Conservatives Oust Labour in Copland By-Election

The Conservatives have dealt Labour a humiliating blow after snatching Copeland in a historic by-election victory.

It is incredibly rare for a governing political party to gain a seat in a by-election - the most recent example was in 1982, although arguably the last time a comparative gain was made was in 1878.

The Labour leader rejected calls to take responsibility for the defeat in Cumbria, where the Conservatives pulled off a shock victory by overturning a 2,564 Labour majority.

"The prime minister has set out the position very clearly on a general election", he said.

"What we've seen from this victory is this truly is a government that's working for everyone and every part of the country - and that's the message that we bring here to Copeland and we'll take across the country".

Jack Dromey, the Labour MP who led the party's Stoke campaign, insisted that the result in the Midlands constituency was a "decisive" moment in the party's history.

In Stoke-on-Trent Central, where Labour's Tristram Hunt stepped down as an MP to become the director of the V&A Museum in London, UKIP had the chance to show that the Brexit referendum had not finished them as a party.

Since entering Downing Street a year ago Mrs May has looked to reposition the Conservatives away from the metropolitanism of David Cameron and she appeared to present the Copeland by-election victory as a vindication of her appraoch. "But we are in trouble as a party", he told the BBC. Had those who voted Lib Dem and Green in Copeland voted Labour, the Tories would have been defeated.

Asked by reporters on Friday whether he accepted that Labour's problems were his fault, Mr Corbyn said simply: "No".

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Other frontbenchers in the Commons also privately stated the result in Copeland was far worse than Mr Corbyn and his closest allies publicly admit, with one supportive shadow cabinet member even saying: "It was a really bad night for us".

This split the left-of-centre vote, meaning the Conservative candidate won despite getting a smaller share of the vote than at the previous general election.

"Labour's local branches are changing", the PM said.

Baroness Smith also ridiculed claims by some Labour frontbenchers who tried to play down the significance of the Copeland result, and rejected suggestions that Tony Blair had undermined the party's performance with critical remarks about Corbyn.

The loss of Copeland - a seat Labour has held for decades - is a sign of how far the political landscape in the United Kingdom has shifted after Britain's move to leave the EU.

That prompted Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to boast: "We've turned back the tide, and I think we've defeated quite a risky form of politics".

She later said they'd got a sense of Labour's "neglect" of the area whilst doorstepping during the campaign.

That has happened several times since, but in unusual circumstances which are perhaps not "comparable" to Copeland. However, under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party has been losing support and struggling to remain relevant in the national debate.

Instead Labour's Gareth Snell, a 31-year-old local councillor, held on to the seat vacated by Tristram Hunt in January, with 7,853 votes.

  • Marjorie Miles