Labour voters 'went Tory in Copeland to force Jeremy Corbyn out'

Independent mayor Mike Starkie says Labour's historic loss was not the candidate's fault

Caroline Mortimer
Friday 24 February 2017 10:37
Conservatives take Copeland in humiliating blow to Labour

Labour voters opted for the Tories in Copeland in a bid to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader, the town’s mayor has claimed.

Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison beat her Labour rival Gillian Troughton by over 2,000 votes to take the Cumbria seat.

The result is a major embarrassment for the party, which has held the seat continuously since 1935, and overshadowed its victory against Ukip in the Stoke-on-Trent byelection on the same night.

Ms Troughton left the count within minutes of the vote being announced without making a concession speech as she was heckled by a passerby who shouted “Sack Corbyn”.

Mike Starkie, the Independent elected mayor of Copeland, said part of the party’s defeat could be put down to many voters dislike of Mr Corbyn who they feel is on track to doom the party to a historic defeat at the next election.

He told the Guardian: “I don’t think you can blame the candidate for the loss.

“I think the candidate equipped herself well through the whole campaign but there is an anti-Corbyn feeling among Labour supporters in Copeland - that’s a fact.

“It’s not all down to nuclear. I just don’t think Jeremy Corbyn’s particularly popular with Labour-supporting people.”

Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison came out on top after Labour was hit by dislike of its leader 

He said it had been a “historic night” and the margin of victory had “surprised everyone”.

The defeat, along with Labour trailing at the historic low of 18 points behind the Tories in the opinion polls, will embolden Mr Corbyn’s critics who say he has little chance of making inroads in the party’s pro-Brexit industrial heartlands.

Mr Corbyn had an interview with ITV Borders at the end of January seized on by Tory activists when he failed to say he supported Moorside – a multi-billion pound nuclear plant due to be built in the area and provide thousands of jobs.

The Labour campaign had focused heavily on Tory plans to close the maternity ward at the new West Cumberland hospital as the NHS has been the focus point of Mr Corbyn’s attack over the past year.

Ms Troughton, a retired doctor and borough councillor, insisted the hospital was the “number one issue on the doorstep”.

The party was criticised by Tory MP Will Quince, who campaigns on maternity issues, for releasing leaflets claiming mothers and babies would die if the ward was closed – calling it “simply disgusting”.

But on polling day the Colchester MP was then targeted by a social media troll with a string of “horrible” tweets over his son, who has stillborn in 2014. The tweets are now being investigated by police.

Independent mayor Mike Starkie said Labour candidate Gillian Troughton was not to blame for Labour's loss Picture:

But Mr Corbyn’s team remain defiant with his close ally, shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, telling BBC Breakfast they were “disappointed” but the result was not about the party’s leader.

He said: “This isn't about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the position of the Labour Party for the future.

“We are in a difficult period over these last 20 months because of these leadership challenges and the divisions that have been sown within our party.

“The vast majority of our members want us now to unite and to campaign and hold the Government to account, and that's what we will do.”

Similarly Momentum, the pressure group formed to support Mr Corbyn after he won the leadership in 2015, tweeted that the result was due to “40 years of neglect by the political establishment” and urged the party to “win back the trust of those who have been left behind”.

The Copeland by-election was triggered by the resignation of Jamie Reed, an outspoken critic of Mr Corbyn, who resigned in December to take a position in the private sector.

Additional reporting by PA

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