Media pundits and commentators all seem to agree that the Conservative victory in Copeland is a humiliation for Jeremy Corbyn. But Labour’s troubles in its heartlands long predate its current leader.
The Guardian pointed the finger at Corbyn. The paper’s North of England correspondent, Josh Halliday, reported that Corbyn had suffered a “humiliating by-election defeat”.
Heather Stewart, The Guardian’s Political Editor, went further. She said Corbyn’s anti-cuts message had “fallen flat again”:
Corbyn’s anti-cuts message falls flat again as Tories take Copeland https://t.co/uHZW1rrRj6
— The Guardian (@guardian) February 24, 2017
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The BBC, meanwhile, said that the “slow painful anguish under Jeremy Corbyn” looked likely to continue.
The Mirror‘s Associate Editor Kevin Maguire also singled out Corbyn. He claimed the Islington MP was an “albatross” around Labour’s neck:
— Mirror Politics (@MirrorPolitics) February 24, 2017
But the truth is a tad more complex. The Labour vote started falling in Copeland under Tony Blair’s leadership (see chart below). In 1997, the party attracted just over 24,000 votes. But by 2005, it had dropped by 43% to around 17,000. Under Ed Miliband, the decline continued:
This trend is not unique to Copeland. New Labour lost five million voters during its 13 years in power, as the public discovered things were not getting better but worse in many ways.
Income inequality and poverty grew under New Labour. The party introduced tuition fees. It built hospitals under the discredited Private Financial Initiative (PFI) scheme. It lightly regulated the banks and allowed them to gamble away the nation’s future. Private landlords grew rich while councils almost completely stopped building council homes. The party sent soldiers off to die in illegal wars, costing thousands of lives. And it allowed old industries to decline without replacing them.
Corbyn’s critics don’t want to give him the time to overcome this toxic legacy. Instead, many of them want to bring a version of New Labour back from the dead. But this would worsen, not solve, the party’s problems in its heartlands.
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– Read more about Jeremy Corbyn from The Canary.
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