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. WB

    No problem. If you don’t have access to copy and paste use BZ.


    Re NI, here’s a re-post from Tuesday afternoon on the LT poll:

    The LT poll of NI first preferences is now out, with the Belfast Telegraph reporting:
    DUP 26.35% SF 25.34% UUP 13.9% SDLP 12.2% Alliance 9.4%

    2016 NI GE figures were:
    DUP 29.2% SF 24.0% UUP 12.6% SDLP 12.0% Alliance 7.0%

    No information about subsequent preferences, though, which is what will really count.

  3. Polls of VI are next to useless in NI elections , these are multi member constituencies

    Interestingly some the smaller parties have been pitching for cross community second preferences so that the UUP has suggested a second preference should go to the SDLP rather than the major parties on the premise that this is hw to make Stormont work on bread and butter issues rather than you’ll get a Border Poll if SF win (DUP) you are upholding corruption if DUP win (SF)
    10 months ago it took until Saturday to sort out the counting: there are now 18 fewer seats: but I think it might take even longer.

  4. “oliver Kamm in the Times…
    The costs of trade protectionism are import tariffs, import quotas and export subsidies that damage living standards and create inefficiencies.”


    the problem with neoliberal economics is it ignores the paradox in maximizing capitalist efficiency which is wages are both a cost and the source of revenue

    for any individual firm the wages they pay are a large part of their costs but only a small part of their revenue however *collectively* the sum total of all the wages paid is where all their revenue comes from

    so “free trade” deals which lead to all the jobs going where labour is cheapest ends in economic stagnation – like now

    in a nutshell “efficiency” is good but it needs to be at a gradual pace

    (Trump’s real problem though – as you can tell by the constant media attacks – is it wasn’t foreign countries doing this to the the USA it was their own political-media class because they greatly benefit from off-shored US corporations like Apple paying Chinese wages while selling at US prices.)

  5. “so “free trade” deals which lead to all the jobs going where labour is cheapest ends in economic stagnation – like now’

    But economics is not a zero sum game.

  6. Interesting (long detailed) article about Manchester Gorton and all it’s factions within the Labour party:

    If the LibDems can’t exploit this stuff, they’re not doing their jobs.

  7. @Barbazenzero

    Ta very much. Yes, the STV system does make polling as a prediction difficult, but sometimes the 1st pref votes can cast some light on things.

  8. WB – 10.05

    I am not surprised by the results of the survey, even if the participants were self-selecting. The ‘Unionist’ part of the Conservative coalition in England has been stretched almost to breaking point. I would think that, given the up-coming discussions on how to distribute the ‘regained powers’ (if that is the opposite of devolved) from Brussels, plus continuing unwillingness of the UK government to tackle the absurdity which is the Barnet Formula, may just break the camel’s back – which is why I don’t think Nicola needs to do anything at present, except keep reminding the English of the facts of the situation…..

  9. SeaChange 10.17

    No serious observer ever thought that Parliament would go against the wishes of the people as expressed in the referendum. To keep on attacking that ‘aunt Sally’ is deliberately to avoid the real point, which is that the process has to be done by Parliament. An Act of Parliament took us in and an Act of Parliament has to take us out. To think otherwise is to propose a ‘Banana Republic’, or Saudi style monarchy, where those in power can change the law whenever they like without involving the people’s representatives.
    Perhaps you prefer that we (or the Government) abolish Parliament?

    As for British nationals currently living in other parts of the EU, it is they who have been calling for the clarity offered by the Lords’ amendment. If the UK government comes to the negotiating table offering to allow all EU citizens who are already resident to stay, that makes for a much more positive beginning to the talks. To threaten (and bully – which is what it seems like from the receiving end, I can assure you) those who are already here is hardly conducive to positive relations, is it?
    I am not naive. I am, however, someone with experience of living in other parts of the EU, whose wife is Italian. I know of what I write!

  10. John B
    “….absurdity which is the Barnet Formula…”

    Didn’t Lord Barnett himself recently say it had only been intended as a short term measure? Why no UK government has got rid of it is surprising.

  11. Pete B

    Precisely! I understand why Labour never wanted rid of it, but why Conservatives are willing to betray their economic theory (and moral theory of people standing on their own two feet, for that matter) in order to subsidise Scotland is, quite frankly, beyond me.
    Unless there is something we don’t know about……. or are not including in the discussion, such as defence policy……

  12. John B 1:00

    well no actually. A referendum kept us in the common market in 1974/5. Does that fact make us a banana republic? For the second time Parliament handed the choice to the people.

    Or is it a manifestation of Tancred’s Law:

    I win a referendum= democracy

    you win a referendum = banana republic

  13. @JohnB

    Osborne tried to cut the Barnet formula in return for passing more power to Scotland, but Sturgeon started squealing once she realised what that meant, and pressured Cameron to veto Osborne.

    Cameron of course caved, he has to be the worst negotiator Britain has ever seen!

    See the following for more detail:


    Sturgeon said the UK government’s proposed formula, set out by Greg Hands, the chief secretary to the Treasury, would see Holyrood lose about £2.7bn over the next decade

    end quote

    As long as the SNP subscribes to “begging-bowl” poltics, Scotland won’t be in a position to stand on it’s own feet and thus won’t vote for independence. Not sure why they haven’t reaized this and haven’t used the last decade to turn Scotland into a lean, mean machine, ready for anything.

    Sturgeon seems to be unable to do tough decisions, she keeps hoping something will turn up to make the figures add up (she’s waiting for an oil price spike in the future).

  14. S Thomas

    But the 1974/5 referendum did not involve a law taking us in – which was already in force. Had the result been different then a law would have been needed to take us out again. You seem unable to grasp that what is at stake (as far as I am concerned) is not the result of a popular vote but rather the rule of law. We cannot allow the Royal Prerogative to run roughshod over Parliament’s right to make, amend and revoke laws. Whether I agree or disagree with the particular laws involved is quite irrelevant to my point.

  15. Candy

    More fool Cameron! I for one do not subscribe to ‘begging bowl politics’.
    As for Sturgeon changing economic policy, I ask you quite seriously to envisage a situation in which Scotland continues to receive money from the UK treasury under the Barnet formula but then does not spend it, storing it up for when Scotland becomes independent! Can you imagine the howls of outrage from south of the Border?

    And whilst UK economic policy is decided by those in the south east of England for the benefit of those who live in the south east of England then the rest of us will just have to do the best we can. If you want Scotland to stand on its own two feet, then give Scotland complete economic independence (at any rate, as independent as any one country is within the general world situation). You can’t set the rules for the benefit of London and its hinterland and at the same time tell others, whose situation is determined by that policy, to act as though their voice was being listened to.
    So, in conclusion, let Scotland be independent, and see whether Sturgeon and co. are up for the task. Otherwise stop bellyaching about the Barnet formula!

  16. @John B

    The problem with this unilateral position is the uproar that will happen if EU countries start leveraging the rights of British Nationals in return for something else if we do not seek a reciprocal deal. But then that’s what some people want. They want this negotiation to fail.

  17. @JohnB

    Come now, surely you can do better than those tired rants about the south-east!

    Take a look at all the tax decisions devolved to Scotland which come into effect in April 2017.

    What has Sturgeon and the SNP done with the new powers? Well, they have published a budget that copies Phillip Hammond’s budget exactly apart from the increase in threshold for higher rate taxpayers (in England and Wales the threshold increases by £600 to £43,300, in Scotland it won’t)

    So that is what all the shouting about wanting tax powers amounts to – not increasing the higher threshold by £600.

    It’s pathetic – and I suspect no amount of devolution will change that state of affairs – Scotland will continue to choose to shadow what England does.

  18. Sorry that should say increase by £2615 to £45,000.

    My point stands – that £2625 is going to be the only real difference in income tax thresholds between England and Scotland.

  19. @John B “Perhaps you prefer that we (or the Government) abolish Parliament?”

    Not at all I consider the Referendum to have real weight. I don’t believe the prerogative was being used in the manner that you describe in this instance. I concede this view was a minority one during the final SC ruling as well. I think Parliament is well able to stand up for itself and bring any Government to a vote of confidence on any executive decision or use of prerogative.

  20. @ Candy

    I am unclear on the point you intend to make on Scottish independence.
    Is it:
    (a) the Scots ought to have independence because they cost the English too much.
    (b) The Scots ought not have independence and should be grateful to the English for what we give them.
    (c) Scots should stop moaning and know their place.

  21. By the way I am neither a Scot nor English, but Welsh (married to a Northern Irish Wife). If anything the Barnett formula acts to the detriment of Wales, but if we are a union we pay and receive as a union, if independent we don’t so why the vitriol

  22. PETE B + JOHN B

    Re the “….absurdity which is the Barnet Formula…”

    It was indeed proposed as a temporary measure, but the problem seems to be the Treasury: First, they’re in no position to map trade cross-border. Second, they have a pathological desire to give as little information as possible to the “devolved” administrations – something both Con and Lab know full well, as their Treasury spokespeople will all have been properly “house trained” as Sir H would have put it.

    Why else would both Con and Lab been whipped to vote against the SNP’s full fiscal autonomy proposals during the passage of the Scotland Act 2016?

  23. Good afternoon all from a mild and dry Central London.

    Uh oh….I was wanting to comment on some North Korean polling which has The Workers’ Party of Korea on 95%, the Korean Social Democratic Party on 4% and the Chondoist Chongu Party on 1%….

    But I see a constitutional crisis is unfolding on UKPR over Scottish independence. Think I might head back over to the more civilized DPRK forum and skip UKPR for a bit…

    Let us thoroughly implement our Party’s policy of putting all the people under arms and turning the whole country into a fortress!”

    Let us make the whole party a crystal of idea and faith imbued with the great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism!

    Consider it as the revolutionary ethics and revolutionary party discipline to work and live in a simple, honest and upright manner!

    Become the sparks setting fire to the hearts of the masses and detonators giving full play to their mental power!

    It really is exciting stuff over on the DPRK forums.

  24. re: HS2

    A suggestion from the Dog and Ferret:

    ‘It would be cheaper to demolish the whole of Birmingham and move it twenty minutes nearer London…’

  25. WB

    It’s a day late for the event – but I hope you had a happy St David’s Day.

    As to the discussion above, some claims can only be verified or disproven after the event (as we may find out for the UK after Brexit).

    As to independence, I’m reminded of this “could not live on its own …. could only pay for one fifth of her food and essential imports; well over a quarter of the present labour force would be out of work and the economy of the country would collapse without British Treasury subventions. Talk of full independence … is therefore hopelessly impractical”.

  26. Millie

    As the SE of England inexorably continues to sink, and sea levels rise, wouldn’t it make more long term economic sense to demolish the whole of London and move it an hour north of Birmingham?

  27. @ Oldnat

    thank you for the good wishes.

    I normally do not respond to Candy at all, I try to keep my blood pressure at manageable levels. I must have just had a brainstorm and thought I was dealing with someone reasonable instead of someone who reads the Da!ly Ma!l and thinks its a newspaper

  28. New Gallop Poll ( from USA)
    British Prime Minister Theresa May Popular With Americans


    66% of Americans have a favorable view of May
    May is most popular among older Americans
    91% of Americans have a favorable view of Great Britain in general

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two-thirds of Americans have a favorable view of British Prime Minister Theresa May. The leader of the British Conservative Party is more popular among Republicans (74%) than among Democrats (65%).

    Majority in U.S. Have Favorable Opinion of Prime Minister Theresa May
    Favorable Unfavorable Heard of, no opinion Never heard of

    U.S. adults 66 13 10 12
    Republicans 74 4 13 9
    Independents 59 17 8 15
    Democrats 65 16 8 11

  29. @Oldnat

    An hour north of Birmingham is either Manchester, Sheffield or the Pennines, not sure where you’d put it: Maybe if London declared UDI perhaps the rest of us could try and make a country with some economic balance, and build rail links between places that matter.
    Which is between Swansea and all Rugby stadia BTW

  30. @OldNat

    That would at least create room for Heathrow’s third runway…

  31. WB

    Well, we could just demolish London then. Not much point in it now, since London Welsh are no more.



  32. The only problem with demolishing London is that the Londoners would have to come and live near the rest of us.

  33. I trained with London Welsh (once) when I was at Bar School: but I was living in Hackney and Richmond was a hell of a way to travel each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday so I ended up playing for East London RFC in West Ham, good club and as full of Welshmen as London Welsh was.

  34. Pete B

    Aren’t they all immigrants?

  35. @Pete B

    Were you thinking of warning them in advance?…

  36. ON
    They would be if they came here!

  37. Or perhaps as full of Welshmen as London Welsh wasn’t; anyway there were about eight of us spread through the teams not sure London Welsh had that many (first generation at least.

  38. @Millie

    come on now you must give them a sporting chance: how about an hour to clear out

  39. @WB

    Just remembered my son lives there!

  40. Millie
    Unless we nuked them, they’d hear the bulldozers coming.

  41. @johnb, wb and bz

    ‘re Barnett, it’s worth remembering that it is not used to calculate the block grant to Scotland, Wales or NI. It simply calculates how changes in the level of some expenditure programmes in England should be allocated across the UK using a simple population share. Over time this has has been to the slight detriment of Scotland given its lower rate of population growth.

    Given its limited scope and the Vow, the formula was not the subject of any discussion in implementing the Smith Commission recommendations and Osborne did not try to change it. The discussions referred to above were about the technical complications of paying the Smith “no detriment” principle.

  42. @oldnat

    And there’s that pesky independent Malta now with a veto over the UK ‘s future trading relationship with the EU.

  43. Hireton

    I guessed you might recognise the quote! :-)

  44. Good evening all from a mild Central London.

    Demolish ol London toon! Who mentioned that? I wouldn’t miss it, the place is an overrated expensive cesspit full of narcissism. Actually, that reminds me, where did I put my Cartier Santos Dumont Sunglasses? I look extremely cool in them, so I tell myself.

    Okay, enough narcissism and back to Scottish independence.
    Something I’ve noticed on UKPR over the years and that;’s the incredible number of experts on Scottish independence from peeps this side of the border.

    I get confused…In one hand they tell the Scots to shut up and go yet in the other hand they appear to be concerned about the Scottish economy post independence!! Och aye the noo the Angus just heed butted ma maw for telling him t go eat his cereal.

    Just imagine if 1745 was a success….

    The most obvious is that there would be no need for a Scottish referendum on independence because Scotland would have been separated from England. Economically, it would have enjoyed a privileged relationship with France. Scotland would have been unplugged from the new English Empire. In England, Catholics would have had full religious civil rights. Would Charles have been busy turning England Catholic? Not in a million years. The man had no religious feelings at all.

    England under a Stuart King would have been an ally of France, not an enemy. The American Revolution was only possible due to French intervention so if there was a revolution, there would have been no French help to it succeed. Could England alone have then suppressed the Americans? I cannot say.


    If the 1745 Rising had succeeded, America would still be British..

    Food for thought!!

  45. The latest English Housing Survey is out:

    Those who own outright are now 34% (up from 33%). Those who own outright in England outside London are 36%. (In London owner occupation (mortgage + outright) is just 49% of households).

    This is a factor in Tory support – see the following YouGov megapoll taken just after the 2015 general election:

    Of those who own their homes outright, 47% voted Conservative in the 2015 general election. 42% of mortgage payers voted Conservative.

  46. @Danny

    “Its dangerous to belive we can devalue at will. We do not control the exchange rate. It adjusts itself according to sentiment about its real worth, rather than to where a government might wish it to go to benefit the economy. Having experienced the UK’s last fight with recession and wage cost spirals, it was not devaluation of the UK currency which stabilised the situation but internal devaluation, workers accepting lower pay and probably owners too.”


    Hmm, not clear what you’re getting at here, still, let’s take each point in turn.

    Yes devaluation can be dangerous. Many useful things can be misapplied. Chemotherapy can be misapplied, doesn’t mean we should therefore just ditch it though. We just have to be careful.

    We don’t control the exchange rate absolutely, but this doesn’t mean we can’t do quite a lot to influence it. There are a number of mechanisms at our disposal, including central banks selling our currency to buy others, adjusting interest rates, capital controls, and these days, even QE.

    Taken together this can add up. Obviously this isn’t complete control, not least because other countries are trying to manipulate currencies too. But that’s a reason to manage our exchange rate to counter their actions, rather than give up.

    Regarding the oil crisis, you have cherry picked an example which involves a situation which is awkward with respect to currency. Partly because the inflationary pressures were so acute, they eclipsed not only exchange rates but almost any means of response.

    We are talking about a situation in which we had a quadrupling of the oil price, followed by a further doubling, in an era when we had not reduced our dependence on oil. More challenging still it came on the back of the inflationary Barber Boom, whereby the government, having deregulated banking and hence endured the secondary banking crash, elected to regulate the economy. Clearly all this did not seem inflationary enough, because then we had the miner’s strike with the resulting coal shortage further ramping up energy costs.

    Later of course we had further inflation from the near doubling of VAT following the second oil price spike. So yes, it’s quite difficult for exchange rates to offset all of that. That doesn’t mean that even in such extreme circs, they can’t be part of a bigger package of responses.

    So if you are saying exchange rates are not some absolute panacea, one would agree. If you are saying we shouldn’t therefore bother with them much, then it’s rather harder to agree with that…

  47. “elected to regulate the economy” = elected to reinflate the economy


  48. @Mr Jones

    “the problem with neoliberal economics is it ignores the paradox in maximizing capitalist efficiency which is wages are both a cost and the source of revenue
    for any individual firm the wages they pay are a large part of their costs but only a small part of their revenue however *collectively* the sum total of all the wages paid is where all their revenue comes from”


    Yes, good point. Put hat way, it’s a classic tragedy of the commons scenario. Individually rational to press down on wages. But if everyone does it they lose out Because peeps can’t afford to buy their stuff.

    Which is part of the justification behind Henry Ford’s maxim of wanting to make sure his workforce earned enough to buy the cars they made.

  49. @Syzygy

    “Yes the BoE do seem to be now … but it was quite a long time ago that Mervyn King stated that the UK could never run out of money or become broke. Funny (pecul1ar) that journalists and politicians persist in the mythology.”


    Indeed, they got the money-printing aspect quick enough. It’s the stuff about stocks and flows, sectoral balances etc. and the implications that maybe takes a bit longer to get some purchase on. Did for me anyways…

  50. 900th!

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