LONDON — Labour is concerned that severe voter apathy could lead to the party surrendering Copeland to the Conservatives in Thursday’s crucial by-election.
Labour has controlled the rural Cumbrian seat for nearly a century but the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn among traditional, working-class voters here risks deterring past Labour supporters from voting later this week.
Low turnout is a common feature of Parliamentary by-elections, especially those held in the winter.
A source working close to Labour’s ground campaign in Copeland told Business Insider over the weekend that there is serious concern among campaigners that not enough 2015 Labour voters will turn out to rescue the party this time around.
“Our biggest problem is likely to be turnout. Our voters from 2015 can’t stand Corbyn, but can’t see themselves going and voting Conservative. So it’s whether they stay at home or turn out,” they said.
“It will likely be close — and the feeling seems to be it could go either way.”
A senior Labour source told us last week the party expected its candidate Gillian Troughton to defeat Tory hopeful Trudy Harrison with a thin margin of around 500 votes.
Not only would this be a much smaller margin of victory compared to former Labour MP Jamie Reed’s 2,500-plus winning margin in 2015 but would represent a continuation of Labour’s declining support in the constituency.
This projection could be a case of “local optimism,” the Labour source went on to say.
They said: “I’m not sure if that’s local optimism, though. Theresa May wouldn’t have gone up if she didn’t think the Tories had a great chance. But her lack of any meaningful announcement was a bit of a relief on the ground.”
Thursday will be a huge test of Labour’s relevance in its English heartlands. A by-election is also taking place in Stoke-on-Trent Central, which like Copeland, is a Brexit-voting seat where support for Labour is diminishing amid dissatisfaction with the party under Corbyn.
Labour officials are much more confident of holding onto Stoke, however. UKIP candidate Paul Nuttall was initially tipped to wrestle the seat from Labour’s grasp but his false claim that he lost personal friends in the Hillsborough disaster has dealt a major blow to his reputation among locals.
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