The Copeland by-election, triggered by the resignation of sitting Labour MP Jamie Reed, does not yet have a date. Many have speculated as to when it might be. It now appears the answer is becoming clearer. Andrew Gwynne, the MP who has been handed the task of defending Copeland by Corbyn, has this to say about a prospective date:
“There is a thought that May 4th is a good day. We’re planning for that as it’s better to plan for a long campaign and be pleasantly surprised than plan for a short campaign and then realise you’ve got to stretch your resources out for several months. A decision has genuinely not been taken. There is a train of thought that May is a good date in terms of turnout because you’ve got the county council elections on the same day, so turnout will be better.”
That statement by Gwynne pretty much confirms that it will be held on May 4th. Now, the idea of putting off the by-election until May is a bad idea for Labour, something which I’ll explain in a moment. First, here is what the fact that the leadership believes a long campaign will help Labour in Copeland reveals about Corbyn and those around him.
It has been fair to say that the Corbyn relaunch has been a disaster, as many of us predicted it would be. Corbyn and his inner circle clearly believe that as a result of this, holding the by-election soon could result in loss. They realise that losing Copeland would be catastrophic, clearly. They think kicking it down the road a little will give Corbyn time for another relaunch, or at least, for the terrible relaunch we’ve just witnessed to get through its rough patch and start connecting.
Why holding the by-election in May is a bad idea for Labour and the problem with the thinking in Labour HQ around the Corbyn relaunch are synonymous. The logic for May 4th rests on an assumption that Corbyn will improve somehow in the next four months, enough to turn him into an asset in Copeland. This will not happen. If anything, delaying the by-election makes a Tory victory in Copeland more likely for several reasons. One, it gives the Tories more time to hammer home their anti-Corbyn message, focusing on his attitude towards nuclear in particular. Two, it gives Corbyn more opportunities to campaign in the constituency and thus help leak votes to the Conservatives. Three, it makes Labour look like they are scared of losing, which in politics often has a real effect on the ground.
I was starting to think that Corbyn’s leadership had finally bottomed out; that it could get no worse. But this week has shown me how much further there may be to fall for the Labour leader. One thing is for sure: I was pretty sure before that the Tories would win in Copeland. Now, I’m all but certain they will.