As Storm Doris whipped across the country during the last week of February, the results from two by-elections provided the final prognosis on the slow death of two parties: UKIP and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
They were by-elections that Labour should have unquestionably won, both being seats that voted that way for years. But despite managing to fight off UKIP’s best shot at taking Stoke-on-Trent Central, Labour lost Copeland to the Tories, a seat held by Labour for over 80 years. As the fallout from the results continues to play out in the newspapers, any promise of future political credibility for the parties has disappeared.
UKIP’s end comes from the party machine once again failing to get a MP elected into the only seat they realistically could have won. Stoke-on-Trent was by far UKIP’s most likely option to grab a seat due to the strong shared Euroscepticism and a candidate that was considered a real threat to Labour’s northern heartlands.
Ukip has been a de-facto one policy party since its founding in 1993 stressing the hard Eurosceptic and anti-immigration line (the two go hand in hand) with little coating in terms of policies dealing with anything else.
Of course the strategists at UKIP then saw Stoke-on-Trent, the city that voted 69.4% in favour of Brexit and was dubbed the ‘Brexit capital of Britain’, as their best shot for parachuting an MP into the House of Commons.
Paul Nuttall, UKIP’s candidate for Stoke and the party’s current leader, has tirelessly used his working class credentials to brand UKIP over Labour as the “the patriotic voice of working people”. Being born in Merseyside to a working class family, Paul Nuttall sold himself as a local alternative to the reputation of ‘metropolitan elitism’ that Corbyn’s Labour has earned.
“We’re not goin’ anywhere, I’m not goin’ anywhere”. Right from the horse’s mouth.
So, UKIP had the right man and the right message for a win at Stoke, but still they managed to lose. I don’t often agree with Nigel Farage but he rightly said before the Stoke by-election that a win was “fundamental” for the party’s future – a test the party failed. As Nuttall said when the results came in, “We’re not goin’ anywhere, I’m not goin’ anywhere”. Right from the horse’s mouth.
For ‘New New Labour’, the party Corbyn has shaped on the back of his huge mandate, the loss of Copeland is a disaster. Not only is it a loss of constituency that has voted red since 1935 but the very act of losing a seat to the governing party in a by-election is a terrible political achievement, not seen since 1982.
Followed was a carpet bombing of excuses from the Corbyn camp, blaming Blairism, ‘fake news’, the media, bad weather and Labour members not having cars. There was even some extraordinary Orwellian twisting from Labour MP Cat Smith who, without a hint of sarcasm, described the the loss as an “incredible achievement”. Corbyn has remained blameless in the eyes of his loyalists as well as in his own, when the causation between Corbyn and the loss in Copeland is undeniable.
As the Conservative candidate, Trudy Harrison, said in her victory speech “it’s been very clear … that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t represent” the people of Copeland constituency. This sentiment has been repeated by those within the Labour party with former minister Ben Bradshaw, who campaigned in Copeland, insisting that “Jeremy was the one issue on the doorstep.” The Labour campaign could not convince the Copeland electorate that Corbyn and his team’s vision for the UK was tenable or desirable.
The results of Stoke and Copeland shook both parties to the core, with the old scars that were allowed to heal during the by-election campaigns torn open again.
UKIP and their only MP, Douglas Carswell (really more of a Tory), are at each others throats over something irrelevant. Their lack of interest in maintaining unity is just a symptom of the fact their political raison d’etre has been co-opted by the Conservative Party, who have truly become the party of Brexit.
The only real winner of the Thursday before last was the Conservatives, whose unchecked supremacy continues.
The loss of Copeland combined with Corbyn’s rock bottom polling show that the political position he has taken the Labour party to is one occupied by few voters. Even Labour Party members are leaving in droves. The traditional Labour voters left behind by the party’s shift towards the metropolitan left are being hoovered up by the Tories. The party of Eton and the Bullingdon club are unashamedly managing to brand themselves as the party of the working class.
The prospect of a snap election now looms and with it a Conservative landslide victory. The only real winner of the Thursday before last was the Tories, whose unchecked supremacy continues. A supremacy reinforced not by their own attributes, but by Labour and UKIP’s catastrophic failures.