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Elections & Voting Explained

Case Study: Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central By-Elections 

On 23 February two by-elections were fought as Storm Doris swept across the UK.

Both were major tests for three political parties.

  • Could Labour keep both seats under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn?
  • Could the Conservatives snatch a seat they had not held in decades?
  • Would it be another breakthrough for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in seats with very high ‘vote leave’ rates in the 2016 EU referendum?

Why were they called?

The by-elections were caused by the resignations of two Labour MPs, Tristram Hunt (Stoke) and Jamie Reed (Copeland).

  • Tristram Hunt

Tristram Hunt was elected in May 2010 as the Labour Member of Parliament for Stoke Central.

He was a former Shadow Education Secretary under Ed Milliband. He did not serve under Jeremy Corbyn and was very critical of his leadership.

Publicly stating he had been unhappy for some time, he resigned to become Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

  • Jamie Reed

Jamieson (Jamie) Reed was elected as the Member of Parliament for Copeland, Cumbria in 2005. 

Mr. Reed served as Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2010-2011) and Shadow Minister for Health (2011-2015)

He left politics to take a job in the nuclear sector at Sellafield. Mr. Reed however did reveal he had been approached by the Conservatives to join them. They offered him the post of Treasury Minister; he politely declined.  

He tweeted, “after 12 years in Parliament, I'm leaving. Hardest decision of my life and a privilege beyond compare. Thank you all.”

About the Constituency Battles - General Election Results 2015

  • Stoke Central

This constituency had been held by Labour for over six decades. In 2015, Hunt got 12,220 votes ahead of the UKIP candidate 7,041. This is why Paul Nuttall fancied his chances.

  • Copeland

In 2015, Reed had a majority of 2,564 votes. The Conservatives came second but UKIP was not too far behind.

The Results & Analysis

  • Stoke Central

Stoke was held by Labour. The new MP is Gareth Snell.

Snell won with 7,853 votes. UKIP leader Paul Nuttall was second with 5,233. Labour's share of the vote was 37% - slightly down on the 39.3% it got in 2015. This led Jack Dromey MP, campaign director for Snell, to say the result needed humility as people clearly felt Labour was not listening.

UKIP got 24.7% of the vote and the Conservatives, who came a close third, 24.4%. These were both slightly higher than 2015. 

Stoke Central’s campaign turned ugly. The Labour candidate was forced to apologise over embarrassing tweets about women and that Brexit was a pile of ****. Mr Nuttall also had a tough time after it emerged a press officer had wrongly claimed Mr Nuttall had lost ‘close friends’ at the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

In his victory speech, Snell said voters had "chosen the politics of hope over the politics of fear".

He added, “This city will not allow ourselves to be defined by last year's referendum and we will not allow ourselves to be divided by the result."

  • Copeland

The Conservatives won Copeland. The new MP is Trudy Harrison.

Harrison won with 13,748 votes to 11,601 for Labour's Gillian Troughton. The Conservatives got 44% of the vote increasing their share by 8% since 2015. This swing was the biggest since 1966 according to elections expert Professor John Curtice, Strathclyde University.

The win for the Conservatives was also the first time since 1982 a government has gained a seat at a by-election. They are normally used to ‘send a message’ to the government of the day.

One of the biggest issues in Copeland constituency employment at a and Jeremy Corbyn anti-nuclear stance proved an issue.

During her victory speech, Mrs Harrison said: "It's been very clear talking to people throughout this campaign that Jeremy Corbyn doesn't represent them.”

Reaction

  • The Prime Minister

On the morning after the result, Mrs May visited the constituency. 

She told supporters: "What we've seen from this victory is this truly is a government that's working for everyone and every part of the country - and that's the message that we bring here to Copeland and we'll take across the country."

She described Mrs Harrison as "such a fantastic candidate", one who does not just talk about things, but who "actually rolls up her sleeves and gets things done".

  • Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Corbyn said he would not be quitting at Labour leader.  He described it as "a day of disappointment in Copeland." 

When asked about why he was not standing down Mr Corbyn said, "I was elected leader of this party - I'm proud to lead this party."

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