THE BLOG

By-Elections This Week Could Reveal The Slow Death Of Labour In England

20/02/2017 17:23
Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party face a double test on Thursday with by-elections in Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland. Both constituencies have voted Labour since the 1930s but it's evident that many traditional Labour supporters are fed-up with the Party and ready to go elsewhere. Labour defeat in both seats is not inconceivable and would bring to light the rapid disintegration of Labour England.

Stoke was once Labour's most secure city in Britain but the Party now no longer even controls the council and sits on a narrow 5,000 majority. This is England's most pro-Brexit city with 81,000 voting leave and 36,000 remain in the referendum last June. It's no surprise then that Jeremy Corbyn has visited Stoke on just two occasions having been dogged by concerns that he is too reluctant to embrace the UK's exit from the EU. Meanwhile tweets from the Party's candidate Gareth Snell show his scepticism about departing the EU describing Brexit as a "massive pile" of excrement. UKIP leader Paul Nuttall's campaign has suffered considerable blows in recent days with two senior UKIP officials in Liverpool quitting over Nuttall's false statement that he'd lost "close friends" in the Hillsbrough tragedy. Nevertheless a UKIP victory is not totally off the cards - such is the level of anger felt within the constituency towards the current Labour Party.

Further north in the Cumbrian constituency of Copeland internal analysis of more than 10,000 conversations with constituents shows Labour's support down by a third since 2015. Labour lead the Conservatives by just 2,564 votes in a seat that firmly backs Brexit. Thousands of its voters are employed by the nuclear industry at Sellafield, an industry which Mr Corbyn has previously criticised. The more Brexit and nuclear-friendly Conservatives are favourites to win.

Support for Labour in its northern heartlands such as Stoke and Copeland has been crumbling for some time. At the centre of this is a deep disconnect between voters in traditional Labour strongholds and the Establishment Left in Westminster. According to one analysis by Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia, almost two-thirds of Labour's 232 constituencies voted to leave the European Union last year, ignoring the advice of the Party's MPs, who overwhelmingly campaigned for Britain to stay. Comments from leading Labour figures such as Jo Stevens, who said that voting against Article 50 was an effort "to protect Labour values" hardly helps this disconnect.

But the problems run deeper. As former Labour MP for the Yorkshire seat of Selby John Grogan recently reflected, Labour has taken "the working-class vote for granted on the assumption that they have nowhere else to go." Labour has failed to listen to northern working-class voters and understand the powerful sense of dislocation many of them feel. There has been little desire from the Party's elite to make inroads into the hearts and minds of many of the people they claim to represent. The problem for Labour now is that disillusioned voters do have somewhere to go - into the arms of UKIP or even the Conservative Party.

Labour could lose both by-elections this week. Such an event would send political shockwaves throughout the country with new questions raised about Mr Corbyn's leadership and his lack of political direction or ideological coherence. But it would also generate questions about the future of Labour England.

Labour support has dissolved in Scotland. This week's by-elections may show that it's quickly dissolving in England too.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS