Polling day arrives in Stoke and Copeland - and so does storm Doris

Written by Josh May on 23 February 2017 in Diary
Diary

Early postal returns are said to have been positive for Gareth Snell, Labour's candidate in Stoke.

Voters in Stoke and Copeland cast their ballots today and both contests are in the balance. So is the stage set for Storm Doris to make her way into by-election folklore as the act of nature that depressed turnout and swung the results one way or the other?

Copeland is a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives. The bookies (with the usual provisos) suggest that it is Labour with an election day mountain to climb in the seat with the two highest peaks in England, and Tory minister Michael Fallon has said of the election: “It is within our grasp.”

Although it has almost been factored in to the political markets that Labour will lose at least one of the seats today, it is worth remembering what a defeat would mean. Copeland, despite a bunch of close results, has not returned a Conservative MP since the constituency’s creation in 1983 (though boundary changes in 2010 have helped the Tories’ chances a bit and Election Data reckon they would have won in the ‘80s if the seat was the same shape as it is now) and its predecessor was Labour since the 1930s. For the Opposition to lose what is essentially a head-to-head with the governing party would not – no matter how it was spun – augur well for the party’s national prospects.

The Tories in some ways have a free hit at the seat and Theresa May cannot be accused of not doing her bit. As well as the visit to the seat and the obligatory plug for the Tory candidate at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister briefed phone canvassers for the constituency on Tuesday evening.

Labour is more confident about Stoke, where early postal returns have apparently been positive. But a whole range of results are possible in the seat vacated by Tristram Hunt.

It could be a routine hold for Labour in a constituency they have dominated forever, proving that rumours of the party’s demise have been greatly exaggerated; it could be the route to Westminster for Paul Nuttall (for whom this is the fifth attempt to get into the Commons – still short of Nigel Farage’s number), heralding the beginning of a big Ukip surge into working-class Labour heartlands; it could end up with a very close three- (or even four-, depending on Liberal Democrat performance) way race that shows the new divides in the electorate in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

One Tory MP has told the Sun the party is “competitive” in Stoke, but it is for Labour and Ukip that the stakes are highest here. Nuttall will face questions about his strategy of replacing Labour as the voice of working-class Midlands and Northern seats if the party fails to win a seat that appears to have so many favourable characteristics for the eurosceptic party.

PoliticsHome has a piece from Ukip MEP Jill Seymour describing Stoke as “one of the nastiest by-election campaigns ever” and Nuttall as the victim of “disgracefully underhand personal attacks”.

 


Picture by Joe Giddens PA Wire/PA Images

 

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