Last night Labour held Stoke Central and lost Copeland to the Tories. As usual, by-elections don’t tell us a huge amount about the bigger political picture, but are very important in setting the political narrative.

By-elections are very unusual beasts. Because they don’t decide who will form the government for the next five years, only who will be the local MP, people are comparatively free to use them to register a protest. They are much more fiercely contested than your average seat at a general election. The constituency itself will also normally have its own local ideosyncracities that mean it can’t just be read as if it is a microcosm of Britain as a whole. So when people ask me what by-elections tell us, I normally say not much: if the change in the vote is in line with what the national polls are showing then it tells us nothing we didn’t already know, if the change is different to the national polls it’s probably just because by-elections are very different to general elections.

Looking at the two results, Copeland is a marginal seat between Labour and the Conservatives… albeit, one that had been in Labour hands for eighty years. The national polls tend to show the Conservatives about 14 points ahead of Labour, the equivalent of a 3.5% swing from Labour to Conservative since the general election. Therefore if Copeland had behaved exactly in line with the national polls it should have been on a knife edge between Conservative and Labour. In the event the Tories gained it comfortably. We cannot be certain why the Tories did better than the national picture would have predicted, thought the most obvious hypothesis is the unusual nature of the seat: Whitehaven is a town wholly dominated by and dependent on one industry – nuclear power – and the Labour party were perceived as being hostile towards it.

On the face of it Stoke Central was a less interesting result – Copeland is one for for the record books, but Stoke saw hardly any change since the general election (only the Lib Dems really saw a significant increase in their share). However it does perhaps give us a idea of the limits to the UKIP threat to Labour. UKIP were perceived as the main challengers from the beginning and it was a promising seat for them: a somewhat neglected working class Labour seat that voted strongly for Brexit, but with a Labour candidate who was remain. They seem to have thrown all they could at it, but with very little success. Again, we can’t be certain why – Paul Nuttall obviously had a difficult campaign and anecdotally UKIP’s ground game was poor, but there are also wider questions about UKIP’s viability now Brexit has been adopted by the Conservatives and without Farage at their helm. By-elections have often been an important route for smaller parties, getting them publicity and a foothold in Parliament. Whenever there has been a by-election in a northern city in the last five years or so there has been speculation about it being a chance for UKIP, but they never seem quite able to pull it off.

So what will the impact of these by-elections be? Copeland will be a body blow to Labour simply because of how incredibly unusual it is. Governments do not normally gain seats at by-elections. Lots of people will be writing about past examples today – 1982 in Micham and Morden (Lab vote split because of SDP defection, and the government got a surge of support during campaign because of the Falklands); 1961 Bristol South East (Tory gain only because the candidate with the most votes – Tony Benn – was disqualified for being a peer), 1960 Brighouse and Spenborough (ultra marginal to begin with). The fact that one has to go back that far to scrape a few examples that generally have extremely unusual circumstances underlines how freakish this is. The political narrative will go back to how Labour are in crisis…but whether that makes the slightest practical difference, I don’t know. Might it provoke another Parliamentary coup within Labour? Who knows. Might it sow some doubts among Corbyn supporters within the Labour party? Again, who knows. The point is, Labour have had terrible poll ratings for a long time, Jeremy Corbyn has has terrible poll ratings for a long time, but this did not stop him being being relected leader last year. The question of Labour’s leadership is one that seems to be a lot more about the opinion of Labour members than the wider public.


909 Responses to “Stoke and Copeland by-elections”

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  1. Woe is me: without an effective opposition the whole structure of democracy is imperilled

  2. The problem that I think Labour are going to have as evidenced even by some of the comments by posters here is that despite poll after poll of poor results many within the Labour membership and those that do support JC simply don’t believe the party is doing as badly as the polls suggest.

    This is just my opinion, mostly based off of what I have read here, what Labour supporters I know have told me and of course the echoing chamber of social media.

  3. The Copeland result has no equal even in the 20th Century!

    https://www.ncpolitics.uk/2017/02/copeland-turning-blue-would-be-more-historic-than-you-think.html/#more-2556

    “The last time a governing party gained a seat in by-election by overturning a principal opposition party majority of more than 3 per cent, without a defecting incumbent, a disqualified winner or a material change in the set of parties contesting the seat, was when John Derby Allcroft took Worcester for the Tories on 28th Mar 1878, overturning a 7.6 per cent Liberal majority.”

    “So the Conservatives are trying to do something that hasn’t been done on a genuine like-for-like basis for 139 years, since a time when women couldn’t vote, secret ballots had only been in use for one general election and Keir Hardie wasn’t yet even a union organiser.”

    “Which is not to say that they won’t succeed. But if they do, and Theresa May gains an MP mid term, she won’t have done something that hasn’t been done since Thatcher. She’ll have done something that hasn’t been done since Disraeli.”

    I’m officially moving “The Corbyn Disaster” “DEFCON” status up a peg to “The Corbyn Catastrophe”

  4. I suspect that most members of the Labour Party know how badly the party is doing but many would prefer to lose fighting for an agenda they belive inm rather than win on an agenda they don’t.

  5. Good morning all from a bright but rather cold Itchen Valley here in rural Hampshire.
    It feels like the morning after a GE.
    BIGFATRON
    I think, Allan Christie got it pretty much right (and you won’t hear me saying that very often!) ;-)
    ……
    THE OTHER HOWARD
    Allan Christie
    Yes, hats off to you, that was a good forecast for Copeland considering by-elections are so difficult. Well done sir!
    I got both results right but didn’t put numbers to them. :-)
    __________
    Thank you, both for the lovely compliments…I know I know I am very good at the ol forecasting malarkey. ;-)

    Ok now that my head has deflated back to its normal size, the biggest surprise of the night for me was how the Labour candidate before and after the Copeland result was sounding like as if she was standing on behalf of the governing party and lost the by-election to the opposition.

    That to me just shows what a stunning result Copeland was for the Tories. Ok it wasn’t the largest swing in by-election history but the fact the governing party gained a seat in mid-term from the opposition, a seat which has been held by the same party for decades, in itself will go down as one of the all-time great by-election results.

  6. “Looking at the two results, Copeland is a marginal seat between Labour and the Conservatives… albeit, one that had been in Labour hands for eighty years. The national polls tend to show the Conservatives about 14 points ahead of Labour, the equivalent of a 3.5% swing from Labour to Conservative since the general election. Therefore if Copeland had behaved exactly in line with the national polls it should have been on a knife edge between Conservative and Labour. In the event the Tories gained it comfortably. We cannot be certain why the Tories did better than the national picture would have predicted, thought the most obvious hypothesis is the unusual nature of the seat: Whitehaven is a town wholly dominated by and dependent on one industry – nuclear power – and the Labour party were perceived as being hostile towards it”
    ____________

    Yeah TM played a blinder when she visited the seat and talked nuclear. It certainly got the atoms running toward the Tories.

  7. @Sea Change – are we at ‘CORBCOM 1’ yet?

  8. @Allan Christie

    I noticed that you have gone very quiet on the Lib Dems performance in the parliamentary by-elections:

    Copeland 7.25% (+3.80%) and pushing UKIP into 4th place.
    Stoke-on-Trent Central 9.84% (+5.67%)

    Also a couple of local by-election wins:
    Charterlands (South Hams) result:
    LDEM: 46.1% (+46.1)
    CON: 39.3% (-25.0)
    LAB: 10.7% (+10.7)
    GRN: 3.9% (-15.6)
    No Ind unlike previous.

    Barton (Kettering) result:
    LDEM: 57.0% (+57.0)
    CON: 29.8% (-19.3)
    UKIP: 9.4% (-14.1)
    GRN: 3.7% (-3.5)
    No Labour unlike previous.

    and one improved performance
    Chigwell Village (Epping Forest) result:
    CON: 76.0% (+13.6)
    LDEM: 24.0% (+20.5)
    No Lab and Grn unlike prev.

    Data from Britain Elects

    It starts to look like the two polls showing Lib Dems back at 8% were rogues and the true support is in double figures.

  9. @Alec “CORBCOM” – yes that’s better.

    There are unfortunately a few further levels:

    5 The Corbyn Disaster
    4 The Corbyn Catastrophe
    3 The Corbyn Apocalypse
    2 The Corbyn Annihilation
    1 The Corbyn Liquidation

  10. Everyone apart from Corbyn and his cabal know what the cause of this Titanic disaster is (as with all Titanics – it is the captain and the course he has chosen). In both Stoke and Copeland, everyone said Corbyn was a loser – Stoke was actually a worse result but cos of a bigger cushion and a split UKIP/Con vote they just hung on.

    So as Labour sinks, the only question is whether one of Corbyn’s inner-circle, or some of his mob, begin to realise what everyone else can see. It will probably take another council election drubbing to make the faithful lose faith – you can go on and on about how “there are more people on the Titanic than ever before”, but there has to be a moment when you begin to realise you are going to sink without trace.

  11. @LEFTIELIBERAL

    If memory serves the polling average has them at 10% or 11%.

  12. @Sea Change – the Telegraph has a video story titled ‘Storm Doris Blows Man Away’.

    Who are they talking about?

  13. @ADRIAN B

    Sadly, I don’t think they care. They are a movement! They have the largest membership in Europe! They are going to change politics!

    Corbyn won’t step down until the 5% rule is implemented or they get enough left winger MPs elected to be able to form a solid 20%-25% voting block.

  14. @Leftieliberal

    Just as UKIP will fade away as Brexit becomes reality, it would be wise of the Lib Democrats to offer something beyond trying to appeal to a few disillusioned Remainers in the vicinity of London.

  15. Could not agree more about the democratic process being imperilled.
    There has to be an effective opposition but where oh where is it coming from?

  16. jonesinbangor

    I really don’t think the LDs should take advice from someone who is on the opposite side of the fence to them.

    It’d be like the EU taking advice from UKIP in the forthcoming negotiations.

  17. @Alec :)

    From “The Road To Wigan Pier”, George Orwell

    “Socialism is such elementary common sense, that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.”

    Orwell was amazed that the working classes hadn’t fully embraced it.

    He said there was a type of socialist that was utterly out of touch with their lives. Orwell called them, “bearded”, “vegetarian”, “teetotal”, “prim”, “middle-class”, “a crank” and “a pacifist”.

    Who does that remind you of?

  18. LEFTIELIBERAL
    @Allan Christie
    “I noticed that you have gone very quiet on the Lib Dems performance in the parliamentary by-elections”
    __________

    Not true….I do believe I was first to post the stunning Lib/Dem local by-election results last night on the previous thread. I also stated with regards to the LibDems local election results to that of their national VI in the polls, it was like as if the party was living in a parallel universe.

    Yes the Lib/Dems increased their vote share in both Westminster by-elections last night/this morning but in both seats, the party failed to break into double figures.

    Looking at the longer term bigger picture, I would say the Lib/Dems will make some significant gains during the local elections and by the time we reach 2020 GE the party may win around 12 seats at best based on recent polling.

    They won 7.4% of the national vote at the last GE and in both by-election seats they did marginally better than their national vote share.

    I don’t buy the idea because a party is dowing well at local level, that it somehow translates into Westminster success. All I’m seeing from the Lib/Dems at national level is modest progress.

  19. SEA CHANGE

    “He said there was a type of socialist that was utterly out of touch with their lives. Orwell called them, “bearded”, “vegetarian”, “teetotal”, “prim”, “middle-class”, “a crank” and “a pacifist”.

    “Who does that remind you of?”
    ____________

    It reminds me of JASPER and his infamous “muesli munching lemon sipping flip-flop wearing” post. ;-)

  20. AW wrote
    ”The fact that one has to go back that far to scrape a few examples that generally have extremely unusual circumstances underlines how freakish this is”

    In 30 years time when something similar happens again maybe the extremely ususual circumastances will include when Corbyn was Labour leader?

  21. @SEACHANGE
    I was just having a dig at him, because he always pushes the line that the Lib Dems should be doing much better than they are (the opposite approach to politicians who talk down the expectations of their party in an election). He had made much of the last two 8% results from Opinium and ICM.

    I think that the by-election results are consistent with a poll rating of 11% and that if Lib Dem support continues to grow it will probably be in the high teens by May 2020. I would look back to 1992, when the Lib Dem share of the vote was 17.8% and 20 Lib Dem MPs were elected as being the nearest comparator to May 2020 (for the Lib Dem vote, as all indications are that Labour will do much worse than in 1992)

  22. On the local election results. It’s interesting that despite the massive membership at grass roots level, Labour didn’t even field a candidate in two of the seats. Not a good sign.

    It’s also a partial explanation for LibDems’ success.

  23. @Sea Change – so if they don’t get the 5% rule changed and Corbyn stays on till the election the 25% rule should be pretty easy then. When Labour has only 8 MPs and three of them are Abbott, McDonnell and Corbyn, they are sorted. What a dream come true.

    However, back in the real world (because actually even leftie activists eventually hate losing, and the icy water of actual defeats concentrates minds), if they don’t get their rule change, and Labour are still 15% behind in the polls, it’s clear (from everything else that is happening behind the scenes) that Corbyn will be untenable – McDonnell and even Uncle Len realise that. I think they know that if Corbyn goes on being as awful as he has been for the next 12 months, they could actually lose to a very vibrant Ummuna or Jarvis campaign (I know lots of activists who voted for Corbyn over Smith but would have voted for Jarvis or Ummuna).

    At that point, if they’ve fought off the rule change even the moderates might go for a “Michael Howard” solution, where someone leftie but sane (e.g. Clive Lewis?) or moderate but trusted (e.g. Keir Starmer?) might be palatable to everyone to stave off disaster. At this point just a 1983 level defeat would be a dream scenario.

    The sane MPs plan seem to have decided to make no moves against Corbyn and say clearly he is going to be at the helm for the GE, and concentrate minds. This gives Momentum nothing to kick against and leaves McDonnell and Abbott on the hook for sorting out the problem.

  24. An anti-nuclear far-leftist from Islington whose party supported remaining in the EU and unlimited immigration doesn’t play well in a Cumbrian seat dependent entirely on nuclear power who voted leave 62-38.

    The only surprise is that they didn’t do worse. Corbyn is odds on favourite for Prime Minister of Inner London, various student unions, and very little else.

    It’s not that his supporters don’t know this, it’s that they actually don’t care, and never have cared, about traditional working class Labour areas or their concerns, or about losing so long as they can have a drink at the student union afterwards talking about how righteous and right they are.

    The result. Electoral disaster outside the M25. Simples.

  25. Nikolai

    The question is, when do the traditional working class spot this?

  26. Adrian
    “leftie but sane” best laugh of the day so far!

    Nikolai
    All of that makes sense. My main concern now is that with no effective opposition the Tories might get arrogant (ok even more arrogant) and carried away because they can basically do whatever they want.

  27. @ALLAN CHRISTIE

    The two by-election seats were where the Lib Dems polled very poorly in the 2015 GE, so they are not comparable to the nationwide vote. Adding the average increase in the two by-elections to the nationwide vote last time produces a projected nationwide vote of just under 13%, quite similar to the national opinion polls, which should have individual errors of +/-2% at this level.

  28. What I find rather depressing about the whole mess that Labour is in, is that – apart from issues around the achingly dull internal party management – I really don’t know what the great policy divisions are that are leading to such a toxic party. And I say this as someone who follows politics reasonably closely.

    I understand Corbyn’s general position on public services, but other than saying he will spend more, I’m unsure what he really stands for. As pretty much every other Labour MP says they wish to spend more, again, I don’t really know what difference it would make if Corbyn was replaced by someone else.

    This is why I keep returning to Corbyn’s appallingly bad strategic nouse. He keeps doing things he doesn’t have to do, which get him into trouble and discredit his party. Yet none of these things are really central tenets of party belief, so I’m struggling to understand why there is so much anxiety amongst his supporters were someone else to e leading Labour.

  29. @Leftieliberal
    Stoke central, 2010
    Labour Tristram Hunt 12,605 38.8 -13.6
    Liberal Democrat John Redfern 7,039 21.7 +3.1
    Conservative Norsheen Bhatti 6,833 21.0 +3.7
    A way to go?

  30. @JimJam

    “AW wrote
    ”The fact that one has to go back that far to scrape a few examples that generally have extremely unusual circumstances underlines how freakish this is”
    In 30 years time when something similar happens again maybe the extremely ususual circumstances will include when Corbyn was Labour leader?”

    LOL

  31. @ALAN

    Looks like they’ve spotted it pretty clearly to me. The Brexit Vote was just the start of it – Labour needs to return to its roots outside of London, especially on core issues like immigration, industry, jobs, etc.

    @PETE B

    Agreed – even as a right-winger I worry about any one-party govnt with no effective opposition. It’s unhealthy for a country. I must say though, May is hardly an extremist – a department for industrial strategy isn’t exactly of the Thatcher mould.

    But I do worry about the state of our parlimentary democracy with Corbyn in charge of Labour – regardless of my political affiliations.

  32. @LEFTIELIBERAL

    I think your prediction of high teens is possible. I would be surprised if they were not into double figures of seats with the Labour VI in the hole it is.

  33. Adrian – the Michael Howard option is my preference but it has to be someone who knows they will lose with dignity and then step aside for a candidate with a chance in 2025.

    Cilve Lewis is too blatantly ambitious (as far as I can tell) to want to be an interim loser and Kier Stamer and Dan Jarvis are too new as a front line politicians to in effect bow out after the 2020 GE. It was Howards swang-song having been a senior cabinet member who ‘enjoyed’ a moderately successful career.

    Lisa Nandy is staying out for the time being so who can we possibly get?

    Sadiq Khan may come back after his term but again not daft enough to lose in 2020 and Carwyn Jones is (and has never been an MP).

  34. What I think people should be concentrating on, following last night’s results, is how good they are for the Tories, and Mrs May in particular.
    As well as Jeremy not appealing to the country, Mrs May is a woman of her time. Her no nonsense, stern , hard working – even humourless – demeanour is playing well with the British people.
    We are living through one of those times when the British people are in what could be described as “buggeration” mode. Something akin to the Dunkirk spirit, the “very well, alone” mantra.
    Lots of reasons for this – financial crash, London bankers not having been seen to pay a price, the treatment of Mr Cameron by the continentals when he was trying to re-negotiate our EU membership, Obama telling us we’d be at the back of the queue, Osborne warning there would be a punishment budget if we voted to leave the EU.
    Mrs May’s decision to immediately say Brexit means Brexit might be scoffed at by the London luvvies and liberals in general but it chimes with the people. Spin and froth have had their day with the public and if she has any sense she’ll drive a really hard bargain with them across the channel and walk away if they start playing up.
    Because the people will be behind her – not the moaning ” everything abroad is better than Britain ” liberal wishy washy sorts – the normal, hard working , patriotic Britons .
    The question is, will she seize her chance to reshape the political map of the kingdom?

  35. @ADRIAN B “The sane MPs plan seem to have decided to make no moves against Corbyn and say clearly he is going to be at the helm for the GE, and concentrate minds. This gives Momentum nothing to kick against and leaves McDonnell and Abbott on the hook for sorting out the problem.”

    Mason’s Blairite conspiracy statements today suggest there is some way to go before that happens.

    (Btw it’s 15% needed for leadership nominations at the moment not 25%)

    The obvious backup plan is they are counting on the boundary changes in 2018 whereby many Labour MPs can be democratically deselected so the left can comfortably climb above the 15% threshold if they can’t lower the nomination minimum to 5%.

  36. LeftieLiberal,

    “I noticed that you have gone very quiet on the Lib Dems performance in the parliamentary by-elections:
    Copeland 7.25% (+3.80%) and pushing UKIP into 4th place.
    Stoke-on-Trent Central 9.84% (+5.67%)”

    In the same by-elections the conservative results were:

    Copeland: (+8.5%) and winning the seat.
    Stoke-on-Trent Central: (+1.8%)

    That makes an average increase of 5.15% for Con vs 4.74% for LD.
    Okay, LDs did better than Lab (-4.9 & -2.2 = -3.55%), UKIP (-9.0% & +2.1% = -3.45%) or Greens (-1.3% & -2.2% = -1.75%), but hardly a triumph or indicative of over-performance compared to national polls.

  37. A salutary reminder from AW:

    ‘By-elections are very unusual beasts. Because they don’t decide who will form the government for the next five years, only who will be the local MP, people are comparatively free to use them to register a protest. They are much more fiercely contested than your average seat at a general election. The constituency itself will also normally have its own local ideosyncracities that mean it can’t just be read as if it is a microcosm of Britain as a whole. So when people ask me what by-elections tell us, I normally say not much: if the change in the vote is in line with what the national polls are showing then it tells us nothing we didn’t already know, if the change is different to the national polls it’s probably just because by-elections are very different to general elections.’

    I can’t help being reminded of the men in the saloon bar swopping cricket statistics.. and how many runs the useless batsman scored in 1846 even though it was very windy etc etc. As Colin would remind you Macmillan said ‘Events dear boy. Events.’

  38. @NIKOLAI “But I do worry about the state of our parliamentary democracy with Corbyn in charge of Labour – regardless of my political affiliations.”

    That is one of my main reasons for the opprobrium I heap upon Corbyn. It is profoundly unhealthy for the country in the medium to long term.

  39. @ JimJam

    Harriet Harman has been saying she should have stood in the leadership election. Not saying that she’s acceptable to me but she fits your Michael Howard role.

  40. She does Sue but think she would not be acceptable to current JC supporters and, in particular, new members.

  41. @Syzygy – yes, I would agree, but political parties do need to be in a fit enough state to capitalise on events. At present, under Corbyn, I’m really not sure that they are.

    I would argue that we can see this already. It’s frankly inconceivable that Labour in opposition, faced with months of NHS in crisis stories, despicable example of elderly people being left alone in their own excrement because the social care system is collapsing, and seeing stories of conservative councils writing to parents saying that without donations their children’s schools will need to run on a 4 day week, yet Labour is on 24%.

    I know Brexit is making conventional judgements difficult, but we’ve had myriad events that should have helped Labour, and this tells me that the time has passed for hoping that the wheel will turn and Labour can take advantage.

  42. @Syzygy

    AW – “Because they don’t decide who will form the government for the next five years, only who will be the local MP, people are comparatively free to use them to register a protest.”

    Let’s let that sink in.

    Despite this relative freedom, in both Copeland and Stoke, voters rejected the idea of making that protest. In other words, Labour is not even seen as a vehicle for protest, let alone a potential party of government.

    But of course that’s all Blair and Mandelson’s fault.

  43. Looking at how the LD’s are performing in local elections, and how they have performed in parliamentary by-elections I expect them to get between 15-25 seat in 2020, but with more than 3 years to go that forecast could change significantly either way. Certainly the Tories should be worried about them.

  44. @ LeftieLiberal RE: LibDem performance

    The LibDem % in Copeland is their 2nd lowest since 1979 (& lower than when it was the Alliance’s lowest result in the entire country).
    LibDem % in Stoke is their 2nd lowest since the dawn of time.

    Obviously 2015 were the only ones lower.

  45. And as with every other by-election since the referendum (very much inc. Witney & Richmond) the LibDems significantly under-performed the Remain vote, – which seems particularly bad for a challenger party (committing a lot of resources) in an election type where the government isn’t at stake/ other squeeze factors.

  46. JASPER22

    @”Mrs May is a woman of her time. Her no nonsense, stern , hard working – even humourless – demeanour is playing well with the British people.”

    Yes-and demonstrably so if you read the comparative Leadership Approval ratings. Of course they are comparative & so one must conclude that Mrs May enjoys the perceived benefits of her opponent’s characteristics, as well as those of her own.

    But it does seem reasonable to conclude from Copeland-what AW describes as a Lab/Con Marginal-that where a seat is up for grabs May can tip it against Corbyn.

    I think parties need to be careful of relying too much on the effect of one person.Although current VI indicates that support for the Conservative Party is as strong as support for its Leader , I do agree with you that May’s perceived qualities at a time of national importance must be a significant factor.

    Whilst Corbyn is in place , the comparative gain for May will presumably persist. But ” no nonsense, stern , hard working ” can still turn into “wrong” if things go pear shaped in the next two or three years.

    As much as is possible she needs to kick her ministers into delivering the “government of all the people” which she talked about in Copeland this morning.

    Business Rates reforms which destroy the High Street, and an NHS in never ending crisis will not be unnoticed despite Brexit.
    And in the unlikely event that Corbyn is replaced by an effective operator-they will soon impact on Con VI.

  47. Re: protest vote in by-elections.
    The conventional wisdom is that the protest is against the party in power. However, is there any reason why this could not amount to a protest vote against the current Labour Leadership? If there is no such reason that could be a useful angle for polling research in the aftermath.

  48. The key figure in both by-elections was Mrs May. Visiting Stoke to persuade Tory voters not to switch to UKIP, and visiting Copeland to emphasise the nuclear issue.

    Here is a thought experiment:

    Imagine Cameron was still PM, so it was a Cameron v Corbyn battle. Lab would have held both Copeland and Stoke easily because voters in those areas didn’t really rate Cameron (they had rejected him in two general elections).

    Another thought experiment:

    Imagine Owen Smith won last year’s Lab leadership election, and it was a Mrs May v Smith battle. Mrs May doesn’t have Cameron’s problems. Smith’s ardent Remainer attitude would have been central to the contest, and Copeland is a strong leave area, with the Conservative candidate a Leaver. And Copeland has been trending Conservative for a while, Lab’s majority has been dropping steadily. I think Conservatives would have won Copeland in that scenario.

    Regarding the tradition that by-elections are a protest against the “establishment”. Mrs May ruthlessly sacked the establishment after Brexit, the whole country was delighted at the way she got rid of Osborne for example. She is also considered to be the person who is doggedly trying to deliver the people’s will on Brexit, against a host of establishment people trying to thwart her in the courts and in the Lords. Perhaps the vote was about people sending a signal that they backed the insurgent Mrs May against the establishment who oppose her. So it is a traditional by-election after all, it’s just that the Prime Minister has managed to make herself the tribune of the little people.

  49. LEFTIELIBERAL
    @ALLAN CHRISTIE
    “The two by-election seats were where the Lib Dems polled very poorly in the 2015 GE, so they are not comparable to the nationwide vote. Adding the average increase in the two by-elections to the nationwide vote last time produces a projected nationwide vote of just under 13%, quite similar to the national opinion polls, which should have individual errors of +/-2% at this level”
    ____________

    Look, I know you’re on a wee high because the Lib/Dems have done quite well at local by-elections in some village environs but all I’m saying is at the national level the party isn’t making significant progress in the polls. Even if we take their higher end of the national polls of 13%, then what’s that going to get them in 2020, 10, 12 seats or a 10% discount on the minibus hire?

    The Lib’Dems have made great noise (some in the industry call it megaphone diplomacy) about them being the only UK wide pro-EU party. It didn’t resonate with the voters in Copeland and Stoke and in the national polls, it appears to be giving the party some very modest traction.

    If the Lib/Dems really want a benchmark to look back on then they should be looking back to 2010 and not the car crash of 2015.

    Now, I’m working from home today and I really don’t want to spend most of my time posting on the Lib/Dems. I was filling out my expenses form and almost wrote Lib/Dems down in the miscellaneous box. ;-)

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