Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

What is the Ukip threat in Stoke?

Rumours suggest the Stoke byelection will see new Ukip leader Paul Nuttall stand. Ben Gartside looks at the challenge he poses to Labour

Areas like Stoke are synonymous with Labour, and for a good reason: since the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat was established in 1950, Labour’s vote share has only dropped below 50 per cent three times. However, with the threat of United Kingdom Independence party, Labour is in real danger of losing the seat.

Ukip’s candidate will be announced this weekend, and it is expected that it will be the first electoral appearance of Paul Nuttall since his election as leader – a contest he won with a pitch to his party that he will target the ‘open goal’ of disenfranchised Labour voters.

In an op-ed for the Telegraph only weeks before his election as leader, Nuttall said Labour ‘is more at home with its hobby horses of human rights, Palestine and climate change than the things that really matter to working people’. Nuttall’s attack on Labour for being out of touch will resonate with many: that the members of parliament who shadow the four great offices of state all represent areas in north or west London is indicative of a wider problem.

Many commentators have been quick to dismiss Ukip’s threat in Stoke, arguing Ukip will not win as Theresa May has stolen their clothes. Yet there is a cultural identity amongst many voters in parts of northern England and the midlands that means they would never vote Conservative, but increasingly find themselves at odds with the Labour party. That is very much Ukip’s new demographic, as warned by Tristram Hunt in his last speech in the Commons before standing down.

In a byelection that could easily become a four-way contest, it becomes imperative that Labour can keep unsettled Labour voters, who are most likely to be considering switching to Ukip. It’s also imperative that Labour win voters off the merit of our arguments, rather than a dirty campaign designed to tarnish Ukip. Ukip’s leader will be standing, the country has voted to leave the European Union, and Labour hasn’t polled so low outside of Government since 1982, we are thoroughly on the back foot, and without the NHS to stand on.

If Labour cannot make a positive case to the voters of Stoke on Trent after 67 years of Labour representation in parliament, the odds are long for doing the same in Kensington, Basingstoke or Chingford and Wood Green – all seats with majorities of 8,000 or more needed by Labour to form a majority government.

While Ukip may fall short in Stoke-on-Trent Central – and may not even seriously threaten – it should be acknowledged that due to voter churn, many former Labour voters are still being lost to the anti-immigration party. The reluctance to arrest this problem under Ed Miliband arguably handed the Conservatives a majority in 2015.

Jeremy Corbyn must also acknowledge that a tokenistic vote in parliament to leave the single market is not combatting an increasingly alienated base. He must challenge himself, his circle of influence and the views of the party membership in order to speak to large sections of the country, whose support will be required in order to govern.


Ben Gartside is a freelance writer and member of Progress. He tweets at @BenGartside98

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Ben Gartside


  • There ought to be an amendment insisting on that extra £350 million per week for the NHS. But the people expressing even the mildest surprise at Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Article 50 know literally nothing about the Left. Corbyn would have voted for Article 50 even if there had been a Labour three-line whip to vote against it. Now, though, he is the Leader. Wherever you are, Tony Benn, this one is for you.

    A three-line whip to vote in favour of Article 50 would not “force” Labour MPs to vote for it. It would just be a three-line whip. MPs would be within their rights to break it, as Jeremy Corbyn did often enough. And to take the consequences, which should be understood in light of the fact that Corbyn is still alive, is still possessed of all four limbs and all five senses, is still a Member of Parliament, and is now the Leader of the Labour Party. What would those bemoaning this whip have had instead? A free vote? A whip to overturn the referendum result? What, exactly?

  • May prediction is that the Torys will win Copeland and UKIP will win Stoke. Corbyn will resign on the Friday.

  • Corbyn won’t resign, maybe not even after a massive election defeat. Without any experience of the give and take of (shadow) cabinets, his political worldview seems very sectarian, prioritising ‘loyalty’ to the sect. That sect has grown to keep him as leaded ( making Reid and Hunt uncomfortable enough to leave). He would no more ‘let his people down’ than the Queen would abdicate.
    His followers will blame defeat on an ‘enemy within’ Labour – ready made, as Reid and Hunt ’caused’ the defeat by leaving! So will carry on as before.

  • I know what you are saying. He does seem a very stubborn and arrogant man but I cant see him hold out if he looses both Copelend and Stoke. And I think Labour will loose both.

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