Tories 'caught on the hop' as Jeremy Corbyn's candidate loses out in Copeland
Local party members have selected moderate doctor Gillian Troughton to fight Jamie Reed's seat.
Labour has chosen an ex-doctor who supported Owen Smith to fight a crunch by-election – to the surprise of both Jeremy Corbyn and the Tory press office.
Local councillor Gillian Troughton won a tense selection battle and will try to defend the party's 2,500 majority in the Copeland seat being vacated by sitting MP Jamie Reed.
Her victory came as local party members rejected Rachel Holliday, the candidate backed by Corbyn.
Supporters of Corbyn, including his speechwriter David Prescott and press officer James Schneider, are thought to have helped local campaigner Holliday's campaign to win the Copeland nomination for Labour.
But in a major shock, it was announced last night that trained surgeon Troughton had been given the nod.
As the news broke, the Tory press office sent out a quickfire reaction some 11 minutes before Labour.
But there was confusion among journalists as the statement sought to paint Troughton as a Corbyn puppet – even though she supported his rival in the recent Labour leadership contest.
A Tory spokesman said: "It is clear Gillian Troughton is nothing more than a Corbyn puppet in a Labour party that is too divided and incompetent to stand up and secure the future of Cumbria’s industry and jobs.
"Only the Conservatives can be trusted to deliver the vital investment that will mean more jobs and better services for ordinary working Cumbrians."
But a local Labour source said: "Gillian is anything but hard left, in fact she was once a Conservative. The Tories have been caught on the hop because they didn't expert her to win. She is a great candidate."
PoliticsHome revealed last night that Labour bosses plan to hold the ballot, and a separate by-election in Stoke, on the same day next month. Senior party sources say the crunch polls are "likely" to take place on 23 February, although a final decision has yet to be made.
Responding to Troughton’s selection, Corbyn said: "I am delighted that Gillian Troughton will be Labour’s candidate for the Copeland by-election. Gillian is a local councillor with a strong track record of getting things done for her community. She has campaigned tirelessly to maintain local hospital services.
"As a St John’s blue light ambulance driver, Gillian has seen first-hand the extent of the crisis caused by this Conservative government, which has chosen to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest instead of our health service. I am proud that Labour has selected a local candidate with such dedication to her community."