Labour moves to play down by-election hopes

Richard Burgon
Richard Burgon
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ALLIES of Jeremy Corbyn have played down expectations for Labour’s performance in two by-elections on Thursday.

Leeds East MP Richard Burgon, the Shadow Justice Secretary, and Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott both insisted Stoke Central and Copeland could not be regarded as safe Labour seats.

By-elections in both seats were triggered by the resignations of sitting Labour MPs and the party is facing strong challenges from the Conservatives in Copeland and the UK Independence Party in Stoke Central.

Defeats in either would raise new questions about Labour’s fortunes under Mr Corbyn but his colleagues insisted his leadership would not come under threat.

Mr Burgon said: “I think those two by-elections are not going to be easy by-elections, contrary to some reports Copeland is not a so-called safe Labour seat.

“I haven’t written it off, I believe that Labour can win both of these by-elections. But I think it will be tough, I believe they will probably be close, I believe that every vote will count.

“But Copeland is not a so-called safe Labour seat, it has been held - by and large - mostly by small majorities and then there are other challenges in Stoke.”

He added: “It is never welcome to lose any election and people may be surprised to learn that the majority in Stoke at the last general election was only 5,000.”

Ms Abbott said that if Labour were to lose it “has to go forward.”

Asked if defeat would mean further questions over Mr Corbyn’s leadership, Ms Abbott replied: “No, no. I mean there are people who have been opposed to Jeremy from the very beginning, I’m not one of them and I think we have to move forward.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan, previously a critic of Mr Corbyn, said the leadership was “settled”.