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Friday, December 09, 2016

Labour's crisis continues after by-election

It was always going to be an uphill struggle to repeat the heroics of the Richmond Park by-election in deepest, darkest Lincolnshire, but the Liberal Democrats nevertheless emerged from the contest with credit, being the only party to increase its share of the vote and pushing Labour into fourth place.

Labour's performance in Sleaford and North Hykeham also confimred a trend, as they continue to struggle to make any sort of impact in areas where they need to improve significantly if they are to win he next General Election.

As the Guardian says, the party’s candidate, Jim Clarke, a refuse collector, put in a valiant effort but Labour slipped embarrassingly from second place at the general election to fourth place in Sleaford.

His big argument was protection of the NHS and a campaign against the closure of a local A&E unit, but the minds of voters appeared firmly still fixed on the EU referendum, the dominant issue in politics affecting the direction of the country for decades to come:

Clarke had been a remain voter on account of jobs and the economy but spent much of the campaign stressing his commitment to triggering article 50, in tune with the frustrations of the local electorate anxious for May to get on with Brexit.

But why would a leave supporter opt for the remain-voting Labour candidate and his party’s nuanced position on the EU over his full-throated Brexit-loving rivals? Caroline Johnson, a children’s doctor who won for the Tories, reminded everyone how she had always wanted to leave the EU and that her prime minister was in a position to carry it out. Likewise, diehard Brexiters will have plumped for Ukip, which accused Theresa May of being a “Brexit backslider”, although the party -like others - actually lost votes compared with 2015 amid a very low turnout.

It was certainly nowhere near a Ukip surge, with voters seemingly still willing to offer May a chance to carry out her Brexit plan instead of giving Nigel Farage’s party credit for forcing the referendum in the first place.

It left little room for Labour as it scrabbled around for votes along with the Tories and Ukip among the 60% of the constituency who voted to leave the EU. That was good news for the Lib Dems, who had the pick of the 40% of remain voters and almost doubled their share to come third.

Looking at the numbers, it is clear many people who voted Labour at the general election, putting the party in second position, simply stayed home. Labour has acknowledged that this was not the result the party was seeking. But together with its loss of its deposit in the Richmond byelection, this should be a warning klaxon about extreme electoral danger for the party in England if May decides to call a snap election.

The failure of Labour to adopt a clear position on Brexit is costing them dear, leaving the door open for the Liberal Democrats to make a come-back on the basis of their strong and principled pro-Europeanism.
Will she call an election? Surely it is far better to have Cobyn as the Labour leader for the next three or so years which leaves the Labour party impotent and ineffectual. Call an election in 2019 or 2020. With a big win the Tories are in power until 2024 or 2025. Call an election now, Labour are slaughtered, Corbyn goes and there is a chance Labour can select a competent leader and the election around 2020 is far more uncertain. If Labour were not taking all the flack the current government's performance would not look very smart at all. May needs Cornyn as Labour leader.
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