If you needed more proof that Labour is no longer the party of those who labour, the latest polls should set you straight. According to a YouGov poll for The Times, Labour is now down to 24 per cent nationally, 16 points behind the Conservatives. Most striking of all, it has just 20 per cent of working-class support. Even with a healthy dose of scepticism about the pollsters – who, at the last election, were accused of exaggerating Labour support – this makes for stark reading. Labour is now third among working people, with UKIP edging into second place.
With two decisive by-elections next week, this is bad news for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. The Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections were sparked when their respective MPs, Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt, stepped down because they’d found something better to do with their time – Reed has a new job at the nearby Sellafield nuclear plant and Hunt has become director of the V&A museum in London. Both constituencies have been Labour strongholds since 1935, sources of old-fashioned blue-collar support, rich in the sort of traditional Labour voters the party is desperate to reconnect with. But both are vulnerable.
In Copeland, Labour has a majority of a few thousand. The Conservatives are now the bookies’ favourites, and Theresa May is even going up to campaign in the Cumbrian seat, knowing that the Tories might just do the unthinkable and become the first party to gain a seat while in government for 35 years. With Sellafield a huge local employer, Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance isn’t going down well on the doorstep. And while Sellafield workers were recently in conflict with the government over cuts to their pension scheme, strikes have been called off after talks, putting the wind at the Tories’ backs.
Stoke, meanwhile, was held by Hunt at the 2015 General Election with the lowest turnout in the country – his piddly mandate the epitome of Labour’s safe-seat complacency. UKIP edged into second in 2015 and the constituency backed Brexit by a huge margin. Now that Stoke’s only resident called Tristram has departed, UKIP could cause an upset. Putting aside UKIP leader Paul Nuttall’s gaffes over whether or not he’s ever been to his Stoke residence and whether or not he was actually at the Hillsborough disaster, as his website claims, Labour’s pick, in the form of sneering, Remain-backing tweeter Gareth Snell, could prove even more suicidal.
The blame for Labour’s woes has been laid solely at the sandals of Corbyn. Battered by his MPs’ revolt on Article 50 and charged with either being a 1970s dinosaur, an Islington elitist, or both, Corbyn is now incapable of holding the support of his own party allies, let alone Labour’s old working-class base. The PLP is not so much plotting a coup as ‘succession planning’ in plain sight. Over the weekend, Labour’s new campaign chief casually told the BBC there were plenty of leaders ready to replace Jezza when he decides to step down. And the party is focus-grouping potential left-wing successors.