It is more worrying than the victory in Stoke is reassuringby Tom Quinn / February 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
Labour has managed to avoid the indignity of losing two seats in by-elections to two different parties on the same day. But any relief at keeping UKIP at bay in Stoke-on-Trent Central will be outweighed by the far more consequential defeat to the Conservatives in Copeland. After almost seven years in opposition, Labour looks further away than ever from returning to government.
The party clung on in Stoke, with Gareth Snell beating UKIP candidate Paul Nuttall, the party’s charismatic leader, by a clear 13 percentage points—although its 37 per cent share of the vote was two points down on the 2015 general election. However, Labour lost Copeland, which it had held since 1935, to the Conservatives on a swing of 6.7 per cent, with Trudy Harrison beating Gillian Troughton into second place. It is the first time since 1982 that the main opposition party has lost a seat in a by-election to the governing party. Even the ’82 case was unusual in that a Labour MP who defected to the SDP fought to retain the seat and split the left’s vote. It is necessary to go back to the Brighouse & Spenborough by-election of 1960 and the Sunderland South by-election of 1953 to see anything similar to what happened yesterday—and these vote swings from Labour to the Conservative were below 2 per cent in both instances. It is not an overstatement to describe the Copeland result as historic.