Labour MP Jamie Reed, yesterday announced his resignation as the Member of Parliament for Copeland in Cumbria, triggering a by-election in the constituency. He made it clear in his letter to Jeremy Corbyn he would resign at the end of January to take up a new job at the Sellafield Nuclear site, based in his constituency, meaning a by-election will not take place until the Spring of 2017 at the earliest. No date can be set by the Labour Chief Whip, Nick Brown MP until Reed formally resigns from Parliament.
Reed, never the biggest fan of Corbyn wrote in his letter about the successes of the last Labour Governments, which was still in power when he entered Parliament in 2005. This could be a statement to Corbyn, slyly telling him to adopt New Labour style policy in order to win elections, something Reed has made clear to the new Labour Leadership. Reed also went on to discuss the ‘desperate need’ for a Labour Government in Copeland, before finishing his letter wishing Mr Corbyn every success in his ‘endeavour to become our next Labour Prime Minister.’.
Jamie Reed’s past action toward Corbyn, do make his wishing well of his Party Leader seem sarcastic. Reed is a man who has sought to fight Corbyn’s leadership every step of the way and even called for him to resign after the EU Referendum. Reed resigned from his position as Shadow Health Minister seconds into Jeremy Corbyn’s victory speech when he first won the Leadership in 2015. Whatever Reed’s motives are for resigning whether it be his family (Sellafield is closer to home than Westminster), the money (Reed has gone on record saying he’ll get paid more than his MP’s salary) or to damage his leaders standing even further, he has certainly performed the latter with or without intention.
At the 2015 election Reed won with 16,750 votes, while the Conservatives came second with 14,186 votes and UKIP third on 6,148. The Liberal Democrats came in fourth with 1,368 votes and The Greens not far behind in fifth with 1,179 votes. The slim majority of 2,500 votes over the Tories will make Copeland a tricky by-election indeed for Labour. Copeland was a key race on CCHQ’s target list in 2015 and was a strong Leave area on June 23 with Leave winning 23,528 votes to Remains’ 14,419 votes – a result of 62% for Leave. This gives good ground for UKIP to have a shot, but UKIP Leader and North West MEP Paul Nuttall has declined he personally will be standing to ‘focus on the party internally’ yet the spokesperson commenting for Nuttall also went on to say the party will be running a strong campaign in the constituency.
As a local to the area, I’ve campaigned in Copeland many times for different purposes and from my understanding, the Conservatives are keen to sweep this one from Labour – since losing Zac Goldsmith, Theresa May’s slim majority only got slimmer, so this is a good chance for the party to get a 330th MP back on their benches. John Stevenson, Conservative MP for nearby Carlisle said it is an ‘important decision’ especially due to the major employer Sellafield in the constituency and that he hopes the next MP will work with him on various issues such as economic development in Cumbria and getting improvements to the A595 road alongside other infrastructure projects.
The last time the Conservatives won a Parliamentary By-Election off Labour was in 2008 down the motorway from Copeland in Crewe & Nantwich, a seat MP Edward Timpson has held since and the Tories will be certainly hoping for a similar result in the New Year. It bodes well for them, a Leave-voting constituency, a feeling of disconnect from London’s elitist scene and a local interest in Nuclear resources and support for Trident. Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time CND activist would not be received too well in Copeland, even Jamie Reed called his opposition to Trident ‘juvenile’ and ‘narcissistic’ not so long ago.
Mr Corbyn said upon the resignation of Jamie Reed ‘Jamie has given great service to his party, his country and his constituency. He has been a powerful voice for rural and remote communities and served his community well, campaigning for additional flood defences and infrastructure for Cumbria. I wish him all the best in his future role. We now face a by-election and local party members will soon choose a candidate equally committed to Copeland and its people.’
It seems clear though to the local parties they’ve expected Reed to go with the Conservatives reportedly having thousands of leaflets ready to go and the Liberal Democrats already preparing to launch their full campaign. Tim Farron, Leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for neighbouring Westmorland and Lonsdale said he is ‘very surprised’ to see Mr Reed step down and looks forward to ‘working with him in his new role’ but didn’t comment on the upcoming by-election. However, it is unsure whether the Greens will be standing, but Labour may find a Green Party absence beneficial to them, despite the Greens only winning 3% of the vote in 2015.
All in all, while Jamie Reed might sit at home at his newfound relief away from Parliament, many in Labour HQ will be leaving for Christmas, saddened at the thought that not only have Labour lost one of their best MP’s, but potentially have lost a seat which since its creation in 1983 always voted Labour. Makes me wonder whether all those enthused Momentum activists will be ready to get door-knocking in the far north of the country. After all, Jamie Reed did point out Copeland is the least-accessible constituency in England, so can Labour summon the support to hold the seat, or shall the Conservatives make their first Parliamentary by-election gain from Labour in 9 years?