THERESA May branded the Conservatives’ shock by-election victory in Copeland as a “devastating blow” for Labour today.
The jubilant Prime Minister insisted the winning of the seat from Labour, and her party almost taking second place in Stoke Central, showed the Conservatives were now the “party of working people”.
The Conservatives’ victory in Cumbria was the first time a governing party had taken a seat from the opposition since 1982 and the biggest vote swing to a party in Government since the 1966 Hull North by-election.
Tory activists hope to carry the momentum from the Copeland success into May’s local elections which including county council elections in North Yorkshire and the first metro-mayor elections in areas including Greater Manchester and Tees Valley.
Since entering Downing Street last year Mrs May has looked to reposition the Conservatives away from the metropolitanism of David Cameron and she appeared to present the Copeland by-election victory as a vindication of her appraoch.
In a speech to Conservative councillors today, Mrs May said: “Let us not be in any doubt about what these results represent.
“Copeland is a seat that Labour describe as their ‘core vote country’.
“It has returned Labour MPs without exception since the 1930s. It is a seat they thought they would win this time. A seat where they expected to increase their majority.
“And it is true to say that the result is a devastating blow for them, and proof that Labour are out of touch with the concerns of ordinary working people.”
The Prime Minister claimed the Conservatives were the only party “that is listening and responding to the concerns of ordinary working people across Britain today”.
The Conservatives, Mrs May insisted, were the only party “that can truly call itself the party of working people. A party determined to build a country that works for everyone, and not just a privileged few.”
Looking ahead to the local elections, Mrs May compared the activities of Jeremy Corbyn-supporting group Momentum to Militant group which disastrously ran Liverpool in the 1980s.
She said: “Labour’s councillors now dance to the tune of the militant unions and Momentum’s hard-left activists, facing threats of candidate de-selection if they don’t.
Last year, Labour’s deputy leader warned of entryism in Labour by the far-left.
“This year, even the Stalinists in Momentum are complaining about being infiltrated by the Trotskyites.
“But for those of us who remember what Militant did to Liverpool, it doesn’t matter what term you use - we can’t allow Labour to get a foothold back in local government and let them do for local communities what they did to our country.”
The by-election triumph was achieved despite the Government facing growing criticism over the state of the NHS and the crisis in the care of the elderly.
Mrs May has come under pressure from Conservative-run councils complaining the funding they receive is not enough keep pace with rising demand for social care as the population ages.
Setting out the measures the Government has taken already on social care, the Prime Minister said that “more money is not the only answer” but that the Government also “recognise the need for far-reaching reform to encourage high standards across the whole country”.
Mrs May also used her speech to the Conservative Councillors’ Assocition conference to address concerns that moves to given councils more financial independence will be damaging for poorer areas.
“We will need to carefully consider the transition to self-sufficiency, and ensure fairness to all parts of the country – north and south, shire and metropolitan.