You win some, you lose some. That’s the most charitable interpretation of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Until last night, Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent had dutifully voted in MPs with red rosettes for far longer than any of us can remember. But while the people’s army of UKIP did not quite win the battle in Brexit-voting Stoke, the quiet march of Theresa May’s Conservatives allowed the party – despite having been in power for seven years – to snatch Copeland, a seat that is about as far away from Corbyn’s Islington enclave as you can get.
Labour will try to spin their hold in Stoke in any way they can. However, a decline in their vote share, a candidate whose twitter rants have been questionable at best, and a focus group recently comparing the party to a ‘clapped out banger on bricks’, are not the best building blocks for a positive news story. If that’s not bad enough, the result in Copeland had the largest swing towards a party of government in a by-election since 1966 (when Labour were at least in office). But Corbyn’s blind defiance in the face of defeat remains, and in this morning’s interviews he refused to take any responsibility, pointing the finger instead at everyone from the media to Tony Blair.
You can’t pin everything on mid-term by-elections, but if the swing to the Conservatives in Copeland was replicated in a general election, Mrs May would be stepping back into Number 10 with a healthy majority of over 100 MPs. Labour aren’t heading for power any time soon, but being an effective opposition is a job in itself. And one Labour is completely failing at. Both Corbyn and John McDonnell say they are eager to listen to the public but listening is one thing, acting upon what they hear is another.
The moderates on the backbenches have been muted overall in their response to these results today, and there seems to be no real energy or appetite for another challenge to the leadership. Unhappy Labour MPs will have to hope that Corbyn falls on his sword. If not, this extraordinary defeat may just signal the start of things to come.