Would it be uncharitable to say the most likely result of yesterday’s by-elections is that the people of Copeland will get radiation poisoning that won’t be treated in time because they’ll have lost their NHS services?
Yes, it probably would. But we will all need to watch developments there hawkishly; Trudy Harrison has been elected on a series of promises and will need to be kept to them.
Of course, the Copeland result is partly due to the Labour Party having to split its resources in order to fight two by-elections, while the Tories concentrated on one seat and left UKIP’s Paul Nuttall to try to take Stoke-on-Trent Central, which he made a proper pig’s-ear of doing.
Pundits are now free to claim that Labour is weak, despite the Stoke win; that the Tories are much stronger, despite the clear choice to concentrate on one constituency rather than the other; and to give UKIP a free pass, despite the fact that the party’s new leader lost a sixth successive Parliamentary election and his party’s influence on UK politics is clearly broken.
Theresa May’s Tories have managed the first by-election win of a ruling party since 1982 – and that does say something. It says that politics has become far more complicated since that event, more than three decades ago. People have become confused about what each political party stands for – they all tell us they are for working-class people but only Labour actually follows through on the promise, for example. The people of Copeland will learn all about Tory lies in the near future.
Brexit was a complicating factor, and the Labour memberships of both Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland should think very hard about whether their choice of candidate was a factor in the depression of their votes.
Gillian Troughton, in Copeland, was a Remain supporter campaigning in a constituency where 60 per cent of people voted for Brexit. She was an opponent of Jeremy Corbyn (making any questions to her about his effect meaningless) and a Labour right-winger.
So the by-election in Copeland shows that Labour supporters don’t like candidates who don’t support Corbyn – and, to be honest, so does the by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central.
Gareth Snell did not support Mr Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader, and was also a Remain supporter. He won with a reduced share of the vote because UKIP and the Conservatives were keeping each other from taking the seat.
So what does this mean for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour?
We can all expect more – and very harsh – criticism of Mr Corbyn, from both outside the Labour Party and within. But he won’t be stepping down any time soon.
Conversely, we can also expect more calls for the party to unite behind him. These by-election results show that Corbyn-sceptic candidates aren’t fantastically popular and Labour should stop fielding them. The public wants people who support Labour’s current, socialist policies – not more neoliberals. John McDonnell has already called out Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson for their backstabbing efforts in the days before the by-elections.
We can also expect media attention to turn away from Copeland very quickly. If the Tories fail to support the people of that constituency – as we know they will – the Tory-supporting press will be keen to hide that from the rest of the country. It will be Labour’s duty to ensure that the rest of us are told exactly what happens there, even when the likes of the Daily Mail are throwing proverbial dead cats at us.
Some commentators would like us to believe that this is an ending. It is not. It is merely a punctuation point in a long process. So don’t be fooled.
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