UK byelection results amplify doubts about Corbyn’s capacity to lead Labour party

Rafael Behr writes: Jeremy Corbyn is running out of excuses. Losing a seat that has been held by Labour in every election since 1935 certainly signifies a break from the old politics, but not the one that was advertised to Labour members.

The explicit promise of Corbyn’s leadership campaigns was reconnection with the party’s founding spirit and values, leading to a recovery of votes in places that had drifted away from Labour under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. But Miliband’s Labour party held Copeland.

Byelections are unreliable guides to future general election outcomes but effective for capturing moments of electoral volatility. Traditionally they give voters an opportunity to lash out at an incumbent government to the benefit of the opposition. It is rare for that dynamic to be reversed. Under the conventional rules of politics, Labour would be shovelling votes on to an increased majority in a seat like Copeland.

The threat of closure hanging over a local hospital maternity unit furnished just the kind of local issue to propel a lively mid-term swing against a government. When Labour can’t even mobilise its core supporters – or rather, those voters who once constituted its core – in defence of the NHS (and that was the focus of the party’s campaign on the ground) something has gone very wrong.

Or someone. Campaigners for all parties report that Corbyn’s name was coming up on the doorstep. His well-known aversion to nuclear energy did not go down well in a seat where Sellafield employs 10,000 people. The Tories were not shy of reminding people that the Labour leader was ideologically hostile to the engine of their local economy. But MPs who canvassed the constituency report a deeper frustration with Corbyn – a sense that he simply isn’t up to the job; that he has been miscast in a role to which he isn’t suited; that the party is insulting its longest-serving supporters by telling them that this man should be their prime minister when they can see that he wouldn’t be able to do the job and might not even really want it. [Continue reading…]

Charlie Cooper writes: At the Conservative conference in October last year, a new political order emerged. Theresa May cast herself as the champion of the 52 percent who voted to leave the European Union and — stealing Labour’s clothes — pledged to represent people who felt left behind by globalization and the march of the metropolitan elites.

Set aside for a moment the fact that, behind the rhetoric, her government remains wedded to economic austerity, and that she faces a profoundly difficult EU exit negotiation, victory in Copeland was a resounding vindication of that strategy. On current trends, it’s an approach that looks like it could propel May into a position of dominance not seen in British politics since the heyday of Tony Blair. [Continue reading…]

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