) excellent public persona.
    Playing lego with children! What has this great country come to! I am minded of all the other dictators in history plucking flowers from well dressed little girlies’ hands.

  2. Martin says:

    I enjoyed reading that article, it is really well written. I am not quite so sure what it says though. Jonathan Todd seems to believe and above all hope that in Gillian Troughton, Labour have the candidate to maximise the traditional Labour vote.

    My guess is that at the moment anti-Brexiters are more motivated than pro-Brexiters, some of whom appear to believe that Brexit has already happened, so the main risk for Labour would be how many UKIPers switch to Conservatives. The risk for Conservatives is the number who will switch to the Liberal Democrats, though this is a risk for Labour too, so I am sure Corbyn’s absence has been appreciated.

    But this is a guess, I have little idea why this part of Cumbria voted so heavily for Brexit, is it something to do with the sense of being cut off that underlies this article? Could Jonathan try to explain? Perhaps from the perspective of the Cumbrian west coast the EU was too remote for it to matter much one way or the other.

  3. John says:

    Have things really gotton so bad that a Labour win in a seat it has held comfortably for 50 years is now to be spun up as a major defeat for Theresa May?


  4. Tafia says:

    The prime minster visited my primary school in Bootle, fluffed the inevitable hospital question, uncomfortably played Lego with kids, and did nothing to underline the Tory commitment to nuclear

    Eh? You werent seeing what the ordinary people of this country saw on TV.

    And you are avoiding the reaality of the situation. This is a supposedly safe Labour seat, being contested during the mid-term of a Tory government – and Labour is in serious trouble. What should be a canter for a red rosette wearing donkey is actually in danger falling to the conservatives.

    Lasbour is seemingly failing to grasp thateven where the sacred cow f the NHS id under direct threat, it isn’t resonating with their own voters (let alone anyne elses).

    Johnathan, you come from there and I hgave family there soo you know the two ‘hot potatos’ are :-

    a. BREXIT. The majority of Labour voters in this seat voted Leave. They knew what they were voting for. They perceive Labour as reluctantky draggung it’s feet over the issue and attempting to water it down. (Most people whi voted Leave want a hard BREXIT). If the Lords start performing this week and look a serious thgreat to any of it then Labour can kiss good bye to thius seat.

    B. Nuclear. It is the biggest employer directly and indirectly. Labour/s position in nuclear is a direct threat to their well-being.

    Corbyn personally is a largeky irrelevant minor side issue (but he’ll still get the blame) – other that the rank and file voters regard the Labour MPs who moan about him as disloyal wankers.

    Remember, this is northern England. It despises London by default and the only use the Guardian ever had was for wrapping chips – and Health & Safety and the bastard EU put a stop to that.

  5. joh nP Redi says:

    you were saying…

  6. buttley says:

    Uncut have been very consistent with their predictions over the last year, such sage like accuracy.

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