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Why did Copeland vote Tory?

February 28, 2017 11:09 AM
By Anita Day in Postcard from a Lincolnshire Liberal

Anita DayLast week's by-elections in Stoke-on-Trent & Copeland - both Labour, & strong Leave areas - were interesting.

In Stoke, Labour won comfortably in what was primarily billed as a 'Stop Paul Nuttall' vote despite 70% Brexit support, and where Dr Zulfiqar Ali, the Lib Dem candidate, doubled his vote-share and came over as having more integrity than the 2 main protagonists combined.

But the Copeland result was more remarkable… and more depressing. Why did Copeland vote Tory? And how did the Lib Dems beat UKIP into 4th place? Perceived wisdom was that: this was a fight between campaigning for the NHS (Labour) vs safeguarding the nuclear industry (Conservative); Jeremy Corbyn's leadership makes the Labour party unelectable; the 62% Brexit support last summer meant that Labour were always going to do badly (despite Corbyn's seeming support for a hard Brexit); and a list of things per Shami Chakraborty including:

  • neglect by previous Labour MPs (probable)
  • a revolt against the establishment (but aren't the Tories the establishment??)
  • 'apocryphal' stories that Corbyn opposes nuclear power (actually, per his 2015 policy document, this is fact!)
  • a disunited Labour party (true)
  • the media (huh??)
  • Peter Mandelson (huh??)
  • attacks on Jeremy Corbyn (yes, well…)
  • the weather (affects Labour voters more than others, it seems)
  • its remoteness (see above)
  • Labour not being given the opportunity to communicate its policies (Really?! Speaking as a Lib Dem, when I look at the typical composition of a Question Time panel (and the prominence given to UKIP vs us in the media), I find that a bit rich!)

I jest, but the fact remains that a government gained a seat in a by-election for the first time in 35 years (and for a comparable swing, you'd have to go back to 1878)! So why?

My own view is that this is a story which is partly about Corbyn, but mainly about the decline of UKIP… not because Copeland voters did not support UKIP policies any more, but because they no longer had to! Theresa May's descent into a 'more UKIP than UKIP' political agenda offers Kippers a home in the Conservative party. I don't think it is a coincidence that UKIP's vote share fell by 9% whilst the Tories rose by 8.5%, and I suspect that we will see further declines in the UKIP vote in coming months.

Given the lack of any proportional representation in our voting system, Labour's ineffectualness and UKIP's demise, I fear that the establishment of a one-party state for the foreseeable future has become much more likely.

So what should we do?

Firstly, let's communicate clear policies on the issues which underpinned the vote last summer: the impacts of austerity, NHS, social care, education, housing, job security, lack of opportunities in former industrialised communities. Let's not allow the government to use Brexit as a distraction!

Secondly, moderates from all parties need to work together, whether in formal alliances or not. The Lib Dem battle-cry 'Open, Tolerant, United' never mattered more, and we need to show we mean it!

Take care, and speak soon


Membership Development
South Lincs Liberal Democrats
Tel: 07410 709338 / @AnitadayA / FB: Anita.Day.LD