With the prime political focus on triggering Article 50 it might be easy to forget that there are other important events in 2017 that could shape British politics. Here are PAC’s early ‘ones to watch’:
- Copeland by-election, date not yet known.
After the announced resignation of Jamie Reed MP (Labour), Copeland is the focus of the first by-election to be fought in a Labour/Conservative marginal since Jeremy Corbyn became Leader.
In normal times, this contest would not arouse much interest. An easy win would be expected for the Opposition with it being a generally working-class constituency, six hours away from London that has been held by Labour for nearly a century. The NHS, a ‘Labour issue’, is also set to be a focal point due to the row in the constituency about plans to downgrade maternity services at the West Cumberland hospital. Not to mention, no government has gained a seat in a by-election since 1982.
These are not normal times and it is quite possible the Conservatives might win. Why? Well, beyond the facts that Mr Reed’s 2015 majority was small (2,564) and 62% of voters in the constituency voted to leave the EU, the Labour Party’s recent performances in by-elections in December 2016 laid bare the electoral weaknesses that polls have been reporting.
In Richmond Park its share of the vote fell from 12.3% in 2015 to 3.7%, and in Sleaford they slipped from second in 2015 to fourth. Jeremy Corbyn’s previously stated opposition to nuclear power, a key industry in Copeland, might also influence the result and the Tories are already milking this for all its worth.
Not to forget that UKIP’s new leader, Paul Nuttall, will be seeking an early demonstration of his plan to grab northern Labour heartlands which could further weaken Labour’s chances of retaining the seat. Certainly if they do lose it, there will once again be serious recriminations within the Labour Party.
- Local Government Elections in May.
These elections, which will predominantly taking place for county councils, will be considered for what they can further tell us about the ongoing state of the parties, especially given the ever present speculation about a ‘snap’ early election. They will be the first widespread test of Theresa May and Paul Nuttall’s leaderships, as well as Corbyn mark 2, and will provide insight into whether the current dire polling for Labour is reflected by voting intention. Claims about (1) a Lib Dem resurgence and, (2) the threat UKIP poses to Labour’s vote in the North, will also be put to the test. However, keep in mind the expected, traditional anti-Government swing in local elections.
- Mayoral Elections in May.
The first ‘metro mayors’ will be elected across 6 combined local authorities as part of devolution deals. In most of these contests, such as in Greater Manchester where Andy Burnham MP is the Labour candidate and the Party control most of the councils and Liverpool City Region where Steve Rotherham MP is standing, positive results for the Labour Party are expected. Probably the most interesting result will be in the West Midlands where the former Chief Executive of John Lewis will be hoping to win for the Tories in a more marginal contest.
Though, considering Sadiq Khan’s victory in the London mayoral election in 2016, equating Labour victories in these more cosmopolitan areas with support for the national party may be a mistake.
- Election of the UNITE Leader on 28th April.
Triggered by the resignation of the current leader Len McClusky, this election is being billed as having wider significance in the ongoing ideological battle for control of the Labour Party.
Mr McClusky is aiming to win a third term as General Secretary to keep him in post for the 2020 election. He is a close personal friend of Mr Corbyn and has offered ongoing and financial support. Gerard Coyne is the more moderate/centrist candidate. Those supporting him from within the Parliamentary Labour Party have been accused by Mr McClusky of desiring a return to a Blairite doctrine.
The contest is being considered a potential ‘game changer’ and a fight for the future of the Labour Party. Unite’s significant political and financial involvement, (their executives vote on Labour’s national executive committee and they are the Party’s biggest donor), means the result of the election could serve to either entrench Corbyn as Labour’s Leader for the 2020 election or increase his vulnerability to further attempted coups.
Date for the diary: 8th March, Philip Hammond’s first, and last, spring Budget.