Jamie Reed, the Labour MP for Copeland, has announced he is stepping down from Parliament from the end of January 2017. He is leaving to work at Sellafield, which is in his constituency.
Reed is a well known critic of Jeremy Corbyn, and though his resignation letter is warm and polite, it makes frequent and pointed references to the need for a Labour government. It closes with Reed wishing Corbyn well in his endeavours to become the next Labour Prime Minister, something the MP has made pretty clear in previous statements that he thinks is impossible.
So why is he leaving? Reed’s constituency is now a marginal seat, with a majority of just 2,564. If he just managed to win it under a Miliband leadership, the chances of him holding it at the next election look pretty remote. But that next election may not be until 2020. Reed is a smart MP. Like many others who’ve read the polls and seen what is going to happen to their seats, he will have been working out what to do once he loses his. The chance to carry on working in the area where his family live, away from the angry, sour atmosphere of the Labour Party, may have seemed too good to pass up.
Reed may also be trying to make a point. Copeland should be solidly Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, if he is the left wing messiah that his followers believe him to be, should be able to ensure that is the case in a mid-term by-election. If the seat falls to a Tory, then perhaps it will serve as a warning sign. My hunch is that this won’t work as a strategy, though: Reed has been sufficiently vocal a critic of the Labour leader for his supporters to blame him for the seat’s loss, which they could also argue he chose to yield to the Tories.
It is unusual for an MP to leave their seat in the middle of a Parliament without a serious family or health reason. Reed may have taken the nuclear option (not just in terms of his career) that many of his colleagues are still reluctant to take. But that doesn’t mean that large numbers of them aren’t going to huge lengths to ensure they’ll have a chance of getting another job when the inevitable happens and their seat is lost.