In the wake of last Thursday’s by-election double-header, the weekend political news cycle primarily concerned the future of Jeremy Corbyn. After losing Copeland after 80 years of Labour rule and holding ultra-safe Stoke-on-Trent Central on a diminished majority, no rational observer could deny the party’s grim mid-term position.
However if his internal enemies hoped these bad results might prompt a rethink among the leader’s circle – let alone kick-start plans for Corbyn to relinquish the leadership – they were swiftly disavowed. Corbyn remains adamant that he will lead the party through to the 2020 General Election and, rather than self-reflect, his allies placed the blame squarely on the media and Labour enemies plotting a ‘soft coup‘.
In short, Labour’s crisis has a long way to play out and divisions will likely harden. The two sides hold diametrically opposed views regarding last week’s performance, how they reached this parlous state and how to turn things around.
The leader’s defenders argue that Copeland – home to the nuclear industry, of which Corbyn is a long-term sceptic – was a unique case that does not reflect the party’s national challenge. They point to the comfortable victory in Stoke – labelled ‘Brexit Central’ and a prime UKIP target – as evidence that Labour’s core vote is resilient. Following Paul Nuttall’s humiliating defeat, any idea that Labour will be swept away by UKIP in the North and Midlands is for the birds.
Sure, Labour lost many once-loyal voters during the decade prior to Corbyn taking over, and it will inevitably take time to convince them that the party has returned to it’s socialist roots. But rather than getting with the new programme, MPs undermined Corbyn from day one, dividing the party and creating a terrible media narrative by their disloyalty.
For their part, Corbyn’s opponents claim these results and diabolical mid-term poll ratings simply prove they were right all along. That Corbyn and his far-left agenda are electoral suicide – toxic to the white working-class that once made up Labour’s voter base. They compare an 8K victory in the Tory-held marginal of Corby in 2012, to a 2K defeat in Copeland. Oppositions simply don’t lose mid-term by-elections and these numbers project a much worse result even than Ed Miliband’s dire 2015 performance.