Uncut predictions for 2017: Labour to hold Copeland if it goes local

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.

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6 Responses to “Uncut predictions for 2017: Labour to hold Copeland if it goes local”

  1. Alf says:

    We need to avoid fielding a candidate from our Tory-lite wing. The voters in Copeland are unlikely to warm to anyone who supported last summer’s #chickencoup. A local socialist would be the right choice.

  2. TTP says:

    I wouldn’t presume to know what the voters of Copeland think as I don’t know anyone from there and I’ve never been. However it strikes me that a Lite candidate would be ideal. Anyone overweight is going to have difficulty getting around such a large and rural constituency.

  3. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I lean toward someone from the BLAME/LBGDT/North London brigade.
    And nice on the eye. We dont want a minger.

  4. Anne says:

    While I agree with some of this article I feel that Labour will have to work very hard to retain this seat – they will most certainly require a really good candidate. The Conservatives believe they have a chance here, and will be pushing hard. There are some big pockets of Conservative areas. There are rural areas – most of whom voted for BREXIT. There are also some pockets of JAMs. The candidate will have to have a good knowledge of Sellafield – this has approximately 10000 workers – many contractors travelling some miles each day. Giant Pylons are an issue. Infrastructure is an issue. Wind farms are not liked. Small business also needs a mention.
    Good luck with this one – it will need some hard work. Also using terms like Tory light is not particularly helpful, especially when trying to win over the undecided.

  5. david walsh says:

    Last time I was over there a year or so ago, I found the only thing locals were talking about in the pub was the internal machinations of the PLP. Then I woke up.

  6. Tafia says:

    So what your saying is Labour cannot win a by-election to a national Parliamnet unless it avoids national issues and concentrates on what are really local authority issues instead.

    PMSL. Just how much further can you fall.

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