The Conservative candidate for the Copeland by-election has won with an astonishing 13,748 votes, the first time for a governing party to win a by-election since 1982.
We offer our congratulations to Trudy Harrison who won with 13,748 votes to Labour’s Gillian Troughton’s 11,601. The Tories needed a a swing of 3.3% to claim the victory and achieved twice that – a margin not seen from a governing party in a by-election since 1966. It’s an incredible result.
Copeland has not seen a Conservative MP since the 1930s, and according to Matt Singh of Number Cruncher Politics, this is the worst-defeat for Labour in a by-election since 1878.
As a general rule, opposition parties do not lose by-elections to the governing part way through the term of Parliament. However in consequence of the lack of popularity of Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn and governing party riding high in the polls, this election was always expected to be close.
Labour ran a strong campaign in the seat with Andrew Gwynne, the man who ran the victorious campaign in Oldham West, as its manager. Their campaign focussed on healthcare, which is a very important issue, particular in this constituency. This campaign was therefore the perfect test of the Corbynite belief that campaigning on the NHS would be the way to excite the electorate to vote Labour.
Throughout the election, Jeremy Corbyn was forced on several occasions to make his position on nuclear power clear, since he had made a number of statements previously about decommissioning all nuclear power stations. This will have been a difficult stance which Labour’s candidate tried very hard to reverse.
No doubt the response from the Corbynites will be to point to Stoke, and argue that Copeland is unique in such reliance on the nuclear energy industry. Perhaps they’ll cite Tony Blair’s speech on Brexit as one of the deciding factors too, since Copeland decisively voted to Leave the EU in the referendum of 23 June last year.
Is this the Corbyn warning sign the centre-Left about MPs have been waiting for to legitimise their opposition to his leadership? Will Corbyn face increasing pressure to resign his post? Will this by-election defeat signal a decisive blow his followers that he can no longer sustain the confidence of his party?
Who knows! But for as long as Labour refuses to acknowledge that this result gets right to the heart of the challenges facing Labour, then the next 3 years will be spent making their situation worse.