Could Labour hold on in by elections?

Labour coping

With the NHS at breaking point, our prisons in meltdown and the government’s plan to solve the housing crisis widely criticised, the Tories don’t deserve any success in next week’s by elections.

The fact that the seats of Copeland and Stoke Central are in play is due to the literally incredible Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It’s all so different from twenty years ago, when Labour swept the Tories out of Wirral South in a by election which was a foretaste of the Blair landslide to come months later.

Things have reached such a pass that two talented, but vastly inexperienced, Greater Manchester MPs are being suggested as successors to the hapless Corbyn. Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford) and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner (Ashton) have been MPs for less than two years and are virtually unknown on the national stage.

This speculation was provoked by a survey in Manchester that showed diehard Labour supporters giving Corbyn dire ratings. That supports what I am picking up from my sources within the party.

So why do I think Labour might hold on to both seats? The greatest threat to them comes in Copeland where Corbyn’s equivocal attitude to nuclear power and nuclear weapons is toxic in an area that depends on both for jobs. The Labour majority is slim. The seat includes the genteel town of Keswick as well as the more industrial coastal strip around Sellafield and Whitehaven and voters tend to punish parties when the sitting MP walks off the job as Jamie Reed did. That said the Labour candidate, Gillian Troughton, has made clear her support for all things nuclear, has distanced herself from Corbyn and is campaigning hard against plans to transfer maternity services from Whitehaven to Carlisle.

Theresa May visited the constituency this week. Prime Ministers don’t usually do that if they think their party is going to lose. That said Copeland/Whitehaven has been Labour territory since 1935 and they could cling on.

Why vote UKIP?

Tristram Hunt was imposed on Stoke Central in 2010 when that was the way things were done by New Labour. It was no surprise when he found the attractions of the ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum more attractive than representing the people of the Potteries, who voted heavily to leave the EU. Hunt’s departure has given UKIP the perfect chance to show that they can appeal to Labour voters fed up with the metropolitan values of the Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party.

But there are big risks for UKIP. Their new leader Paul Nuttall has had to put his neck on the line and fight the seat when his inclination may have been to give it more time before trying for parliament. He has quickly found out that being a candidate leads to unwelcome publicity. So it has proved as it has emerged that he did not lose close relatives in the Hillsborough disaster. His brand is that of a plain speaking scouser which might not play well in the Potteries. UKIP’s main challenge though is to offer credible policies for the working class on other issues than Europe. The government is forcing a hard Brexit on us, so what’s the point of voting UKIP?

It may be that the disillusionment with politics that was so strong last June will give UKIP their first northern seat, but Labour still have a chance.

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