The narrative around Labour’s defeat in the democratic process at Copeland was written well before the day of the vote by those who have a determination to undo the democratic election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. It was scripted by editors across much of the mainstream media, with a supporting role being played by Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and not least by Jamie Reed, the former Labour member for Copeland. Having overseen a very significant drop in support for himself as the Labour incumbent in Copeland from the 2005 election to the one in 2015, he no doubt added to the cynicism of frustrated long-term supporters of Labour by abandoning his commitment to the constituency in difficult times and swanning off to a lucrative job within the Sellafield plant. Of course he also had an eye for the main chance as he knew – and this gets remarkably few mentions in the media – that the Copeland constituency is due to disappear in the proposed boundary changes before 2020.
But perhaps the main piece of mythbusting that needs to be brought into the open, and please don’t hold your breath waiting for the media to tell you this, is that the combined right wing anti-Labour vote went DOWN in the 2017 by-election that we have just witnessed. Yes, that by-election being hailed as such an historic, extraordinary victory for the Tories.
How so? The statistics are not difficult to find.
In 2010, the Labour vote, with Jamie Reed as the victorious MP dropped to 46%. The combined Tory/UKIP/BNP vote was 42.7%. So in simple Left versus Right terms this seat was already marginal seven years ago. The Lib-Dems, who did not fit so simply and easily into the Left/Right line, scored 10.2% and then took even many of their own supporters by surprise when they decided at a national level to go into coalition with the Tories. That is not what many Lib-Dems were voting for.
In 2015, Jamie Reed’s Labour vote dropped to 42.3%. Although he won the seat, his vote was easily outstripped by the combined right wing vote of 51.3% (Tories 35.8%; UKIP 15.5%). Meanwhile the Lib-Dem vote collapsed. Never mind marginal, the right wing already had the upper hand here by 2015.
In the by-election we have just endured, the Labour vote went down further, to 37.3 %, a process assisted by the intervention of Blair and Mandelson, but also by the selection of an uninspiring, media-averse candidate from the right of the party who could not convincingly argue a radical alternative to the Tories. A more dynamic and inspiring local activist, who has worked particularly hard against homelessness, failed to win the local candidacy decided by the old guard, I suspect with encouragement from the national Labour hierarchy that has been working so hard to undermine Corbyn.
But what happened to the right wing vote? It DROPPED to 50.8%. But the re-alignment of votes within the right, with a fair degree of tactical voting I’m sure, saw the UKIP vote drop by 9% and the Tory vote rise by 8.5%. The relative revival of the Lib-Dems made it harder for Labour as well.
The statistics are troublesome aren’t they? They actually don’t support the theory of an anti-Labour avalanche because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but why let mere statistics get in the way of such a narrative? Oh, and decent result for Labour in Stoke by the way.