LONDON — Jeremy Corbyn is to face his biggest electoral test since his re-election as Labour leader after one of his leading critics quit as a Labour MP.
Jamie Reed, who previously saidthat Corbyn had injected “unprecedented poison” into the party, has stood down in order to take a job in the nuclear industry.
His resignation means Labour faces a potentially tricky by-election in a seat where the Tories were just 2,500 votes behind Labour in 2015 and where 62% of local people voted Leave in June’s EU referendum.
It’s not quite panic stations for Labour.
It is extremely rare for a governing party to take a seat off the opposition in a by-election. The last time it happened was in Mitcham and Morden in 1982 during the Falklands War when a resurgent Conservative party gained the Labour seat.This is not a happy precedent for Corbyn however, given that he has previously backed negotiations over the future of the Falklands and his own personal ratings are currently in Michael Foot territory.
However, the similarities end there. A big part of the reason for Labour’s loss was the decision by the sitting Labour MP to defect to the Social Democratic party.
Could UKIP cause an upset?
The one factor which could swing the by-election to the Tories is the performance of Ukip and the Lib Dems.
New Ukip leader Paul Nuttall has already ruled himself out of the race. However, if significant numbers of Labour voters defect to his party’s candidate, then Labour could be in real trouble. Conversely, if Ukip either choose not to stand, or significantly under-perform compared to 2015, then the Conservatives could scoop enough anti-Labour votes to get them over the finishing line.
We’re ‘election ready’: building a movement and going for government, so presumably we’re aiming for a bigger Labour majority in Copeland!
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) December 21, 2016
Similarly, a particularly strong performance for the Lib Dems could upset Labour if the race is close.
Tim Farron’s party have done particularly well in recent parliamentary and council by-elections. Labour could be tempted to ask them to do what they themselves would not in Richmond, and step aside as part of a “progressive alliance” against the Tories.
All of these outcomes look like a long-shot at the moment. Copeland is not currently a marginal seat. However, it is only number 31 on the list of smallest Labour majorities, so an upset based on Labour’s currently dire poll ratings is by no means impossible. The timing of the by-election could be crucial. A quick winter by-election on a low turnout could give Labour some problems, whereas the party should fare better if they delay it until the local elections in May.
Either way, it should be a fascinating by-election to watch.
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