12/02/2017 12:30 GMT

Labour Losing Stoke And Copeland By-Elections Would Be A 'Hiccup', Says Party's Campaign Boss

The party is defending seats it has never before lost

Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick
Ian Lavery

Labour losing two rock-solid seats in upcoming by-elections would be a mere “hiccup”, the party’s new campaign chief said today.

Ian Lavery, appointed as Labour’s campaign co-ordinater this week, sought to downplay the significance of the party losing the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections – both taking place on February 23.

The Wansbeck MP admitted that any defeat would see Labour “review the strategy going forward”, but insisted the local and mayoral elections in May would become the focus of the party very quickly regardless of the result.

The comments came amid reports members of the Shadow Cabinet are being road-tested as possible replacements for leader Jeremy Corbyn, should the veteran MP step down in the near future.

Speaking to Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics this morning about the by-elections, Lavery said: “If you look at them separately, they’re both relatively positive at this moment in time, despite what the polls may say, despite what individuals may say.

“I would think that we obviously want to win – that goes without saying. If there’s any hiccups in the next couple of weeks, regardless of what those results are, we need to then look at the shire council elections, the different local elections, the mayoralty elections come May as well.

“So there’s a whole lot of issues in front of us. We want to win every single vote on every single doorstep – that’s our ambition.”

Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
Ukip is fighting hard to win Stoke Central - but is facing passionate opposition

Labour has held Stoke Central since the seat was created in 1950, but following the resignation of Tristram Hunt is facing strong pressure from Ukip in the Brexit-supporting constituency.

Likewise, the Cumbrian seat of Copeland has only ever returned Labour MPs since its inception in 1983, but the party has a majority of just 2,564 to defend from the Tories.

It is unusual for opposition parties to lose by-election seats, and has only happened to Labour 11 times since 1945.

Lavery’s comments came less than an hour after Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson sounded a cautious note about the party’s chances of winning the by-elections.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 this morning, Watson said: “I don’t know whether we’re going to win these by-elections or not but the campaign team on the ground are running a good campaign.

“They’re quietly confident that we’ll get a good result.”

Watson was also pressed on media reports his Shadow Cabinet colleagues Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long-Bailey were put forward to a focus group as potential future leaders.

According to a document leaked to The Sunday Times, members of the focus group felt Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rainer was “not likeable”, a “bit charity shop-looking” and “weird”.

Long-Bailey, who this week was appointed Shadow Business Secretary, was deemed to be “passionate”, “genuine”, “sincere” and “very smart”, although some saw her as “aggressive” and “rough”, reported the Sunday Times.

When asked about the reports that Corbyn was engaging in “succession planning”, Watson replied: “It wasn’t road-testing leadership candidates, there were a range of Shadow Cabinet members that were so-called ‘road-tested’ and this is what we do in our normal run of political consultations.”

Baroness Chakrabarti told ITV’s Peston on Sunday the research was designed to test which voices played best in different regions of the country.