The morning of friday the 23rd was that of any other, I rose early to use the shower before congestion kicked in, indulged in my morning bowl of beautiful chocolate flavoured wheat cereal and booted up the old PC. Loading up my facebook newsfeed it could have just been another friday morning except this followed two important by-elections for MP’s. Above their usual importance of seeing how well the government and opposition is fairing with the electorate, these followed one of the most momentous decisions made by the British public for over 40 years in the Brexit vote as well as bring the first electoral benchmark in opposition held constituencies for Theresa May in her tenure as Prime Minister.
The results were in, Labour had held onto Stoke-on-Trent Central while the Conservatives managed to steal a shock victory in Copeland. Copeland was by no means a safe Labour seat however the party has controlled it since the 1930’s which only deepened the sense of loss in defeat. On the other hand Stoke was pretty a safe Labour seat so their success in defending it requires less recognition.
For most of the campaigning the media focused firmly on Stoke as that’s where UKIP’s Paul Nuttall was standing in his first electoral attempt since assuming the leadership. A baptism by fire certainly, it would prove whether UKIP would remain as a domestic force or would be destroyed in defeat as their party slackens its hold on the minds of the electorate. After all for over 20 years since its inception their main focus has always being on getting Britain out the European Union and now they’ve achieved that would the party still serve a purpose? Would their anti-establishment stance allow them to sustain a foothold? I will make another post for this contentious issue. For now I will focus on Labour.
No where near as much media focus was on Copeland. This only helped to magnify the surprise emphasized by the fact the Conservatives were never really portrayed as the main enemy for Labour in these elections, always UKIP and their working class appeal. So with the Conservative victory it does raise some concerns about Labour, its current internal conflict and its potentially worrying outlook for the future. Though the troubles have been speculated for some time, Copeland has brought them to the forefront.
Firstly we will examine the numbers. There were around 8,000 less people who turned out to vote as opposed to the 39,000 at the General Election 2015. This shows itself in the downturn in the Labour vote, down 5,000 as a result, for 11,600 in total. The Conservative vote however only decreased around 500 votes for a total of 13,700. While the traditionally lower turnouts for by-elections could be to blame, it could be interpreted as a symptom of something deeper with the Labour Party.
A symptom which manifests itself in the age old struggle of left, right and center. The change from embedding themselves in the centre left under Ed-Miliband to the more left wing policy platform of Corbyn has had consequences, which have shown themselves today and Labour have paid the price. Falling short in appealing to the broad masses through the prism of the left the opposing Conservatives, who while they’ve moved further to the right still keep a foot in the centre, allowed them selves to appeal to a broader base. Thus achieving a vital victory . If Labour continuously fails to mobilize the masses under socialist policies or manages to regain centrist voters then dark times are ahead. Any replication of these results in marginal seats up and down the country would lead an onslaught at the ballot box, culminating in a brutal bloodbath of Labour MP’s.
Another point, one which cannot be dismissed, glossed over or swept under the rug is the complete collapse of unity with the Party. Right now Labour is in a horrendously chaotic state to which it seems there is no end in sight. Ever since Corbyns election as leader there has developed the political equivalent of trench warfare. On one side are Corbyn and his supporters, emboldened by his successful bid for leader, gaining new strength as well as renewed faith that the left can not only succeed but is required to fight against the ruthless Conservative government. On the other hand are the Blairites who started this, representing the right wing of the party they see the left as unelectable, untamed and out of date; harking back to the 1980’s when Labour failed to combat their arch nemesis Margaret Thatcher, assuming that if they go back they will be crushed even more. Unabated continuously for almost two years they are deeply entrenched in their ideals, both sides show no sign of budging. Until they reconcile their differences the country will suffer. Failing to provide a real substantial opposition to the Conservative government, allowing them to implement more right wing policies then they would otherwise. Those who are not embedded in the party see the ruckus on the Labour benches as a embarrassment, all the while the Tories seem to be a bit more united(as much as they can be since their backbenches are notorious for being rebellious) which converts itself to electability.
While I may like Corbyn as a breath of fresh air from the usual robot it does feel he suffers from a severe lack of passion and enthusiasm. Which translates itself into a rather loose grip on the party further fueling the insurrection. To rectify the leadership problems he faces are momentous, rather than acting as merely a moderator for the party he needs to clamp his fist and bang it on the table. Whipping the revolting members into line and engaging in an aggressive series of offensives on the Conservative government and its brutal attacks on the state. Failing to do this will only fuel Labours slide into descent into limbo, a great shame for a once proud working class movement. The policies aren’t the problem, nether is the party, the farcical leadership and MPs are.
Copeland and Stoke might not have been the first by-elections during Corbyns tenure as leader but they certainly wont be the last, and if these are a sign of what is to come then dark tidings lie ahead. After all winning in safeseats is one thing, but losing in a previously Labour held marginal seat? disastrous.