1.Labour are really screwed. I mean, really screwed
In a seat that had basically been Labour since 1924, Copeland was a major loss for Corbyn’s crew, whatever certain quarters might tell you. Stoke Central was held in the end, but only due to Labour’s vastly superior ground campaign. The Tories realised too late in the game that this was a very gainable seat for them (a rare strategic domestic error for May), combined with the fact that UKIP ran what may well be the worst by-election campaign in the history of British politics. Two previously considered safe Labour seats: one gone, the other clung onto by luck and the last vestiges of the old regime. 2020 will be worse than even most pessimistic pundits imagine for the Labour Party.
2. The Tories can probably win almost anywhere in the country now
Consider the fact that the Tories very clearly all but stood aside in Stoke Central to focus solely on Copeland, running a 25-year-old and throwing nothing at this ground-wise until the last week; then consider that UKIP put everything they had into winning this one; then consider again Labour’s ground campaign in a seat they had held for decades and decades; finally consider that the Tories came within 79 votes of equalling UKIP’s vote count, 2,699 from actually winning the thing. Tory HQ must be rethinking what Labour seats are getable in 2020 now: outside of inner London, all of them are worth going for. The Conservatives ending up with 400+ seats after the next general election looks very possible this morning.
3. I say this with some hesitancy, but I think Stoke Central was UKIP’s Waterloo
UKIP have been written off falsely before, so I don’t wish to add to their false epitaphs, but it is really hard to see a way back from this one. They ran the party leader in one of the most Brexit friendly seats in the country, with the out-going Labour MP being a terribly posh carpet bagger who had left to run a museum in London. But the real reason I think this is probably the end for UKIP is that Stoke Central will have woken the Tories up: never again are they going to tread so lightly in a seat like this; never again will they allow UKIP such a free run. The Conservatives realise that they can probably win in seats like Stoke Central in future by doing one thing effectively: decimating the UKIP vote. Which is what the Tories will do from here on in.
4. The Lib Dems have a long way yet to climb
The Liberal Democrats were not realistically expected to win either of the two by-elections yesterday. Still, I think the results are an apt demonstration that a). winning a significant amount of votes in Westminster level elections in places where a majority voted to Leave is probably unrealistic for the Lib Dems any time in the near future and b). at present, the Lib Dems are not taking a significant chunk of Remain voters away from Labour in former Labour English heartlands. All of that is okay – the Lib Dems have a long term strategy around Brexit that will take years to pay off. I think, however, that serious thought needs to go into the targeting of seats in 2020, taking the current strategy into consideration. Those Cornwall seats look that much less winnable after yesterday.