A comfortable win for the ruling party isn’t the usual by-election headline, and so few papers have lead with that today. The Tories convincing victory in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election was predictable. By-elections are not normally about the victor, but about the vanquished. And there’s a clear loser from Sleaford, as there was in Richmond the week before: Labour. Dropping from second in May 2015 to fourth now, the Party has some serious head scratching to do about their fortunes.
On the nation’s biggest issue, Brexit, the party’s position is confused at best. If you want a hard Brexit, vote UKIP. If you want to remain, vote Lib Dem. If you’re hedging your bets on a “red, white and blue Brexit” then vote Tory, but on our future with Europe why would you vote for the Labour Party? Therein lies Corbyn’s problem. By-elections are a barometer for voters to protest vote or cast judgement on the issues of the day. While Labour’s doorstep campaign focussed on the NHS, voters thought about Brexit. In that contest Labour isn’t anywhere.
Labour’s rising star, Kier Starmer, might be clearer than his Leader on Brexit. He might have won a major concession from the Government this week on revealing their Brexit position before triggering Article 50, but that win is already forgotten if it was ever understood by the voters. For Labour watchers, it was a distraction from the internal strife within Momentum, the Corbyn fan club, currently undergoing a civil war between the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. Voters don’t like divided parties and an argument about which brand of Trotskyism you’re into this week won’t convince many floating voters Labour has their best interests at heart.
Labour needs to rediscover its purpose. If under Corbyn its job isn’t to win, what is its purpose? It is sometimes dangerous to read too much into by-elections and what they mean but two hefty defeats on the trot and 14 points behind the Tories, the Party does seems to be on a march into the electoral abyss. To borrow from pertinent Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem Charge of the Light Brigade: UKIP to the right of them, Lib Dems to the left of them, Tories in front of them, boldly they rode and well, into the jaws of electoral defeat, into the mouth of hell, rode Jeremy Corbyn’s six hundred. And we all know what happens next.