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