James Forsyth discusses the by-election results with Fraser Nelson and Isabel Hardman:
Labour has avoided total electoral disaster and held the Stoke Central seat with a relatively comfortable majority of 2,620. The Labour vote share in the seat was only marginally down on the 2015 general election, which while not good for an opposition party does suggests that Brexit hasn’t taken as big a chunk out of Labour’s support in Leave voting seats as some are suggesting.
Labour are trying to argue that their victory here marks a turning point in their attempt to see off the Ukip threat to them in Brexit voting seats in the Midlands and the North. It is certainly true that not winning here is a blow to the new Ukip leader Paul Nuttall. Stoke Central is, after all, precisely the kind of Brexit voting, working class Labour seat that Nuttall said he was the man to over win in the Ukip leadership contest. But Labour need to do a lot more than hold back Ukip in their safe seats if they are to ever win power again.
Nuttall has not had a good campaign in Stoke, his Hillsborough comments have caused him trouble and Labour have made hay with his previous musing about privatising the NHS. He may well be in for a rocky period as some of the Farage faction are dissatisfied with how he has brought some of their enemies back into the fold. At Ukip conference last week, Nigel Farage unhelpfully said that this by-election was a must win for Ukip. While party donor Arron Banks, who made some unhelpful interventions during this campaign, has suggested that if Ukip is at a tipping point and if it can’t win Stoke, then it might not have much of a future.
Labour’s relief at holding this seat might not last long though. We’re still waiting for the result from Copeland, the other constituency that Labour is defending tonight, and the word is that the Tories might have won there.