22/01/2017 12:32 GMT | Updated 22/01/2017 12:33 GMT

Jeremy Corbyn Rejects Suggestion Labour Will Lose By-Elections Amid Ukip Threat

Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central critical tests for Labour leader

Jeremy Corbyn and his allies have rejected the suggestion Labour will lose the two up-coming by-elections in Copeland and Stoke.

It has been reported that internal Labour figures suggest Corbyn could become the Opposition leader to lose a by-election to the government in 35 years.

The contests for Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central are set to be held on Thursday, February 23.

In Stoke, Labour is facing a challenge from Ukip leader Paul Nuttall who has been selected as his party’s parliamentary candidate. Ukip came second behind Labour in the seat at the 2015 general election and Nuttall has made targeting Labour constituencies in the Midlands and North of England a priority.

Copeland MP Jamie Reed is stepping down to take up a nuclear industry job in Sellafield, while Stoke MP Tristram Hunt is quitting to become the new Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Appearing on Sky News this morning, Corbyn said he was “very confident” Labour would win both by-elections. “We’ve got large number of party members active. We had a big participation in the selection meeting for Copeland on Thursday,” he said.

“Only there days ago there was a big swing to Labour in one council by-election,” Corbyn added. “Of course I want there to be more support for Labour - that is why we are setting out our offer on health, on housing, on employment.”

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that she expected Labour to hold both seats. “I do not believe we are going to lose,” she said. “I am not anticipating losing, therefore I am not prepared to talk about something that hasn’t happened.”

And Shadow Chancellor told the Andrew Marr programme Labour would “fight for every vote” and accused Nuttall of “taking Stoke for granted. “I think we will win,” he said. 

However McDonnell appeared to lower expectations that Labour would win easily. “Since Brexit you can’t calculate by-election results on what’s gone on in the past,” he said.

Labour was just 2,500 votes ahead of the Tories in Copeland in the 2015 general election. In Stoke-on-Trent Central, Hunt had a majority of 5,000, with UKIP and the Conservatives neck-and-neck behind.

Corbyn supporters suffered a blow in the selection contest for the Cumbrian seat on Thursday night when their favoured candidate Rachel Holliday was beaten by a more ‘centrist’ local councillor, Gill Troughton.