Labour left reeling as Tory Trudy Harrison captures Copeland
There was better news for Jeremy Corbyn's party in Stoke-in-Trent.
Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership was dealt a major blow after the Tories pulled off a massive shock to win the Copeland by-election.
The historic result was the first time the Government had beaten an opposition party in a by-election in 35 years.
Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison won with 13,748 votes, giving her a majority of 2,147 over Labour's Gillian Troughton.
Jamie Reed had won the seat for Labour at the last general election with a majority of 2,564.
Harrison recently worked as a locality office for Copeland Borough Council. She has also worked at Sellafield and has four daughters with her husband Keith, who has been described as “a welder who works in the nuclear industry”.
In her victory speech, she said: "It's been very clear talking to people throughout this campaign that Jeremy Corbyn doesn't represent them. They want a party which is on the side of ordinary working people, which will respect the way we voted in the referendum and which will build a country which represents everyone. That's why they voted for me tonight."
There was better news for Labour in last night's other by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central where Gareth Snell retained the seat for his party.
The former leader of Newcastle Borough Council saw off the challenge of Ukip leader Paul Nuttall to win the seat by 2,621 votes.
In his victory speech, Snell said voters had "chosen the politics of hope over the politics of fear".
But there is no doubt that losing in Copeland – a seat Labour has held since it was created in 1983 – is a hammer blow for Corbyn.
His initial reluctance to support a project to build a new nuclear power plant in the constituency was damaging to Labour's campaign.
Labour insiders have admitted that the issue of his leadership came up repeatedly on the doorstep, with many voters saying they could not support the party while he is in charge.
The defeat also calls into question Labour's entire election strategy, as the party made the NHS, and in particular the threat to maternity and A&E services at West Cumberland Hospital, the central theme of its campaign.
Reacting to both results, the defiant Labour leader insisted his party "will go further to reconnect with voters".
Labour MPs reacted to the result with a mixture of disappointment and anger. Wes Streeting said he was "gutted" while John Woodcock called the result a "disaster".