Copeland – a chance to reach out to both sides of the Remain/Leave divide

They’re calling Copeland, soon to have a by-election after its MP decided to go work at Sellafield, a three way marginal between the Tories, Labour and UKIP. Maybe in old money it would have been, but that was before Brexit. Now those three can fight over whose Brexit is bigger and harder, giving us a unique position. The 38% who voted to Remain, and a good chunk of the 62% who voted to leave in June may well be attracted by the thought of a vote on the final deal, a chance to legitimise what is being done in their name by the Government.

I tend to view the 2015 election results as a bit of an aberration. In Copeland we got 3.5%, but for the previous three decades, we’d been trundling along at around the 10% mark. We should certainly aim to improve on that as we did in Sleaford.

Our Copeland campaign has an advantage in that Tim Farron’s constituency and redoubtable campaign team are not so far away with their local knowledge and understanding of the issues. The other advantage is that we do actually care about the concerns of those who voted to leave. Had we been in power these last 30 years, our model of investment in public services and community empowerment would have avoided at least some of the issues that now cause so much anger.

This by-election gives us the chance to reach out to both sides of a divided community and beyond that to both sides of a divided nation. Copeland is an area that stands to lose a great deal from a hard Brexit. It’s up to us to fight a campaign that resonates with local people and get the best possible result. Anyone up for a trip to Cumbria?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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44 Comments

  • Very sensible article points well made.

  • Ian Patterson 21st Dec '16 - 8:48pm

    By election rather bound up with our stance on matters nuclear.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Dec '16 - 9:16pm

    I can’t support the Conservatives until Theresa May guarantees residency rights for EU migrants. I might endorse the Lib Dem candidate, but the campaign needs to portray the referendum on the deal as simply offering voters more choice and power, rather than a strong desire to stop any kind of brexit.

  • Neil Woollcott 21st Dec '16 - 9:17pm

    If we as a party are truly a national party, we need to campaign hard in this by-election.

    I think the team in Sleaford did a great job with the party concentrating on the Richmond Park Team but HQ failed to get behind the campaign in the last week (I received daily emails in the last week of the Richmond Park campaign but only 1 from HQ in the last week of Sleaford campaign).

    There should be no go areas in the country for LIb Dems, especially as this is next door to Tim Farron’s constituency.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Dec '16 - 9:23pm

    Thanks, Caron, I’m looking forward to a bonny fight on my home ground here, where I and colleagues have leafletted with our leaflet defending the achievements of Lib Dems in the Coalition and denouncing the Tory backsliding since. As you say, we have a unique stance in calling for a referendum on the final deal, and the perception gap between remainers and leavers, never great, is narrowing. Nonetheless there was a big majority for leaving, and it would help if we could say that Lib Dems recognise the case for EU reform (see the many comments on my thread on that). On the nuclear issue, the party stance is not opposed to it, and all here recognise the vital employment Sellafield gives.

  • It’s best not to over-estimate our prospects, as there is little liberal tradition in the area. There was no Liberal Party candidate for the predecessor seat of Whitehaven between 1929 and Oct. 1974. The best the Lib Dems did was 11.5% in 2005, though the SDP candidate got 15.9% in 1983.

    The location and lack of good transport also means bringing in activists from elsewhere in more difficult than in many other seats.

    All the attention will be on Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP, and there is a danger of being squeezed, but we do have a distinct alternative to offer and should aim to get to 10%.

  • Eddie Sammon. Theresa May would be crazy to guarantee residency rights for EU citizens without a reciprocal agreement for British citizens in other EU countries.

  • Hopefully Labour will put up a Euro sceptic candidate and split the leave vote nicely for us to sweep in and win

  • Progressive alliance anyone?

  • markfairclough 21st Dec '16 - 10:34pm

    Sorry guys but as Labour hold this seat in a progressive alliance scenario shouldn’t the Libdems & Greens stand aside to try & prevent a Tory gain

  • Further to Markfairclough’s point, leaving aside the fact that Corbyn and John McDonnell do not seem to favour any form of progressive alliance, and leaving aside also the fact that in a constituency that voted decidedly for Leave, Labour is not at all likely to select a candidate that supports Remain and who would thus be acceptable to us, my own feeling is that a decent Liberal Democrat campaign should draw away as many votes from the Tories as from Labour, and thus will not materially affect who wins the seat – unless we happen by some minor miracle to win it ourselves ! I say this because the Tories have historically been weak in this seat and their vote could well turn out to be more fragile than the result at the last election might suggest.

  • Surely the party’s anti nuclear stance will be a major negative in this constituency ?

  • @Martin – It is May who is proposing to alter the current situation, not the rest of the EU. The onus is on us to clarify the situation.

    After all, according to Brexiters, the whole point of leaving the EU is that we will independently make our own decision on such issues, not that we’ll wait for the EU to make a decision and then, dependent on what they decide, respond to it. If that is what we end up doing, we’ll be truly dependent on the EU.

  • This is the lib dems problem laid bare:

    The party campaigned and won a by-election in Richmond with a message of promising to vote against article 50 unless there was another referendum that included an opinion to over turn the result of the first one (effectively a re-run because they didn’t like the result the first time). When asked if this was democratic the new MP said it was OK for them to vote this way, against how the country voted, because that is what her constituents wanted and voted for. OK, so what about in the seats like this where most people voted leave?

    Reaching out to both sides in this context means giving a different message in different parts of the country. Do you really want to spend the next 30 years building a coalition of inconsistent ideas that will fall apart the moment it gets a sniff of power again? Is that to become the long term lib dem election/power cycle?

    And all this talk about the “progressive alliance”, is this only something the party is interested in when it is other parties standing aside for them?

  • Counting at Cranleigh West this morning. Fingers crossed. Seems there is no Labour candidate but UKIP putting up this time.

  • I doubt Brexit will have much of an effect here.

    It’s a two way marginal between Labour and the Tories. The Tories will probably win after taking votes from Labour and with the Lib Dems taking a few votes from pro-Europe Labour voters. It will be a disaster for Labour and will be completely ignored by Corbyn and his supporters.

    I don’t understand why anyone thinks UKIP are in the game any more. There’s no reason for them to exist, their party is horribly divided away from their single issue and they are run by gross incompetents. The Tories will probably take a few votes from them here.

  • Not convinced this is a 3 way marginal, UKIP’s 15% last year was way behind the others, plus they only had 1 candidate in the Copeland BC elections on the same day, we had 2 (plus 2 in the Allerdale bit of the seat). But this isn’t Skegness and it’s a long way from anywhere to bus UKIP activists in!

  • It’s a very long shot for us, isn’t it? in Richmond Park there was a very favourable general atmosphere, and all sorts of people piled in on our behalf – Greens, labour and anti-Goldsmith Tories. We would be coming from a long way behind in Copeland, and yes, the nuclear thing is big up there.

    We perhaps have to put up a token candidate – a sacrificial lamb to keep the flag flying, however limply

    Paul King

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Dec '16 - 10:11am

    @ Angry Steve,
    UKIP is everything that you say, but thee reason for existence is the same as that of every party, a desire for power.

    Another former Tory, Nuttall with his folksy northern accent and attitude is playing to the social conservativism of many working class people whilst pursuing a very right wing economic agenda which will disadvantage them.

  • “I and colleagues have leafletted with our leaflet defending the achievements of Lib Dems in the Coalition and denouncing the Tory backsliding since”

    Oh dear, entirely the wrong approach. In a seat where we have nothing to lose, how about setting out some Lib Dem policies people might support and explaining why they are better than those of the other parties ?

  • If Labour stand a pro-remain candidate who is warm to other Lib Dem policies (electoral reform, civil liberties etc) we should *NOT* stand a candidate – and this is coming from someone who is a Parliamentary Candidate. The last thing we want is to increase May’s majority back to where it was after our fantastic victory in Richmond. We have absolutely no chance of winning this, the best we can hope for is a distant 4th place. This isn’t Richmond, or even Sleaford, where beating Labour was great for us.

    The Tories winning this could transform the narrative on Brexit, from currently one of confusion and slipping support to “back on track”.

    Finally – outside of my LibDem friends, people are desperate for the Greens, Labour and the Liberals to get together and cooperate. The positive press we would get from doing this would be enormous. Plus the clamour for Labour NOT to stand in the next by election where the Lib Dems are the obvious contender (e.g. Bath if the MP is convicted of assault, or up in Edinburgh) would be impossible to ignore.

    The Greens have taken the first step towards a progressive alliance in Richmond. We need to take that second step.

  • Many Labour voters would rather stay at home than vote for a Corbyn led Labour party, he really is detested in the north. The Tories finished a decent second last time, but have no history of winning this seat and could lose some pro-EU voters. If you put in the effort you did into Richmond you could cause a major shock here.

  • @Simon Shaw “As there would be little point of such an alliance if it excluded Labour, and as most Lib Dems have no more wish to be in an alliance with Labour (particularly under their current leadership) as we have to be in one with the Conservatives, then it really is a complete red herring.”

    I got the idea from paddy ashdown.

    I personally think that in the UK a real liberal party would have far more in common with the Tories than with labour.

    But up here in Scotland most lib dems are social democrats, not liberals. They have a lot more in common with labour and were in government in holyrood with them, twice.

    This is the lib dem problem I write of. I honestly don’t think the party know who they are and give a different message in different areas, are they:

    1. On the centre left “progressive” side dedicated to stopping the Tories at all cost (with some green and anti free speech social justice warrior stuff thrown in)?

    Or

    2. Social and economic liberals who are not conservative but willing to work with conservatives to get stuff done.

    I would vote lib dem if the party were the second, but I don’t believe that they are.

    I think if the lib dems were the second they would do well in the long run electorally as labour move into irrelevance.

    The other mistake I see the lib dems making is not accepting that we must leave the EU, because come the next election we will have already left, and they’ll be holding a busted flush and looking like they don’t accept the will of the people. After we leave they can campaign to rejoin, but we will (and must) leave.

    It’s hard to see how they campaign in this by election after the messages they gave in Richmond.

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Dec '16 - 12:01pm

    A so called ‘progressive alliance’, and I would like a definition of that term given the voting behaviour.

    If the Liberal Democrats think that they have a set of policies worth voting for and a record that they feel proud to stand on, they should not need to be grubbing around for alliances which seem to be more against something than for.

    It is political engineering, pure and simple and it disenfranchises those who want to have the option to vote for a party that has policies that are closest to those that they approve of, and which they think are most likely to be enacted if they gain power.

    @ Malc,
    Maybe, but then Gordon Brown , and Ed Miliband were also demonised as a means of damaging a party of the left, with similar dislike engendered for the leader.

  • “If Labour stand a pro-remain candidate who is warm to other Lib Dem policies (electoral reform, civil liberties etc) we should *NOT* stand a candidate”

    Well – Yes, IF. But only if.

    NB, it is probably rather too much to expect a Labour candidate to go on the stump demanding STV and a medal for Snowden. A realistic “ask” would be a moderate Labour candidate who is vociferously opposed to hard Brexit. Someone who “More United” could wholeheartedly recommend.

    Will we get such a Labour candidate? I’m not hopeful…

  • paul barker 22nd Dec '16 - 1:37pm

    Of course we should stand, but to be realistic, 8% would be a good result. The seat should be an easy hold for Labour, there is no great enthusiasm for The Tories. If Labour have any sense they will pick a local candidate who sticks to the current “Soft Brexit” line but concentrates on Jobs & The NHS.
    The big question for us is whether we can overtake UKIP ? If the Byelection is in February I would guess not, they got 5 times as many votes as us just 18 Months ago.

  • @Simon Shaw

    I guess what I’m really thinking about is Brexit negotiations. I’d much rather have a soft Brexit Labour Remainer over a hard Brexit Tory.

    Of course if Labour pick a Brexiteer than of course we should stand a candidate…

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Dec '16 - 2:17pm

    We should stand because Copeland gives us a unique opportunity to do as Caron says, to connect with Leave voters. We have nothing to lose here so Tim has an opportunity to tell the truth to people who voted Leave in desperation. He can talk to them as an equal, tell them they have been lied to for years by the Tory press, whose owners want more power and influence here than they have in the EU, lied to by the Leave campaign, and lied to by the Tories because it is their policies which have increased the divide between the rich and and the rest of us, made work conditions so insecure, refused help to those in need like the sick and the disabled, run down the NHS and put all the blame on immigration.
    This is why I and, I’m sure, many others, voted for Tim because he understands, can articulate their plight and offer ways to help them rather than use them to get power like everyone else has. We must give these people a voice and Tim is the one to do it. It’s going to be a long hard journey but Copeland gives us an opportunity to make a start on achieving our goal of a Liberal Britain.

  • For there to be an alliance surely there would need to be much more commonality. Corbyn cannot agree to accommodate those not in his hard left bubble in Labour let alone accommodate more liberal views. His would be an authoritarian nightmare of a government which I fail to see would be any better than a Tory one..

  • And let’s be honest any anti-nuclear candidate would struggle. Which will make the Labour choice interesting – Corbyn acolyte, traditional northern Labour or a Blairite?

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Dec '16 - 5:00pm

    This by-election is being caused by a bored man who has largely acted as a mouthpiece for the Nuclear industry going off to be paid more money to be the OFFICIAL mouthpiece for the Nuclear industry. The next MP for this constituency (from whatever party) will be ANOTHER mouthpiece for the nuclear industry. So, nothing wrong with us standing but it will actually be the most irrelevent by-election of this parliament (and most by-elections are irrelevent). So, less htpe lease in all directions.

  • Jane Mansfield

    “@ Malc,
    Maybe, but then Gordon Brown , and Ed Miliband were also demonised as a means of damaging a party of the left, with similar dislike engendered for the leader.”

    I think the difference is that it was mainly the Tories and their friends in the media who demonised Brown and Miliband. With Corbyn there are large parts of the Labour party who despise him. I normally vote Labour, but never could I support a party led by Corbyn. His ties to the IRA when they were murdering the wives and children of servicemen and blowing up Manchester, put a mancunian ex-servicemen like me off him. In my eyes he is far worse than the Farage’s and Trump’s of this world, if he stays as leader Labour will be annihilated at the next GE.

  • The best plausible outcome here is that a pro-EU, moderate Labour candidate wins, and a lot of local LibDem voters will probably be thinking the same.

    I think we should wait to see who Labour select before deciding on the campaigning approach, but unless there is a sudden display of humility from the Labour leadership, then we should stand a candidate. How hard we campaign will depend on the opposition.

    We can treat this as an opportunity to get our message out there, but I’d hate to think that we’d let a keen Brexiteer UKIP-lite Tory in, by splitting the left of centre vote.

  • The problem about the “wait and see” approach is that with a very low Lib Dem vote at the 2015 election, the best way of getting any kind of momentum going will be to start campaigning before the other two parties’ campaigns are up and running. Clearly Katherine Pindar is up for a “bonny fight”, and if her constituency party shares her view and can persuade the national party that the seat is worth fighting vigorously, the sensible thing to do will be to go ahead regardless of what candidates rival parties may select.

  • We fight the seat on LIBERAL PRINCIPALS and POLICIES, with a Liberal Democrat candidate. We fight to maximise OUR vote 🙂

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Dec '16 - 9:59pm

    Well said, Sue Sutherland. I’ve been surprised at so many negative comments above, particularly the idea that we should be assessing the Labour candidate to see if s/he is worth voting for, instead of getting behind the chosen Liberal Democrat. Caracatus, you are hardly in a position to judge, but in fact the leaflet we put out explained Lib Dem policies, for instance on the green agenda, and also covered our local priorities. El Sid, there is no inconsistency in the Lib Dem approach: to quote a letter from Tim Farron, explaining that we are asking for the Government to set out clearly the terms of the deal they hope to seek before Article 50 is triggered, and demanding a Parliamentary vote on that, he continues ‘Once a deal has been negotiated, I believe that there must then be a referendum on the terms of the deal. This choice will allow the British public to decide whether it is the right deal for them.’
    Copeland is no more hopeless than Sleaford, the Labour divisions have been laid bare here, the Tory divisions at the top are daily observable, and the Lib Dems have a unique approach which should appeal to Leavers beginning to appreciate the catastrophe of Brexit as well as to Remainers. We have the clearest, most comprehensible and persuasive message in this time of doubt, insecurity and alarm, so all to play for.

  • My personal opinion is that the Labour vote will collapse completely and UKIP won’t improve on their GE vote. For me it’s a Tory victory with the Lib Dems a decent second. However, the 50/1 Ladbrokes are offering on a Lib Dem victory is crazy – best price 12/1 with Hills – so I’ve had a little £10 punt.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Dec '16 - 8:46am

    I would suggest that Katharine Pindar should be our candidate in Copeland!

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Dec '16 - 9:21am

    @ Catherine Jane Crosland,
    I agree. She is passionate in her beliefs and that carries weight.

    In the latest poll, 54% now want a speedy exit from Brexit and this includes a quarter of all remain voters.

    The Liberal Democrats including Katharine Pindar are right to fight for an alternative so that all views are represented and people can vote for the party that most represents their own at the actual ballot box. I find the fight very brave, but if the latest poll is to be believed, I fear that it is a losing one and all effort needs to be directed at arguing for the least painful option.

  • keith orrell 23rd Dec '16 - 11:53am

    As well as promoting our EU views, from the outside – locals will know best – it looks like a good opportunity to develop seats for the County elections in May. Looking at the figures for the last County elections Keswick and one of the Cockermouth seats look the most promising but again locals will no doubt have their priorities. Possibly an opportunity to develop areas around Whitehaven where we didn’t have candidates in seats there in 2013.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Dec '16 - 3:27pm

    Catherine and Jayne, you are very kind and flattering, but I haven’t even been a council candidate (continuing with my own profession of personal counselling), and my role now will be to canvass as much as possible. I rather hope some outstanding candidate can be found from Tim’s entourage in South Lakeland, but I am not party to these decisions. Incidentally, funnily enough I don’t actually live in Copeland – we have a joint Lib Dem executive for two West Cumbrian constituencies, and Keswick is within Copeland but Cockermouth isn’t. Not that that matters. I hope I shall be in Keswick or Whitehaven A.S.A.P. leafletting and canvassing!

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