As Storm Doris battered the UK – And as this reporter had trash batter him in the face as he walked through Westminster – voters went to the polls in two crucial by-elections that threatened the authority of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
It’s an unspoken rule that governing parties never improve their vote shares in by-elections, and yet, Theresa May and her Conservative Party made history by taking the, formerly safe, Labour seat of Copeland from the Labour Party on a swing of 6.7 per cent. Labour had held the seat of Copeland for over 80 years, with the last non Labour MP being born in the 1870s. No governing party has won a seat in a by-election since 1982 (and this only due to the previous MP resigning and standing for a different party). In fact, you have to go back to 1878 to find a win under similar circumstances.
Immediately after the result, anger broke out amongst the Labour Parliamentary Party over how the Conservatives were able to win this seat. Factors range from the bad weather, Tony Blair, the BBC, Peter Mandelson, the shadow Attorney General even said that Labour voters cannot afford cars. However, many fingers pointed at Jeremy Corbyn – the Labour leader. Copeland is dominated by the Sellafield Nuclear Plant, and Mr Corbyn’s anti-Nuclear views were difficult to sell to a region where many jobs depend upon the Nuclear industry.
As much as the Copeland result was a rejection of Mr Corbyn, it was also an endorsement of the government of Theresa May, who has proved popular in many parts of the country where her predecessor was viewed with suspicion. Since 2015, the Tories have spoken of themselves as the party of the working class, polling suggests that this is increasingly the case, with the traditional party of the workers – Labour – actually falling into third place behind UKIP in voting intention among the poorest demographics.
Also held on the same day was a by-election in the Midlands seat of Stoke-on-Trent central. Where, like in Copeland, the previous Labour MP had quit for a better job elsewhere. Stoke had the unfortunate moniker of being the only seat in the United Kingdom where less than half of its voters (49 per cent) voted in the 2015 general election. However, in the EU referendum 65 per cent of the electorate turned out with 70 per cent of them opting to leave the European Union, earning it the name Brexit central.
With the Labour party falling apart at the seams in the aftermath of the EU referendum, the new UKIP leader – Paul Nuttall – became the party’s candidate in the seat. Mr Nuttall hoped to capitalise on the large leave vote and expectations were high for a man hoping to replace Labour in the North of England in the same way the SNP has done in Scotland.
Instead, Labour held the seat and Mr Nuttall increased his party’s share of the vote by just two per cent – and only narrowly beat the Conservatives. This has raised many questions on the capability of a post-Farage UKIP in a post-Brexit Britain.
Ultimately, the only winner here is Theresa May and her Conservative Party. With many eurosceptic right-wingers returning from UKIP and the increasingly unpopular Jeremy Corbyn damaging his party’s electoral effectiveness in the North of England, Mrs May holds absolute power over British politics in a way not seen for decades.
– Cameron Martin, Correspondent (Politics)