Another wake-up call

The Copeland byelection was a rejection of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics

The February byelection results are so bad it is taking some time for them to sink in. Jeremy Corbyn becomes the first Labour leader since Michael Foot to lose a seat in opposition to the government. Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian asks, ‘Was it the worst result for an opposition since 1945 – or since 1878?’ Either way this was the worst byelection result for Labour in living memory.

Things were not helped by Corbyn sacking his shadow cabinet campaign coordinator Jon Trickett a fortnight before polling day and campaign chief Simon Fletcher walking out only days later. The Labour leader should thank his lucky stars that Labour headquarters is still full of highly professional people that were on hand and able to keep the show on the road. Without them both Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central would have been much worse.

While Corbyn’s team try to blame anyone but him, a close look at what actually happened is vital. As Lewis Baston shows (on page 11) Labour retained only 69.3 per cent of its 2015 vote in Copeland and 64.3 per cent in Stoke Central.The Tories had a 96.9 and 73.5 per cent retention respectively.The swing against Labour in Stoke Central of two per cent, let alone the 6.2 points in Copeland, if repeated at a general election would decimate the parliamentary party. May would be sitting on the sort of majority only seen by Clement Attlee, MargaretThatcher or Tony Blair, which no independent observer would say she deserves. Labour might find it impossible to recover from such a blow.

So what does Copeland mean for Labour going forward?

First, it is time to respect the voters. They know what they are doing. There are various examples of patronising nonsense being circulated about the voters of Copeland – including doubts over their access to cars or ability to go out in harsh weather. These claims are not true, and spreading them does not exemplify an effective way of winning back that support. Copeland is a working-class seat that has returned Labour members of parliament for 82 years. They know the difference between Labour and Tory governments. It is one of the most unionised seats in the country with Prospect, the GMB and Unite having thousands of members each. It is also a highly informed electorate, with more PhDs per head than any other parliamentary constituency in the country.They were not duped by the mainstream media, nor Tory propaganda. They were convinced by it. It is different. How Labour talks about the choice the people ofWest Cumbria made will determine if they are prepared to look again at Labour when there is a general election or when the leadership changes.

Second, the National Health Service – and the Tories’ appalling handling of it – is not enough to save Labour. Former parliamentary candidate Jessica Asato wrote following the result in Copeland, ‘At some point [Labour] will learn that the boy called wolf too many times on the NHS. [The party has] run so many campaigns on 365 days, 10 days, three days, one day to save the NHS, and you know what? People don’t believe it anymore.’ She is right. Labour risks desensitising the voters on the very issue all Labour members care so much about. The party has been warned.

Third, the hard-left’s aversion to the industrial interests of working-class people is now apparent to those whose forebears founded the Labour party and have traditionally been its core vote. Whether it is on civil nuclear power, fracking, Trident, defence more generally or security firms like G4S, the politics of Corbyn and John McDonnell would see those who work in each of these sectors on the scrapheap and their communities go the same way mining communities did underThatcher.The fact many of these manufacturing jobs exist in otherwise isolated places means there are no roads nor infrastructure projects that could be built that would provide a viable and well-paid alternative. Why do the people of Copeland know this? Because Sellafield is all the heavy industry left in an area that used to be home to tin and coal mines too.

The wake-up call for Labour is clear. West Cumbrians sent the plainest of messages: they would rather send the Labour leadership packing for wishing their jobs away than punish the Tory government for actually closing the local maternity unit and urgent care centre. Until the Labour party understands this, this failed leadership project will continue to make its excuses and risk finishing off Labour for good.

Corbyn is visibly damaged for losing a seat held by Labour since 1935. You can tell from the fact the only people out defending him in the media were former staffer Cat Smith, longterm partner in crime McDonnell, neighbour Emily Thornberry – who said it was ‘fake news’ to suggest Corbyn was ever against nuclear power – and new campaign chief Ian Lavery.There was not a peep from the ‘gang of four’ Corbynistas – Clive Lewis, Rachael Maskell, Dawn Butler and Jo Stevens – that resigned from the shadow cabinet over article 50 just weeks before. Nothing from the successor contenders Rebecca Long-Bailey or Angela Rayner.The irony will not be lost that in his moment of apparent need those who call on the rest of the party to ‘back the leader’ could not do the same themselves.

The Fabian Society started 2017 with a report estimating that Labour would get 150 MPs after an election with Corbyn as leader. The Stoke Central result confirms that view, Copeland makes it look optimistic. Corbyn’s team could sort out their rank incompetence, outline some policies all Labour members could get behind and control Corbyn’s bad temper. But Copeland was not about any of these Westminster bubble considerations. It was about politics. The hard-left, Momentum-led political agenda of the Labour leadership was on trial for all to see. The Copeland voters delivered their damning verdict: they found Corbyn and McDonnell’s brand of politics more repugnant than May’s. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee.

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Comments: 6...

  1. On March 3, 2017 at 1:57 pm Alf responded with... #

    The Tory-lite part of the Labour Party that pines for Blair has a point, because with their efforts in Scotland they managed to lose 55 of their 56 seats. Last week Corbyn only lost one out of two – he’s hardly trying.

  2. On March 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm Delta responded with... #

    A dead corpse of a Party that cannot move, refuses to budge, finds a coffin and big hole and throws itself into it needs more….much more than a “wake up call”.

    The party was in desperate need for a “wake-up call” back in 2008-10.

    We have moved well beyond this and the decline only varies in the pace as we move from one seismic event resulting fro poor policy during the Blair era to the next.

    Good policy delivered with depth and fore thought lasts by its own merits. Labour sacrificed merit and turned away its own future. if any organisation on this earth does that it dies, one way or the other. Corbyn is a historic result of this from a time when things were just so easy. And the staunch unadaptable and unmoveable “Progressives” who scream praise when a erm women gets a jobs as though some great revolution has occurred are and are becoming the Corbyns of tomorrow.

    Its a different type but the same thing. Stubborn immovable reliance on a cushdy past, unable to move forwards because of a fixation on the what were good times for MPs and their mates but not so for the people you neglected to represent in favour of distant day-dreams and half-thought out policies in an attempt to try and have a moral reason to exist.

    Having listened very carefully to you all and having read all your interesting articles there is one certainty.

    Your Party is not in arrest at the moment you are blundering from heart attack to stroke and back again with the symptoms. But with each day it is becoming increasingly clear – even to the point that people can talk about it openly. You are fading away. Your voices hold no weight and no traction and your articles are ignored.

    By the people who matter most and the people who as equals, gay straight, black, white. other, male and female….all equals as they stop supporting your historic day-dreams and leave you dead in cardiac arrest at the ballot box.

    You will be in need of resuscitation…but nobody within your ranks has the power to deliver it.

  3. On March 3, 2017 at 3:57 pm SARAH BROOKES responded with... #

    Those calling for Corbyn to realise here that any leader with anti austerity policies would be smeared and vilified as much as Corbyn is.
    This is not about him, this is about keeping the Labour Party as a mark 2 TORY NEOLIBERAL machine that works only for the rich.

    The only way that Progress will endorse a leader is when he/she poses no threat to the wealthy establishment, their pets in the media and the status quo.

    While the poor, the old, the sick, children and the young have no home or job to match their expensive education, the callousness and ruthlessness of the Tories both in front of, and behind Corbyn, is utterly breath taking.

    While the Labour Party should be dealing with these issues, they are fighting the rich mans battles for them, by viciously and ruthlessly making sure that the needs of ordinary people, delivered by socialist and socially democratic policies, are crushed.

    Corbyn did not lose Scotland, New Labour did. New Labour caused the UKs side of the financial crisis with light touch, following through Thatchers big bang, PFI, privatisation and academies, and tuition fees.

    New Labour lost five million votes. New Labour caused the recent crush in the polls with the coup and the constant sniping. They are causing Labour to lose the next election because they prefer May to Corbyn.

  4. On March 3, 2017 at 4:23 pm NotAlf responded with... #

    He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

  5. On March 3, 2017 at 4:53 pm JP Janson De Couet responded with... #

    I’m sickened by Progress. They are 100 times more responsible for Labour’s bad poll ratings than Corbyn.

  6. On March 3, 2017 at 5:20 pm Elizabeth McIntosh responded with... #

    Fascinating to see progress use the phrase ‘working class’. this is a move forward for an organisation that used to talk of aspirations rather than use the word class and saw all reference to class as backward looking and hard left.
    Not sure what policies progress would get behind if Corbyn stays leader given its visceral hatred for the poor man. Progress always seems to favour measures which were discredited in the 2000s.

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