LONDON — Gillian Troughton will stand for Labour in the crucial upcoming by-election in Copeland.
The Copeland Labour Party selected Troughton on Thursday evening after the local councillor took part in a hustings with fellow candidates Rachel Holliday and Barbara Cannon.
Troughton, an ambulance driver and former doctor, defeated runner-up Holliday by around 20 votes, Business Insider understands. 170 local party members voted in the contest, which is around a third of the eligible electorate.
Holliday, a homelessness expert who won the Cumbria Woman Of The Year award in 2015 for charity work, was the leading candidate to stand in the by-election according to multiple reports and was the preferred choice of Jeremy Corbyn’s office.
However, as Business Insider reported earlier this month, local party members were leaning towards Troughton long before last night’s announcement. She is a seasoned councillor who is popular and well-known among local people. “She’s local… She has a strong handle on the big issues in the seat,” one local activist told us before Christmas.
Early speculation suggested that the by-election in west Cumbria would take place in May in order to coincide with nationwide local elections. However, it is now set to take place on Thursday, February 23, alongside the Stoke-on-Trent central by-election, according to a Sky News report. This was all but confirmed by a source close to the Copeland Labour Party last night, who told us: “I’d put money on February 23… They’re moving the writs tomorrow.”
Copeland, like Stoke, will be a major test of Labour’s relevance in its traditional, working-class heartlands. The Tories are odds on to win the seat, which has been controlled by Labour since 1931. The Leave-supporting constituency is in the furthest reaches of north-west England, over 300 miles away from metropolitan London. Immigration is a key issue here, amidst a general feeling of being neglected and left behind by Westminster politicians.
As expected, Troughton plans to make the NHS the central issue in her campaign. The local West Cumberland Hospital has been ravaged by cuts in recent years, with key local services struggling to cope. “This election is a choice between allowing the Tories to strip NHS services away from Copeland, and sending them a message that it’s unacceptable,” she said after being chosen on Thursday night.
She added: “This is where my family make their living. My husband works in the nuclear supply chain, so I know how important the industry is to thousands of Cumbrians. I’m pro-nuclear; no ifs, no buts. Moorside is a fantastic opportunity; I’ll make sure our community gets what it deserves.
“This is where I raised my children. Copeland has given them so many opportunities. That is why I have spent the last few years campaigning for it. I’m looking forward to campaigning for Copeland in Westminster.”
The by-election will be formally triggered as soon as outgoing Labour MP Jamie Reed officially resigns from his post. Reed was first elected as Copeland’s in 2005 but is leaving Westminster politics to take up a role in the local Sellafield nuclear plant. He chose to vote for Holliday on Thursday evening, Business Insider understands.
The issue going forward for Troughton’s campaign will be how closely she chooses to associate with Corbyn. She backed Owen Smith in the party’s last leadership election and is widely regarded as a moderate by local party members. Plus, with so many local jobs being dependent on the nearby Sellafield nuclear plant, the Labour leader’s anti-nuclear stance makes him a divisive figure in Copeland, among Labour voters and the wider public alike.
Labour activists who we spoke to when we visited Whitehaven before Christmas said they were prompted to return to the party by the election of Corbyn as the party’s leader. However, not all shared this enthusiasm, and others were openly hostile to the leadership of the veteran socialist. “We don’t do Corbyn here,” one local councillor said.
Former Labour MP and shadow deputy leader of the Commons Thomas Docherty had put his name forward to fight for the Copeland seat but didn’t make it onto the final shortlist. This perhaps wasn’t a huge surprise given the preference of local members to select someone who lives in the area rather than parachute in a bigger name.
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