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This Week’s By-Elections: What you need to know

By Christie Chapman

Buried beneath the political concentration on Trump’s proposed state visit and the ongoing tribulations of Brexit formalities is the upcoming by-election polls that will take place in Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland tomorrow.

The Labour party has been historically dominant in Copeland and in Stoke, but this week’s by-elections could shatter the party’s legacy in these constituencies. Corbyn recently admitted to MPs that its seats are currently on a ‘knife edge’, and there is a growing sense that the Conservative Party could win Copleand in particular, with Theresa May visiting both constituencies in recent days.

According to the most recent ICM poll, national support for the Labour party is at its lowest since 2009 with Labour trailing behind the Conservatives by 14 points. Amidst the upcoming byelections, senior Labour figures have acknowledged that immediate action is needed to regain national support for their party.

To the dismay of many centrist Labour MPs who were hoping for more decisive action, Corbyn has already made it clear that an extensive social media strategy will continue to play a pivotal role in such processes and ensured that the party is becoming “better” at directly conveying their key messages and goals.

The upcoming by-election results remain important for the future of the Labour Party, but allies of Corbyn have remained confident that his position as the leader for the 2020 general election is unlikely to be threatened. Senior Labour members have dismissed recent claims that poor by-election results would result in Corbyn’s resignation as Labour leader, something which the Tory Party is hoping remains true as they capitalise on Corbyn’s unpopularity.

In confronting speculations of Corbyn’s future as Labour leader, Sadiq Khan dismissed rumours of Corbyn’s standing down:

 “He’s won two leadership elections in the space of two years. I think that issue has been settled,” he told ITV’s Peston.

Corbyn himself confronted rumours of his possible resignation and confirmed that talk it simply came from ‘fake news’ sources.

In light of recent polls, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot voiced that although hopeful, the upcoming byelections are going to be undoubtedly “tight” and “difficult” for her party, but believed that whether they lose one or both seats Labour will continue to persevere.

Winning both seats would reaffirm Labour’s longstanding legacy in Copeland and Stoke and would strengthen the party’s policy position in regards to the NHS, which has been their key messaging during these by-elections, hoping to exploit public dissatisfaction. A win in Stoke, in particular, would weaken Nuttall’s claim that UKIP will seize Labour’s stronghold in the North and would suggest it is UKIP, not Labour, who face a leadership crisis.

A loss in Copeland would be relatively foreseeable considering the region’s employment and industry dependency on nuclear power and Corbyn’s opposition to it, and the Conservatives have a huge ground operation in place to campaign for victory. Unfortunately for Corbyn and previous Labour representatives, such a result would most likely give rise to the reality of a Conservative insurgency in Copeland after 33 years of Labour support.

A loss in Stoke would perhaps be more detrimental than a loss in Copeland because it would likely hand UKIP it’s first elected MP who is not a defector. Corbyn recently tweeted:

“In Stoke, we will defeat UKIP’s politics of hate with Labour’s politics of hope and community”.

Furthermore, Stoke presented a strong leave support in the referendum and losing such this seat would further obscure the mixed messaged Labour has already presented in regards to Britain’s future in the EU.

A double loss would be, of course, the worst case scenario for Labour. Losing both seats would not only jeopardise the party’s reputation as the party for working class but would materialise a growing uncertainty in supporter’s trust in Corbyn as a leader.

There may be some reprieve for the Labour Party leader given the collapse of Paul Nuttall’s campaign in Stoke, but if such an outcome were to occur, current efforts to revitalise national support for Labour would need to go beyond nuanced social media efforts.

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