Copeland was a truly awful result for Labour. But as I say in The Sun this morning, the really alarming things for Labour is that things can get worse for them.
Many Labour MPs have been operating on the assumption that the NHS will keep the party’s loses down to a manageable level in 2020. But Copeland suggests that this hope is misplaced. Labour went all in on the health service there and had no shortage of material to work with, the maternity unit at the local hospital is under threat. By the end of the campaign, Labour’s message was perilously close to vote for us or the baby gets it—and yet people still didn’t vote for them.
The other thing that should really worry Labour is that the Tories’ Corbyn card will be even more potent in 2020. In a by-election, you can’t credibly tell people that if they vote Labour today, Corbyn will be Prime Minister tomorrow. But in a general election, you can. Also, the campaign is going to mean that voters get to know a lot more about the Labour leader. By the end of it, they’ll likely to have heard about his sympathy for the IRA, him calling Hamas and Hezbollah friends and that he’d never use Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
You can see why some sober minded Labour minded MPs think that the party could slip below 200 seats at the next general election, something that didn’t even happen in the 1980s. The real question isn’t how long it will take Labour to recover from defeat at the next general election, but whether it is able to.