Friday, 24 February 2017

Labour stay steady in Stoke-but can't cope in Copeland

In case you have not heard, the results for the Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland parliamentary by-elections were as follows (Stoke declared first):

Stoke-on-Trent Central:

Mohammed Akram, Independent, 56 (0.3%)

Zufliqar Ali, Liberal Democrats, 2,083 (9.8%, +5.7%)

Jack Brereton, Conservative, 5,154 (24.3%, +1.8%)

Adam Colclough, Green Party, 294 (1.4%, -2.2%)

Godfrey Davies, Christian Peoples' Alliance, 109 (0.5%)

Nick 'The Flying Brick' Delves, OMRLP, 127 (0.6%)

Barbara Fielding-Morriss, Independent, 137 (0.7%)

David Furness, BNP, 124 (0.6%)

Paul Nuttall, UKIP, 5,233 (24.7%, +2.1%)

Gareth Snell, Labour, 7,853 (37.1%, -2.2%)

Labour HOLD.


Michael Guest, Independent, 811 (2.6%)

Rebecca Hanson, Liberal Democrats, 2,252 (7.2%, +3.7%)

Trudy Harrison, Conservative, 13,784 (44.2%, +8.5%)

Roy Ivinson, Independent, 116 (0.4%)

Jack Lenox, Green Party, 515 (1.7%, -1.3%)

Fiona Mills, UKIP, 2,025 (6.5%, -9.0%)

Gillian Troughton, Labour, 11,601 (37.3%, -4.9%)

Conservative GAIN from Labour.

Despite the fact that the media paid much more attention to the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, partly due to UKIP's leader Paul Nuttall standing, and then failing mainly because of the lies he told on his website and internal ructions within UKIP during the campaign. For all that effort, Paul only achieved a pathetic 2.1% swing from Labour to UKIP in a city known for increasing political volatility, in a constituency that voted Leave by a margin of 70-30 last year, which is one of UKIP's best prospects demographically, and in a constituency which was looking more vulnerable than it had been in history. Labour's campaign there had not exactly started off well either with criticism over sexist tweets that the victorious Labour candidate, Gareth Snell, had made in the past. Meanwhile, even though the Liberal Democrats did not really have a chance of winning, Dr Zulfiqar Ali's local profile helped him make sure the Liberal Democrats did not lose their deposit this time around, even though they were unable to better 4th place and were never going to be able to in the tight contest between Labour and UKIP (and the Conservatives, to a lesser extent, whose local group help the City Independents administration run Stoke). Unfortunately, the Greens were squeezed in the process even though our candidate, Adam Colclough, has lived in Stoke all his life and therefore knows what Stoke really needs.

As for the minor candidates, Barbara Fielding-Morriss ironically did much better than expected due to the negative media coverage she received-she is a vexatious litigant (she kept suing the BBC over beliefs that radio waves were interfering with her mind) and her policies were the most extreme even compared to those of the BNP; she was also arrested over a public order offence during the campaign because of the material she posted on her website. The BNP suffered another humiliation when they were beaten by perennial Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate Nick 'The Flying Brick' Delves. The Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election wooden spoon award goes to Independent Mohammed Akram, who received almost no coverage during the campaign and almost no-one knew what he was actually standing for.

The Copeland by-election shall go down in British political history for a wide variety of reasons. It was the first by-election gain by a Conservative government since the infamous Mitcham & Morden by-election of 1982. More importantly, Copeland (fka Whitehaven) was never a knife-edge marginal by any standards and the victory by Trudy Harrison was much more decisive than in Brighouse & Spenborough back in 1960. Copeland also voted Leave heavily (60-40) and with its industrial base and rural/small town profile is exactly the kind of constituency that Labour are losing their grip on week by week. Having a local profile was not a usable advantage for any candidate in Copeland, since the only candidate not to live in the constituency, Rebecca Hanson of the Liberal Democrats, lived only a few miles outside the constituency boundaries in the town of Cockermouth, and therefore knew how to get around. Nuclear power proved the vital issue in this campaign, as did the potential aftermath of Brexit, with Trudy taking the pro-Brexit line and Labour candidate Gillian Troughton (a local county councillor) highlighting the fact she was a Remain campaigner. Trudy's connections with Sellafield, as well as the anti-nuclear stance of prominent Labour figures, helped seal the by-election for the Conservatives. UKIP's heavy vote loss, with a consequent slip to fourth place behind the Liberal Democrats in what has always been one of the worst constituencies for the latter, was almost certainly due to tactical voting for the Conservatives to oust Labour-and clearly, it worked. It also accounts for the large increase in vote share managed by the Conservatives; the Liberal Democrats meanwhile did more damage to Labour and the Green Party, in their successful bid to get their deposit returned (they lost it badly in 2015) and regain third place. Our anti-nuclear stance failed to gain sufficient traction as I hoped it would, although we did do better than in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. An untold story is the surprisingly good performance of Independent candidate and Whitehaven town council chairman Michael Guest, who despite only having a strictly local profile managed to at least beat our own candidate, Jack Lenox. All Independent candidate Roy Ivinson did, meanwhile, was split the Green vote (he stood on an anti-global warming ticket)-if he is that concerned about other environmental issues as well he should just join the Green Party.

Because of the critical importance of each by-election, and the resulting media attention and speculation as to how well Labour would perform in both, turnout remained respectable by the standards of each constituency; Stoke-on-Trent Central's by-election turnout dropped by a modest 11.7% to 38.2%, which was better than in Sleaford & North Hykeham, a constituency that normally records far better turnouts  than Stoke-on-Trent Central at election time. Copeland, meanwhile, recorded a 51.3% turnout (and a turnout drop similar to that of Stoke's), almost as good as that in the vaunted by-election of Richmond Park. Storm Doris, whose winds were particularly fierce in the west of England as opposed to the east (although I still felt their effects in North London/Hertfordshire, especially when they caused some overhead wires to be knocked down delaying my journey home by an hour), did not have the detrimental effect on turnout as speculated even though both constituencies were close to its eye.

However, both constituencies will be subject to substantial boundary changes in the lifetime of this Parliament. Stoke on Trent Central faces potential abolition or at least will have to absorb several wards of Stoke-on-Trent South. If the latter occurs, Stoke-on-Trent South's Labour MP Robert Flello will end up having to fend off a very difficult challenge from Conservative MP Sir William Cash who currently represents Stone, which will be abolished if Stoke-on-Trent Central survives (or whichever Conservative candidate stands in his place as Sir William will likely retire due to old age anyway).

Meanwhile, Copeland faces having to expand to absorb the Workington parts of Workington, leaving the latter constituency to be torn in half between Copeland and a redrawn Penrith & The Border, which will make Copeland's successor a very safe Labour seat indeed. This means that Workington MP Sue Hayman can likely just push out Trudy Harrison to remain in Parliament in 2020, even if Labour does badly; however, Trudy, who once worked in Sellafield and whose husband still does, could in theory try and take Barrow-in-Furness from Labour, which will become notionally Conservative when it expands in said boundary changes.

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