By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2543

Right wing has itself to blame for a Labour loss in Copeland

This article is over 7 years, 3 months old
Issue 2543
Labour lost the Copeland by-election to Tory candidate Trudy Harrison
Labour lost the Copeland by-election to Tory candidate Trudy Harrison (Pic: twitter@fionamills)

The right wing of the Labour Party has stepped up its attacks on leader Jeremy Corbyn and the left after the party’s defeat in the Copeland by-election last week.

Right wing Labour MPs and commentators want to pin the blame on Corbyn and the left for the Tories’ victory.

Labour lost Copeland—a seat it has held for some 80 years—to the Tories. It is the first by-election in 35 years in which an opposition party has lost a seat it held to the party in government.

However, in another by-election the same day, in Stoke-on-Trent Central, Labour held its seat against the racist Ukip party.

It was a welcome defeat for a party that hoped to use anti-migrant racism to replace Labour in working class areas that voted to leave the European Union (EU).

It was a sign that support for leaving the EU does not automatically translate into support for Ukip’s racism.

About four times as many people voted Leave in Stoke-on-Trent as voted for Ukip last week.

Yet Labour’s share of the vote fell in comparison to the 2015 general election, while Ukip’s share rose.


The two results show how fragile Labour’s support has become over a long period in seats that it once held comfortably.

Most of the right in Labour claim that the problem is that Corbyn is too left wing, and that his opposition to racism and nuclear power make the party unelectable.

Jamie Reed, whose resignation triggered the Copeland by-election, said Labour peer and Corbyn ally Shami Chakrabarti was the “epitome of what Labour voters just rejected”.

Yet Labour’s share of the vote has dropped steadily in both Stoke and Copeland for at least the past 15 years—long before Corbyn was leader. Much of Labour’s long decline in Copeland took place under Reed.

There is a long-term process of disillusionment with a Labour Party that has not acted in working class people’s interests.

Workers have suffered for years as Labour leaders such as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband wedded themselves to privatisation, fawned before big business and distanced themselves from unions.

That same process saw Labour’s vote collapse in Scotland. Anger there at Labour came to a head after it lined up with the Tories against independence.

Yet politicians at Scottish Labour conference last weekend showed they were determined not to learn any lessons from their defeat.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said Labour had lost support because the referendum had “divided our country”—rather than its own abysmal record.

London mayor Sadiq Khan blamed the rise of Scottish nationalism—and even tried to compare it to racism.

The right hopes that carrying on the way Labour has done for years will bring supporters back to the party. It will only drive them away.


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