- Labour under huge pressure to hold onto two formerly safe seats.
- Conservatives seeking unprecedented gain from Labour.
- UKIP’s Paul Nuttall risks humiliation in Stoke.
- Losses for Labour or UKIP could prompt new leadership crisis.
LONDON — Voters go to the polls today for two of the most important by-elections in recent political history. We’ll be covering them both in full here at Business Insider with a live blog and on-the-ground reporting extending way into the early hours of tomorrow morning. But for now here’s everything you need to know about the Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland by-elections.
The Copeland by-election was called after Labour MP and leading Jeremy Corbyn critic, Jamie Reed resigned the seat in order to pursue a new career in the nuclear industry.
The seat, which has been held by Labour since its inception, is now very finely balanced, with bookies suggesting it will fall to the Conservatives. The Tories are confident of victory with Theresa May making a high-profile visit to the constituency earlier this month.
Meanwhile Labour, who in ordinary political circumstances would expect to win a by-election like this by a huge margin, also fears it will lose the seat. A spokesperson for the Labour leader told Business Insider yesterday that the race was “on a knife-edge” whereas just a few weeks ago they had suggested they were “confident” of victory.
Who will win?
The seat is a largely rural and post-industrial constituency with poor infrastructure and many voters hugely disillusioned with the current state of the Labour party, all of which leaves the door wide open for an upset. However, the local Labour party have chosen a strong local candidate Gillian Troughton and have fought an aggressive and sometimes controversial campaign centred on the NHS.
The Tories meanwhile have focused on Jeremy Corbyn and his opposition to the nuclear industry which is a major employer in this seat. Despite bookies expecting a clear win for the Conservatives, Labour believes it may just hold on, even by just a few hundred seats.
Journalists often overstate the importance of campaigns, however. Looking purely at the current national opinion polling and applying a universal swing to the seat, it looks like the Tories will very narrowly claim the seat, but it will be very close. Here’s the prediction from the Electoral Calculus website:
The Stoke by-election was called after Labour MP Tristram Hunt resigned his seat. The Midlands constituency was initially strongly favoured by commentators (although not by Business Insider) to be claimed by UKIP after new leader Paul Nuttall announced his candidacy. The high proportion of voters who backed Leave in the referendum and local disillusionment with Labour led many to bet on Nuttall becoming his party’s second MP in Parliament.
However, a dreadful campaign which included a row about whether he lived in the constituency, another huge row about whether he had lost close friends in the Hillsborough disaster, and a much smaller row about a UKIP canvasser urinating in a voters’ garden, have all sent Nuttall’s odds of winning plummeting, with Labour’s Gareth Snell now the strong favourite to win the seat.
Who will win?
Not only are UKIP now unlikely to win but their opponents now believe they could even come third or fourth. A visit in recent days by Theresa May to the constituency suggests the Tories also expect a strong performance, with UKIP now even appearing concerned about the possibility of being overtaken by the Lib Dems.
As with Copeland, the affect of the campaigns on the result to is likely to have been overstated. Looking purely at national opinion polls and universal swing, Stoke looks highly likely to be a clear win for Labour, with the Tories in second place and UKIP coming in a poor third. Here’s the prediction from the Electoral Calculus website.
What does it all mean for Labour?
Under normal political circumstances, the opposition party should be clearing up in two by-elections such as these.
However, expectations are so low that if Corbyn’s party manages to hold on tonight then they will likely claim it as a giant victory. Even if Labour hold just one seat, in Stoke, Corbyn will almost certainly survive. However, if Labour loses both seats then all bets are off and there is a real possibility that we could see yet another Labour leadership election coming up.
For the Tories, a victory in Copeland will be a major and almost unprecedented victory. A sitting government has not gained a seat in a by-election for decades and a victory in Copeland tonight would leave Theresa May’s government looking unbeatable. Analyst Matt Singh points out that it would be the first by-election of its kind since 1878.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said last week that the result of the Stoke by-election was “absolutely fundamental” to the party’s future. He’s not wrong. By deciding to stand so early in his leadership and by labelling the constituency the “capital of Brexit” Paul Nuttall has put his own future and the future of his party on the line. Failure to win tonight would surely put an end to the party’s dreams of replacing Labour in its English heartlands and leave them without a central purpose post-Brexit. It could even be the beginning of the end for the party. The stakes are incredibly high.
The Lib Dems
Meanwhile, Tim Farron’s party has been doing particularly well in council and parliamentary by-elections since the referendum. Interestingly they have also been doing particularly well in seats that voted Leave in the referendum, suggesting that the party is becoming the default chose for Remain voters disillusioned with the current state of the Labour party. A third place result in Stoke would be seen as an excellent result for the party. It could also be the decisive factor in whether or not Labour can hold on in Copeland.
When will we know the result?
Polls will close at 10 p.m. (GMT). However, counting is expected to go on well into the early hours of the morning. We don’t yet have a clear idea of how long it will take, especially if turnout is particularly low. However, it could take until 4 in the morning. There are concerns in Copeland that Storm Doris could delay vote counting.
Whatever happens, we’ll be here to keep you updated.
Yeesh, the Tory leaflets in Copeland.
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