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A Tale of Two By-Elections

Here's a break down of the results of last night's by-elections, and what it means for each party

Mary Edwards

Naked Politics Blogger 

Two by-elections were held following the resignations of Labour’s Tristram Hunt (Stoke on Trent Central) and Jamie Reed (Copeland).  The Stoke on Trent Central by election carried a huge media presence, and was successfully held by Labour and their new MP Gareth Snell, with a swing of -2.2%. On the other hand, the Conservatives comfortably gained a new MP Trudy Harrison in Copeland with a swing of 8.8%.

Labour were desperate to hold onto both seats, and although Labour saw off a committed, strong and heavy invasion by UKIP in Stoke, sampling Jeremy Corbyn’s potential next general election strategy in Copeland saw a rather stunning victory for the Conservatives.

Both the by-elections were very different, giving Labour’s strategic election team a massive headache. This morning there are consequences for the three main parties that were contesting these seats, Labour, The Conservatives and UKIP. Here’s a break down of what those consequences are for each party.

Labour

Parties in opposition love by-elections and parties in government dread them. These elections that pop up are great to capture momentum and a good opportunity to prove that people are unhappy with the party leading government. Unfortunately with Labour, and more so Jeremy Corbyn, these elections have been quite the opposite and allowed constituents to prove how unhappy they are with Labour’s ill attempt to be an effective opposition.

Holding Stoke on Trent Central was a massive task for Labour. It’s a constituency that voted by over 60% to leave the EU, fielded a passionate remain candidate, and UKIP planting their new leader Paul Nuttall to test if UKIP can realistically gain seats from Labour in working class heartlands. Credit where it’s due, and congratulations to Labour for holding Stoke. They took a massive beating from UKIP, but held on and this will give themselves confidence that if they can withstand the pressure like they did in Stoke, they can replicate this in other traditional labour seats that voted to leave the EU.

On the other hand, it an absolute nightmare in Copeland. Labour’s old majority of around 2,000 votes has now mirrored to the Conservatives majority. This seat did hold a narrow margin in 2015, but had been represented by a Labour MP since 1935. Losing a seat such as Copeland to the Conservatives pretty much means that if Theresa May calls a General Election, Labour would be wiped out.

Fitter’s Advice to Labour: Your party is deluded, discredited and doomed. Stop putting forward poor metropolitan Remainers and look to elect people who have a real working class background. Corbyn needs to stand down.

The Conservatives

The Bollinger was definitely out this morning. Not only did they gain from Labour in Copeland, but their candidate in Stoke could have finished second, only 0.4% away from UKIP. Also, another reason to be jubilant is that if Corbyn is leader, their majority in the House of Commons will grow. By sending Theresa May to Stoke on Trent in an election push, this stopped Conservative voter’s tactically voting UKIP to displace Labour. If UKIP had won and this morning we were reading that Labour lost both seats, then Corbyn would be out. The Conservatives need Corybn to stay on as leader of the opposition.

Fitter’s Advice to the Conservatives: Continue to be united, continue to back Theresa May and you will continue to win seats.

UKIP

The party gained real momentum at times in Stoke on Trent. They threw money at this election, even rented a house for their candidate and all of UKIP’s more senior figures all canvassed for Paul Nuttall. Unfortunately for UKIP they didn’t really improve on the 2015 election in Stoke, and they failed to convince constituents of Stoke on Trent that a change of voice would benefit them. UKIP are struggling to create a new identity for themselves and are still seen as a ‘We want a referendum’ single-issue party. UKIP will argue that Stoke on Trent Central was not even in the parties top 50 of target seats and has been Labour since 1950, but if they can’t win here… Will they ever build a Westminster presence? I don’t think so.

Fitter’s Advice to UKIP: A couple of times now you have put a lot of effort into taking a Labour seat, but have failed. You need to realise that it is Conservative voters that you need to convince, if you can’t do this then no more MPs for UKIP. Every by election that occurs, UKIP must field a high profile candidate or your party will fizzle out.

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