By-election Winners and Losers

by Kevin Meagher


Gareth Snell. Congratulations are due to Snell, having been put the ringer these past few weeks for derogatory remarks he had previously made on Twitter about, inter alia, Loose Women, Janet Street-Porter was why Brexit is ‘a massive pile of shit.’ He withstood the ‘media bomb’ they generated and can now look forward to joining the intra-party tussle for a seat in 2020, as proposed boundary changes scrap Stoke Central.

Jack Dromey. As Snell’s campaign manager, Dromey will take credit for ‘seeing off Ukip’. In reality, Ukip saw off Ukip (see below), but credit where credit’s due: A win is a win in politics and, as captain of the team, Dromey deserves credit.

The Tories. For a government to win a by-election seat from the opposition is a rarity indeed and symptomatic of the state of British politics in 2017, with Labour no longer able to hold what it has. One other point. Like they did in 2015, the Tories are becoming adept at under the surface campaigning. With massively fewer volunteers than Labour, they are plainly making other assets count. Labour needs to be better at reading their game.

The turnout. Despite the noisy intervention of Storm Doris, 51 per cent of Copeland’s voters braved the elements, while 38 per cent of Stokies also made it to the polling station. Both turnouts were better than expected and serve to make the results fairly representative of current opinion. So what’s the message for Labour? The party can hang on in its heartlands (Stoke), but can’t assume it will (Copeland). This will now be interpreted whichever way the high priests of Corbynism and neo-Blairism want it to.


Labour’s NHS campaign. ‘It’s the economy stupid’ needs writing on the wall of Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment shed. The Labour campaign team in Copeland played the best card they had and ran a strong campaign on the local NHS. But given the long shadow Sellafield casts over the area, where many of the locals make their living, you can’t expect to prosper when the party leader opposes nuclear energy. Labour’s contract with its voters is that it will look after them economically. (It’s maddening that I need to actually write that).

Paul Nuttall. Ukip has again fluffed the ball over the bar in a by-election it should have won. Worse than that, there was clearly no scenario planning or expectation management in case Nuttall didn’t win. Party spokesmen were left flapping around trying to spin the defeat, while a retreating Nuttall (who didn’t stay for a concession speech) was left surrounded by a media pack when his car wasn’t there to pick him up. Ukip still can’t get out of its amateur hour rut. Until it can, the party is going nowhere.

Paul Nuttall’s CV. Nuttall’s capacity to be economical with the actualité, as the late Alan Clark put it, fatally undermined his campaign. Ukip has enough people willing it to fail, never mind its own leader joining in. The inflated claims from his own website about having a Phd (he doesn’t) and playing professional football for Tranmere Rovers (he didn’t, he played for the youth team) were compounded by the row over whether he was at the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 and if he lost someone close to him. Of all the issues to come up in a by-election campaign, this is surely the most bizarre and, actually, distasteful. His woeful handling, all shifty buck-passing to a press officer and cagey non-denials, came to dominate Ukip’s campaign. Still, Westminster’s loss is brain surgery’s gain.

Cumberland Hospital’s maternity and A&E services. Labour’s campaign highlighting the threat to these local cervices messaging may have gone into overdrive, but the claims are basically true. What will Copeland’s new MP, Trudy Harrison now do to protect these services? After all, Theresa May refused to guarantee them when she visited the seat last week, which is ministerialspeak for: ‘there will be no reprieve’. Ms. Harrison, a political newbie who apparently only joined the Tories last autumn, will now find herself dealing with the flak.

So here’s a prediction: Labour will win Copeland back in 2020.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “By-election Winners and Losers”

  1. Just as Labour had barely won Copeland in 2015 (I don’t know where this safe seat business comes from; is that just because it’s “Up North”?), so the Conservatives barely won Copeland last night. But they did win, and they did so on Theresa May’s left-of-Ed-Miliband programme.

    Meanwhile, UKIP died at Stoke Central, and its only MP appeared on Question Time to say that that was because it was not, “A traditional working-class party of Keir Hardie.” This country’s sinistrisme is complete. Between them, there is nothing that cannot now be enacted by two Party Leaders who are respectively a Left Christian Democrat and a Left Social Democrat. Opposed only by the MPs who signed the anti-Bercow motion. And there are all of five of those. Five. Out of 650.

    If most people, including most Leave voters, never heard the word “Brexit” again, then it would be too soon. A high proportion of those who voted in the referendum did not, do not, and will not vote in elections, including yesterday’s elections. The Right died last night. Copeland ended any possibility of a challenge to May, or even of a critique of her, from that wing of her own party, in which she now has a completely free hand. Meanwhile, Stoke Central ended UKIP altogether.

    Based on May’s staggeringly left-wing domestic programme, the centre is now whatever Jeremy Corbyn happens to say. Just so long as she still gets to be rude about him personally while reading out the policies that two years ago were peculiar to him and to John McDonnell. The death of UKIP means that there is no one to object to that from the Right. Her reading out of Corbynism in the style of Margot Leadbetter is now as far right as British politics goes. She has entirely accepted Corbyn’s terms of debate.

    And the capture of Copeland (hardly Bolsover, but even so) cannot be seen as anything other than a vindication of that acceptance. That is what Britain now is. A country in which the Christian Democratic Left seeks to enact as much as possible of the Social Democratic Left’s programme while holding it up as a bogeyman for electoral purposes. It seems to be working.

  2. Tafia says:

    Actually I think what it shows is Labour’s voter base has splintered and is behaving differently in different places, all underpinned by the Remain/Leave question

    In Copeland, the Tories seem to have picked up voters from both Labour and UKIP. It shows that Labour can no longer rely on a scare campaign revolving around the NHS – it no longer resonates with Labour voters in some areas and they don’t think Labour would run it any better. The Labour and UKIP voters that went Tory also probably did so because they believe May will deliver BREXIT whereas Labour will attempt to impede it and/or water it down.

    In Stoke is the same to a degree. UKIP fell on it’s arse because although it was a heavy Leave constituency, Leave does not equal UKIP. Most Leave voters are not UKIP supporters. HOWEVER, the Leave Labour voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for anyone else, so they stayed at home hence the low turnout in comparison to Copeland.

    Then there is the actual leaders and why Labour voters are jumping to the Tories right across UK. I heard somebody describe the situation as being asked to pick one of the party leaders to jump off a cliff with. You know if you pick Corbyn, Farron or Nuttall that you will die, but if you pick May you’ll end up with two broken legs, but it won’t kill you.

    Labour certainly has serious problems however those problems are not Corbyn, they are geography. A message that resonates with Labour supporters in one part of the country is actually repellent to Labour supporters in another and quite how you sort that out is anybodies guess. Personally I don’t think you can.

  3. Rallan says:

    Surely Jeremy Corbyn was a winner too? UKIP got somewhat spanked in Stoke so that’ll pretty much give him a pass on the (widely expected) Copeland loss?

  4. Tafia says:

    Also, consider by-election voters often punish the parties of MPs who quit soon after seeking their support in a general election. Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt both suddenly resigned 19 months after they’d asked their constituents for their votes in the 2015 general election. In 1977 Labour MP David Marquand quit ultra-safe Ashfield to take a job in Brussels. The Labour majority of almost 23,000 in the 1974 general election was lost on a 20.8 per cent swing to the Tories. In 2012 Tory MP Louise Mensch suddenly announced her resignation in order to pursue her career elsewhere. In the resulting by-election her former constituents in Corby elected a Labour MP. The Tory vote collapsed by -15.6%.

    Really, the only thing you can read into by-elections is that you can’t read anything into them.

  5. John P Reid says:

    David Lindsay:- Safe set come from the fact that 2015 was our worse ever defeat,’ so using 2015 as a bench mark for a average result, means that compared to other times, including the boundary changes of 2010, men’s we should have done better

    Tafia is right, and my idea the in,y votes labour can get apart from hold on to votes that are going to the Tories, is to get ex Libdem votes and get votes we lost to Ukip, ,wish is possible, but no one,and I mean no one in the commons, is saying thing that would attract it

  6. Alf says:

    So, the news from Copeland is that a proper Tory candidate beat a Tory-lite candidate, eh? THIS IS NOT NEWS. It happens all the time.

  7. There was no suggestion that Ed Miliband resign as Leader of the Labour Party after it had lost Bradford West to Respect, and after it had very nearly lost Heywood and Middleton to UKIP. There should no suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn resign as Leader of the Labour Party after it has seen Copeland turn from one of its own marginal seats to one of the Conservatives’. Still less after it has defeated UKIP at Stoke Central, such as to have destroyed that party as even the limited political force that it ever truly was.

  8. DAODAO says:

    “So here’s a prediction: Labour will win Copeland back in 2020.”

    There will be no Copeland seat in 2020, assuming the boundary changes are implemented, as Cumbria is set to lose 1 of its 6 seats with Copeland being partitioned up into 3 neighbouring seats.

    The new MP will probably challenge for Barrow (which currently has a Labour MP), as she lives in the southern part of the current Copeland constituency.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Alf is there anyone in the Tories who’s not a real Tory, they’re a secret lefty, Anna Soubry,or Michael gove or something,

  10. DominicJ says:

    “Just as Labour had barely won Copeland in 2015 (I don’t know where this safe seat business comes from; is that just because it’s “Up North”?), so the Conservatives barely won Copeland last night.”

    If Copeland is “marginal, ok to lose”, how many more Labour seats are “Marginal, might lose”?
    30? 50? 100?

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