By Megan Harris
Storm Doris caused devastation across the country on Thursday night. Wheelie bins were overturned, Car alarms were set off and trees fell. However, we awoke on Friday morning to clearer skies and the prospect of a calmer day. The same could not be said for the political storm that was brewing following the results of the Stoke and Copeland by-election results.
Foggy Future For UKIP?
The by-election result was a major blow for Paul Nuttall’s UKIP. Stoke has been labelled ‘Britain’s Brexit Capital’, due to the high proportion of BREXIT voters residing there, and with the Conservative campaign concentrating their efforts in Copeland, the competition for the Stoke seat seemed to be a battle between Labour and UKIP. Ultimately, this should have been favourable towards UKIP, offering them the ability to poach supporters off the Conservatives. However UKIP failed to capitalise on these favourable conditions and deliver a result.
Convincing Conservative voters to tactically vote UKIP was imperative in guaranteeing a win for UKIP and a loss for Labour in Stoke. Could UKIP’s failure to do this be down to the party leader himself?
He may share the same obsession with tweed, but Nuttall is not the endearing caricature of upper-middle class living that Farage was. In 2013, Boris Johnson said about Farage; “We Tories look at him, with his pint and cigar and sense of humour, and instinctively recognise someone fundamentally indistinguishable from us”. Farage was appealing to far right Conservative supporters as an alternative candidate, buoyed by the smoking gun of BREXIT. Nuttall’s campaign manager confirmed this to a Guardian reporter, admitting that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. Nuttall not only fails to have the personal charisma necessary to charm Conservative voters, but his party’s weapon of backing Great Britain’s Independence is no longer unique. Why would Constituents vote for a party based on the insistence of leaving the EU, when the Government itself was already performing this task? Does this mean that UKIP is no longer relevant?
Farage, although no longer leader, never fails to pop back up to add order to his love child of a party. He insists on UKIP’s relevance, stating “We’ve won the war, but we’ve yet to win the peace,” Constituents in Stoke seem to disagree with you there Farage.
Where does this leave Paul Nuttall’s position as leader of the party? Despite what could be viewed as a massive blow, I’d argue that his position is relatively safe- for now. UKIP has been insistent that the seat was only 72nd on its target list, and the loss is not unexpected. It is not unlikely that he will play off the fact that he has taken over a party that has been plagued by divisions and fighting across the past 12 weeks and that his role as a ‘unity candidate’ is yet to be seen.
What is next for Nuttall? He has stated his intentions of standing in Andy Burnham’s seat in Leigh, Greater Manchester, if (as is highly likely), Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty. In order to do this, Nuttall will have to overturn a majority of over 14,000. Whilst it seems that Nuttall’s leadership can withstand a loss in Stoke, if he was to so publicly stand again and lose, this time in Leigh, UKIP would certainly be looking for a new leader.
Lightning Blow To Labour?
“It’s been very clear talking to people throughout this campaign that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t represent them. They want a party which is on the side of ordinary working people, which will respect the way we voted in the referendum and which will build a country which represents everyone. That’s why they voted for me tonight.”
No matter who or what you blame for the Copeland result (some of the blogs online have ranged from blaming Blair to Mandelson to Fukushima. (Yes, you read that right- Fukushima!)), the outcome is highly embarrassing for the Labour party.
Despite attempts by MP’s such as Emily Thornberry who insist that Copeland is, and always has been a “marginal seat” (subjective as may be), the hard fact is that Copeland has been a Labour seat since its creation. So why did the Labour party so embarrassingly lose it? And what could the repercussions of this be?
Copeland is the home of the Sellafield nuclear decommissioning site, which employs thousands of people within the constituency. Previous MP, Jamie Reed had been a massive advocate for Sellafield, so much so, that he left his Parliamentary position to go to work for them. However, Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance is well known and instead of choosing to centralise their campaign around ensuring the protection of jobs at the site, the Labour party instead chose to campaign around the proposed closures of the maternity facilities at Copeland Hospital. Arguably, this is something that Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison chose to employ in her favour. She campaigned under the suggestion that the Government would be more likely to listen to a Tory MP’s campaigns against closing the maternity services, than a Labour MP’s- blowing the Labour Party’s campaign out the water.
Regardless of one’s stance on the Labour party, a significant proportion of blame has to be put on Jeremy Corbyn. The divisions within the Labour party are as striking as those within UKIP. It could be argued that the people in Copeland felt no attribution to the far left leaning policies of Corbyn, and instead correlate with May’s remodelling of the Conservative Party.
Deputy Labour Leader, Tom Watson himself said that he was “hugely disappointed” with the result that meant “that all of us with leadership roles need to have a long, hard look at ourselves and ask what’s not working. Seven years into a Tory government, we shouldn’t be facing questions about whether we can hold the seats we already hold.” How can this be resolved? Corbyn has insisted that he has no intention of stepping down, and has stated that he will stay as the leader of the Labour party until the 2020 General Election. One cannot help but wonder however, if this will serve to further fracture the concrete divisions within his party, as opposed to uniting it.
Calm Skies Ahead For The Conservatives?
The Copeland by-election result doesn’t just look good for the Conservatives, it looks great. Winning the Copeland seat was the first by-election gain by a governing party since 1982. Theresa May must be delighted; the results seem to be an approval from the public of her remodelling of the Conservative party, developing it into a party that is in tune with working class people. Governing parties rarely win in a by-election, as they often act as a vessel for the public to enforce their disagreement with the government of the time. The fact that this did not occur in Copeland is positive, and suggestive that the General Election may be an easier win for the Conservatives than anticipated.
From another viewpoint, not only will Conservatives be happy with their historical win in Copeland, but they may be happy that Labour retained a seat in Stoke. To them, this would imply that Corbyn will stay as leader of the Labour party, something many of them will undoubtedly view as a blessing- In many Conservative’s eyes, Jeremy Corbyn is self-destructive towards his own party.