By-election horrors:Labour's dilemma and the faux fear of UKIP
Yesterday morning's results for Labour were very bad news. For the governing party which has presided over years of austerity and facing a real crisis over the NHS to win Copeland from Labour is a disaster for the Opposition. Ed Miliband, after all ,managed to win a mid term by-election in Corby from the Tories, even if he went on to lose the seat at the next general election.
Ignore any specific excuses -. the locality, nuclear industry,a bigger rural seat - if Labour want to be in government they have to appeal to a broader sector of people and win marginal Tory seats back -not lose marginal Labour seats to the Tories. Theresa May cannot believe her luck - her message that the Tories will govern for all the people and not the privileged few has resonance whatever the facts.
It is not that Labour don't have good policies for the NHS, community care, social housing, the railways - to name but a few - but they have no overall vision of what type of society they want Britain to be in the twenty first century and can't seem capable of explaining it. Also some local councils in Labour areas have the problem of being seen as the Establishment because they been in power for decades. And :Labour's stand on just defending the NHS is not enough - that has been made very clear in Copeland.
Labour's win in Stoke on Trent looks good news - given UKIP threw everything at it including their new leader - as part of their strategy for a new dawn replacing Labour as the working class party. But note that the Tory vote held up well and that the turn out was 36.7 per cent which was even below the 46.5 per cent turn out on the same day at a council by-election in Devon which saw a shock Lib Dem win from the Tories. That means the majority of people in Stoke on Trent were disengaged despite austerity, Brexit and the NHS.
But we should not be so surprised over UKIP's defeat - anyone watching council election results - outside their Essex and North Kent heartlands - would have realised they are a busted flush post the referendum. In council election after election their vote has been falling and they have even failed to get candidates to stand in seats where an existing UKIP councillor had quit - for example in Norfolk and Newquay in Cornwall. Their latest humiliation was in the Forest of Dean where a Green candidate who came last in a previous election won a seat from UKIP. Note in Copeland UKIP came fourth behind the Liberal Democrats.
To my mind Labour has to refocus its attack on the mainstream parties. It has to challenge the Tory mantra that they are governing for everybody and take into account the revived Liberal Democrat campaign in opposing Brexit. Otherwise they will continue to lose seats to both parties - particularly at local level with the May council elections looming.
This means that Labour's current position on Brexit - to support it but then pledge to hold the government to account over the EU negotiations - has to be real. This means that if the deal for future trade,jobs and freedom of movement for Brits is going to be bad, they should combine with the Lib Dems, Greens and Scot Nats and even the Northern Irish parties if they oppose it, and demand a referendum on the terms. This will be a referendum on the facts of what real life will be like after Brexit not one on a vague hope of " let's take control".
There is one other thing Labour needs to do. What was completely unreported this week was an extraordinary council by-election in Winklebury in Tory run Basingstoke and Deane. Here a Labour candidate overturned a safe Tory majority,increasing the party's vote share by 31 per cent and getting almost double the Tory vote on a 29 per cent poll.
Labour's Angie Freeman told the local paper: “I really wanted to win this seat so I could do something for my community.It’s very humbling to know they believe in me and trust me and I’m determined to do my best for this community.
“I live here and know the issues that affect people well, so I will look to actively tackle the problems we’ve got.
“I’ve seen Winklebury go from a thriving community to become such a rundown area.
“We’re losing everything.First the GP went and now with the school too, enough is enough, so I will fight it as hard as I can.”
From what I can gather people in Winklebury couldn't care a damn whether the Labour Party was led by Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair. But they did care that a local person wanted to fight for them under the Labour banner to protect their community. They obviously didn't believe that Theresa May or Basingstoke Tories that they were governing for everybody.
Now Labour has a lot of new members who joined and the May council elections are going to be the next big political event. Doesn't it make sense for Labour to galvanise these Young Turks and get them to stand for local council seats and vigorously campaign on local issues? After that we can tackle the issue of the leadership.