Labour’s vote has been falling in Copeland for decades – this result is not a verdict on the party’s leader
JEREMY CORBYN’S refusal to throw in the towel is the correct response to the disappointment of Copeland.
He was re-elected by Labour’s membership last September with an increased majority and owes it to those who placed their trust in him to hold his nerve and press ahead with an alternative to austerity and neoliberalism.
By chucking it in, Corbyn would hand victory to, in Ken Livingstone’s words, “embittered old Blairites” intent on returning Labour to the City of London’s reserve team.
Ruling parties rarely win by-elections, but special circumstances apply at present, both in general and with specific reference to Copeland.
The major factor peculiar to Copeland is the nuclear power industry, the last major well-paid employment in the area following jobs massacres at local steel, fisheries, shipbuilding and chemicals workplaces.
Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear, while muted in deference to party policy, was always going to be cited by his enemies to undermine Labour candidate Gillian Troughton.
Theresa May took over the reins of the Tory Party last summer, distancing herself duplicitously from the extremist austerity agenda of David Cameron and George Osborne.
Her acceptance of the voters’ decision to leave the European Union has shot the Ukip fox and enabled her to hold her party together.
She has benefited too from direct and indirect assistance from the media, with traditional Tory papers on board and anti-Tory titles — the Morning Star is the sole exception — concentrating fire on the Labour leader.
Self-styled Guardian and Daily Mirror “socialists” have adopted a “more in sadness than in anger” stance that places them alongside the New Labour rearguard in demanding that Corbyn goes.
Kevin Maguire claims in the Mirror, for instance, that the two words that best describe why Labour “humiliatingly lost a Northern stronghold” are “Jeremy” and “Corbyn.”
When was Copeland a Labour stronghold? It has regularly returned a Labour MP and was arguably such when Jack Cunningham won in 1997, doubling the Tory candidate’s tally with 58.2 per cent.
Labour’s percentage has declined in every single election since then to 51.8 per cent (2001), 50.5 per cent (2005), 46 per cent (2010) and 42.3 per cent in 2015 before sliding further to 37.3 per cent and defeat on Thursday.
Disillusionment and alienation set in long before Corbyn became leader.
Indeed, his victory was achieved through mass anger directed at leaders who eroded ties linking the ranks of labour to the party bearing their name.
New Labour, which locked Labour into inexorable decline by championing City profiteering, self-enrichment, private-is-best economic policies, anti-union prejudice, hostility to democratically run comprehensive schools, planned eradication of council housing and a succession of overseas wars, has never reconciled itself to Corbyn’s victory.
Tony Blair tried to scupper Labour’s by-election chances by intervening, with wall-to-wall media coverage, to demand that the party campaign to disregard the EU referendum result.
Peter Mandelson told the Telegraph that he spends every day working to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.
General secretary Iain McNicol’s abject failure to take these scoundrels to task after suspending tens of thousands of party members on spurious grounds speaks volumes.
Labour’s bureaucracy remains in the hands of the right, people hostile to the project identified with Corbyn.
Just as the Blairites will stop at nothing to unseat the leader, the left must take internal organisation more seriously to create a more disciplined and united party.
Failure to do so will promote disillusionment, apathy and the return of unprincipled careerists to the helm of the party.