The mainstream media reaction to the Labour Party loss in the Copeland by-election was utterly predictable. The ubiquitous blame-Corbyn narratives were identical to those scratched together in anticipation of the 2016 Local Election catastrophe that failed to actually materialise.
Of course Jeremy Corbyn isn’t entirely blameless when it comes to the Copeland result, but the mainstream narrative that the blame is essentially his has been well and truly set, and the mindless political rote-learner drones are out in force spewing this simplistic trope as if it’s their own carefully considered opinion rather than something they’re repeating without even bothering to think more deeply about things for themselves.
In this article I’m going to take a quick look at some factors other than Jeremy Corbyn’s competence that influenced the Copeland result, including the really big story that the mainstream press more-or-less ignored in their haste to damn Jeremy Corbyn.
A long-term decline
Copeland had been Labour Party territory for decades, but anyone claiming it was anything but a marginal constituency is dealing in pure political fiction. The Labour high-point in Copeland came in 1997 when Jack Cunningham won the seat with 58% of the vote. Ever since then the Labour Party has been on a downwards trajectory in Copeland. They lost 6.4% of the vote in 2001, another 1.3% in 2005, another 4.5% of the vote in 2010 and yet another 3.7% in 2015.
The 2017 by-election saw yet another decline in the Labour vote share of 4.9%. That’s five elections in a row where Labour lost popularity in Copeland. If Corbyn is to be blamed for this loss, the blame has to be put in its proper context. Corbyn clearly didn’t cause the long-term decline in the Labour vote, but he did fail to reverse it.
Even if …
Even if Corbyn’s Labour had’ve managed to stop the decline in the Labour vote share they would still have lost the Copeland by-election. 42.3% of the vote was enough for Jamie Reed to win in 2015, but it would only have been good enough for second place in the 2017 by-election because the Tory candidate bagged 44.3% of the vote.
The real story
The real story in Copeland is how the Tories managed to leapfrog Labour to such an extent that Labour would still have lost if their vote share remained the same from the 2015 General Election.
The answer is the collapse in the UKIP vote. UKIP’s vote share fell from 15.5% in 2015 to just 6.5% in 2017. This 9% fall in their vote share is almost exactly matched by the Tories 8.5% increase.
The real story is that Ukippers are abandoning their party in droves in order to throw their support behind the Tories now that Theresa May is pushing a rabidly right-wing authoritarian more-UKIP-than-UKIP political agenda.
On the national scale
This drift of Ukippers into the arms of Theresa May’s brand of savagely right-wing authoritarianism is being repeated across the country. In the run up to the 2016 EU referendum UKIP consistently polled above 15%, within less than a year they’re averaging below 12% and gradually slipping further.
It’s pretty difficult to imagine Ukippers defecting to the Europhile Lib-Dems or to a Labour Party that is far more focused on internal factional squabbling than actually defining a coherent party line on the utter shambles Theresa May is making of Brexit. ‘Kippers are clearly defecting to the Tories because they’re attracted by Theresa May’s more-UKIP-than-UKIP posturing.
Ideological blood brothers
UKIP and the Tories are ideological blood brothers. A look at the UKIP ranks stuffed full of failed, disgraced and defected Tories should be enough to convince anyone of the fact that UKIP are a Tory Trojan Horse of a political party. Then there’s the fact that UKIP is almost totally bankrolled by Tory money too.
UKIP dragging the UK political spectrum way off to the right and then gradually folding themselves back into the Tory party was always inevitable. As the single issue party that no longer actually has a single issue inevitably loses votes, it’s obvious that a Tory government that insists on aping Ukipper anti-European posturing and anti-immigration rhetoric is going to be the main beneficiary.
If the UKIP vote continues leeching to the Tory party, England is going to end up as a de facto one party state. The Tories already have a considerable electoral advantage, and if they pick up another four or five percentage points from UKIP and succeed in gerrymandering the political boundaries too, there will be virtually no chance of removing them from power for the foreseeable future.
The entrenchment of Tory rule seems inevitable whether Labour is led by Jeremy Corbyn, or by some as-yet-unnamed alternative figure who is somehow more popular and talented than any of the numerous leadership challengers Corbyn has seen off with total ease (Owen Smith, Angela Eagle, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendal).
Even if Labour were unified and promoting consistent and engaging political alternatives they would be facing an uphill challenge given the inevitable leeching of support from UKIP to the Tories, but in their current state it’s looking absolutely futile. Aside from the incessant and incredibly damaging internal bickering there’s also the fact that English Labour Party bigwigs like Sadiq Khan insist on nailing Scottish Labour into their self-made coffin with insulting out-of-touch rhetoric about how the majority of working age Scots are a bunch of racists for daring to want independence from Westminster establishment rule.
Even if the Labour Party were capable of solidarity and strategic competence they’d be facing tough times, but in their current guise they’re totally screwed, and anyone within the Labour Party trying to pin the blame for that solely on Jeremy Corbyn is clearly more guilty than he is.
Corbyn can’t help being a limited and unengaging public speaker. Neither can he help the fact that talent is so thin in the Labour Party ranks that he’s seen off all leadership challengers with total ease. However the internal party critics could have actually tried to help him rather than constantly plotting, backstabbing and briefing against him to the press and then crowing deliriously when Labour actually lose elections!