YOU might wonder what connection the Humber Bridge has with this morning’s byelection results. And, no – it’s not just that some Labour supporters might feel tempted to walk halfway across that span and jump off.
The political scientist John Curtice points out in the Guardian this morning that the Tory victory in Copeland represents the biggest increase in support for a government party since Harold Wilson’s Labour government won Hull North in January 1966 – “at the cost, incidentally, of a promise to build the Humber Bridge”.
Clearly some byelection bribes are more impressive than others, and future generations have benefited from that one. No such inducement was offered in Copeland, where the Tories snatched a Labour seat they had not won since 1931.
Professor Curtice again: “Indeed, never before in the whole history of post-war British byelections has a government overturned so large an opposition majority as Labour was defending in Copeland.”
It is tempting to wonder that if Jeremy Corbyn can’t cope in Copeland, where will he be successful? On Today just now, shadow chancellor John McDonnell appeared to blame Tony Blair and Lord Mendelson, saying their disunity was part of the reason for the defeat
Well, it can’t have helped to have had that pair of political ghosts rattling their chains in your corridor – but Corbyn has been in charge long enough now to carry the can for such a disaster.
There will be many competing theories about the causes of this remarkable revival by the Tories, but Corbyn’s confused stance on Brexit can’t have helped. He seems only too happy to fall out with his own anti-Brexit MPs while holding open the door for Mrs Maybe to get whatever she wants.
I think that if you look carefully at Theresa May, you see a very scared woman who doesn’t really have a clue how the mess she inherited will work out, how long it will take, or when we will know if we have arrived. But she has a good accidental friend in Jeremy, who seems curiously inclined to making her life easier.
Not so long ago, anyone who criticised Corbyn came in for hot heaps of abuse. Has the ardour of his supporters dimmed now? Who know, but it must be hard to maintain the fire in that relationship. Have Corbyn and his ardent followers now reached the stage their partnership where one of them goes to bed much earlier than the other?
John Woodcock, the Labour MP for neighbouring Barrow in the Cumbia, said that the byelection loss to the Tories showed the party was “in trouble”. That’s the honest truth rolled up like a carpet if you ask me, but blame Tony Blair if you wish – after all, he carries many sins, some fairly and others less so (Iraq remains the indelible sin for many; winning three elections for Labour seems to be forgotten – or written off as a sin anyway, because he won by not being Labour enough, or something).
Of course, it was a night of two halves, and thankfully Labour saw off Ukip’s new leader Paul Nuttall in Stoke Central – which had been seen by some as UK’s ‘Brexit capital’.
A blow for Ukip is always a warming tot for the soul, although there is another warning for Labour here: if Ukip wobble and the Tories start winning back the purple brigade, then Corbyn and Co are in even deeper trouble that we thought. And that shit they are standing in looks deep enough already.
Incidentally – and I do like an ‘incidentally’ – if you are made of sterner stuff than me, tonight you could watch Nigel Farage on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories on ITV. I think that’s a two-for-one offer I can resist. Farage will tell Morgan that his Brexit victory came with a heavy personal price and cost him is (second) marriage. Asked why he carried on, Farage says: “Well, somebody had to do it. I believed this was the most important political question we would ever face in our lifetime.”
And it will be years yet before we know who was right.