Labour’s dire poll ratings have “implications” for tomorrow’s by-elections, a senior party source confirmed today in an attempt to brace supporters for potentially disastrous results.
Voters will go to the ballot box tomorrow in Stoke Central and Copeland – both seats that Labour has never lost.
Yet despite the party’s traditional strength in the areas, there is growing speculation that the Tories could win Copeland, and Stoke Central could fall to Ukip.
The campaigns are being fought against a backdrop of terrible poll ratings for Labour, with an ICM/Guardian survey published on Monday putting Jeremy Corbyn’s party 18 points behind the Conservatives.
Asked about the party’s prospects in the contests today, a senior Labour source said: “We are obviously fighting to win both by-elections we have said publicly they are both on a knife-edge and they are hard fought campaigns and we want a Labour victory in both by-elections and hope that will be the case on Thursday.
“We believe that will win in both Copeland and Stoke on Thursday but there’s no doubt that they’re very tightly-fought campaigns in both constituencies and also they are tightly fought and that’s the reality of the situation.
“There are different issues in both by-elections. Obviously in Stoke, Ukip has been at the centre of attention and in Copeland that’s not the case. The overall level of support in the country is well known, and that has implications in any electoral contest and as we know by-elections are notoriously volatile.”
A month ago Corbyn said he was “very confident” Labour would win both contests, but at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday, he described the by-elections as “on a knife-edge” - although he dismissed his party’s poor performance in the polls.
When challenged by former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie to explain the Tories’ huge poll lead, Corbyn replied: “Of course I understand what’s going on and the problems we have had in the media.”
But he added that “we do a lot better on social media”, one source told HuffPost UK.
Party sources added after the meeting that Labour was still recovering from the damage caused by the attempted ‘coup’ and “dissension” by Labour MPs themselves.
Labour’s majority in Stoke Central is 5,179, with Ukip finishing second in the 2015 election.
The anti-EU party had been confident of taking the seat from Labour, but party leader Paul Nuttall – who is also the candidate – has come under criticism for a series of claims which he later admitted were false.
These include that he lost “close friends” at the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, he has a PHD, and he had played for Tranmere Rovers.
In Copeland, Labour is focusing its campaign on the future of maternity services at a local hospital.
The party has put out leaflets claiming “mothers will die, babies will die” if the Tories are victorious in the by-election.
On Sunday, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott blamed the polls on what she said was a “year” of “misrepresentation” of Corbyn by the media and some of his own MPs.
Asked about Copeland and Stoke, she told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “If we lost one or we lose both, the party will go forward - it has to go forward.
“For people who’ve been opposed to Jeremy from the very beginning – I’m not one of them – I think we have to move forward.
“The point about the polls is you’ve had nearly a year of a sustained campaign against Jeremy and the Labour party, both in the media and sadly a few of our MPs,” she added.
“I think, as we move beyond what has been almost a year of misrepresentation of Jeremy’s position, I think if you move beyond that and the more people get to see him and hear him, whether it’s in the media or at campaigning events, I’m confident the polls will improve.”