By-elections aren’t normally very interesting. Typically, they take place in a safe seat that’s voted for the same party for decades, triggered due to the retirement of a veteran MP or an MP who’s decided that they’ve had enough of constituency surgeries.
Last week was a bit different though. Two seats were being defended, both by Labour, but both in areas where they looked vulnerable. In Stoke-on-Trent Central, the constituency was being hailed as ‘the capital city of Brexit’ with over 65% of people voting to leave the EU last year. UKIP looked set to try and pounce on Jeremy Corbyn’s weaknesses.
Then there was Copeland, a constituency which has 12,000 residents employed by the local nuclear power plant. Here, Labour was worried that Corbyn’s anti-nuclear power comments would scare off voters from supporting Labour. But then again, the seat had been held by Labour for over 80 years. How badly could things go?
In the first by-election victory by the governing party in over 30 years, the Conservatives took Copeland. A 2,000 vote Labour majority was overturned with a 2,000 vote Tory win. Not a huge swing, but when you look at how the seat has previously voted, it is, as Theresa May put it, an ‘astounding victory’.
Labour managed to hold on in Stoke, albeit with a majority of 3,000 less than in 2015. They did well to keep it, however, if it was Nigel Farage contesting the seat instead of new UKIP leader Paul Nuttall (with his ill-judged Hillsborough comments) I’m not sure that they would have been so lucky.
But what does this all mean? Further evidence that Jeremy Corbyn is not appealing to voters. I’m not saying that he doesn’t have a mandate to lead the Labour party (because he has proved, twice, that he does), however, if things don’t radically change Labour will lose the next General Election by a landslide.
Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and gang have continually been coming up with the ‘give him time’ line, but we have just seen Corbyn slip further and further behind the Tories.
At the back end of last year, Abbott said that it would take a year for Corbyn’s popularity to improve. He has around 9 months left to do so. There will probably have been another by-election by then and even if Labour don’t lose a seat, further cuts in their vote share will provoke renewed questions about his leadership. If things don’t show any sign of improving for Labour by the end of this year, I think that he will resign.