In normal times, by-elections are bad for governing parties and good for oppositions. But it is an indicator of how much trouble Labour is in, as I say in The Sun this morning, that they are the ones who are nervous ahead of Thursday’s by-elections.
Some in the Labour machine seem almost resigned to losing Copeland to the Tories and are concentrating on trying to hold off Ukip in Stoke. Given that Labour is polling as low as 24% and Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings are worse than Michael Foot’s were at this point in his leadership, and the epic defeat Foot led Labour to in 1983 paved the way for 14 more years of Tory government, you might think that defeat in either contest would be the end of Corbyn’s leadership. But it won’t be.
Why, because Labour would have lost in places that voted Brexit—and the alternatives to Corbyn are more anti-Brexit than he is.
Tony Blair wants Labour to be the opposition to Brexit. This might be a viable electoral strategy for the Lib Dems, but it isn’t for his old party: 7 out of 10 of Labour constituencies voted Leave.
On Brexit, it is Corbyn who is being the pragmatist. It isn’t realistic for Labour to stand against the result, or be seen to do so. Now, this has hurt Corbyn with the new membership he has attracted: they liked him precisely because he wasn’t a calculating politician. In the end, the weakening of his hold over his base could do for him.
But, right now, Labour has no alternative on Brexit and no viable alternative to Corbyn. And however much they might wish it wasn’t so, most Labour MPs know this.