A Labour MP has blamed Jeremy Corbyn and “the far Left” for the party’s loss of a council by-election to the Tories in its north east heartland.
Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, hit out after the Conservatives took the seat of Coulby Newham in Middlesbrough for the first time in nearly 18 years.
The result saw Jacob Young take 38% of the vote (an increase in 8.3% since 2015) ahead of Labour candidate Annalise Higgins, who received 35.5%, in a drop of 8.2%.
Independent candidate Mike Allen received 24.1% of the vote and Green candidate Emma Alberti 2.4%.
The by-election was triggered when councillor John Cole – known as Geoff Cole – the chair of Middlesbrough Council’s planning committee and representative for the Coulby Newham ward stepped down in February. Labour party member Cole was first elected in 1999.
Embattled Corbyn was cited by many as the reason for Labour losing the seat. The Labour leader himself has said his party’s progress should be measured by local council by election results, and not just the national opinion polls.
Blenkinsop told Huffington Post UK: “On the door I heard from voters I have canvassed over 15-20 years telling me Corbyn was the main issue as to why they were not voting Labour.
“We had an excellent local candidate who deserved better as she worked exceptionally hard. We had very many activists out, but many local ‘Corbynites’ never lifted a finger.”
Blenkinsop, who was elected in May 2015, added: “It’s not rocket science really. In fact it’s obvious to most people, except the devout believers of the Corbyn cult.”
The local Labour party has been rocked by in-fighting for some time. Sue Jeffrey, the party’s candidate for Teesside mayor this May, took over as neighbouring Redcar and Cleveland Council leader in 2015.
Jeffrey has been backed by Corbyn but she was not present when he staged a rally in the region last month, citing ‘a long standing prior engagement’.
Leftwing blog Skwawkbox - which party insiders claim has links to the Labour leadership - claimed that Blenkinsop was himself to blame for the defeat.
But some on Twitter ridiculed its suggestion that the party should not be trying to hold on to middle class wards like Coulby Newham.
Blenkinsop was scathing too.
And one local Labour candidate said she too had encountered opposition to Corbyn on the doorstep.
The result comes a day after Diane Abbott claimed Labour could be “languishing in single digits in polls”.
The party is polling far behind the Tories as Labour in its worst showing since the 1980s and Corbyn is facing constant questions, including from erstwhile supporters, about whether he should stand down.
But Abbott, one of Corbyn’s staunchest allies in the Shadow Cabinet amid the party’s division, said “any one of his vocal critics” would be polling much worse if they were leader.
“One of their current arguments is that Labour’s difficulties in the polls are all attributable to him and that if only we had a new leader, almost any leader, then this would resolve our problems. This is completely untrue,” the shadow home secretary wrote on Labour List.
“Compared to all his critics, Jeremy Corbyn is worth about 18-20 percentage points to Labour’s vote. Without him, and led by any one of his vocal critics we could easily be languishing in single digits in polls.”