Chris Rowell: Nobody should be complacent about Copeland

The resignation of Jamie Reed was perhaps the final political shock of 2016. The resultant by-election has already caused a frenzy of excitement in the Conservative Party, from activists all the way up to the Cabinet.

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For the first time in decades an incumbent Conservative Government has a realistic chance of winning an opposition seat mid-term. The opportunity is almost perfect, Labour is behind in the polls and there is little to endear Comrade Corbyn to the voters of this serious, northern, predominantly working class constituency.

Jamie Reed, a former press officer at the Sellafield Power Plant who is returning there to a more senior role, via the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, is under no illusion about the importance of the nuclear industry to his constituents. Nor can it be lost on him that Corbyn's opposition to nuclear power, exemplified by his opposition to Hinckley Point C, would have made life hard for him at the next General Election, and will be a challenge for the Labour candidate unlucky enough to try to follow him.

This wedge between the Islington Mafia at the top of Labour and the voter base it has previously relied on makes it worth our while to throw the kitchen sink at winning in Copeland. The prize of taking a northern seat that has voted Labour since 1935 is too much to overlook, but the Conservatives are still very much the underdog.

We could be forgiven for looking at Mr Corbyn and thinking we’ll win. Having spent a day knocking on doors in Cleator Moor, a small, solidly Labour town in Copeland, I almost believe we’re going to win. I found plenty of Labour voters who were either considering voting Conservative, some for the first time, and many others who probably won’t turn out on election day. Nuclear power and Brexit are very much on the agenda there, I didn’t find many remainers and only one person opposed to Sellafield.

But before we become complacent we need to look at the factors that could cost us victory. In terms of pure logistics, we have fewer members than Labour and their union allies, especially in the North, where Copeland is a significant distance from our headlands in Yorkshire and Cheshire, and almost unthinkably far from London and the South East.

While nobody, not even Tim Farron, is under any illusion that the Lib Dems have a chance in this race, his constituency borders Copeland and no party loves a by-election more than they do. It is likely that they will gain support from the moderate Labour voters that we don’t, and from the rump of europhile Tories that can’t quite grasp that Brexit is in that national interest and that they can’t stop it. If we are to prevail, they need to take more of the former than the latter.

Perhaps more importantly than the Lib Dems, is the UKIP factor. While it is unlikely that UKIP will impact on the Conservative core vote, we will be competing with them for pro-Brexit, pro-nuclear, patriotic Labour voters. Although every vote UKIP takes from Labour works to our advantage, a voter switching from Labour to Conservative is doubly beneficial to us.

We must be under no illusion: this will be a hard fight, and for many of us means long, if scenic, journeys through beautiful Cumbria. Despite all the issues that could cost us victory, we have a genuine chance, and we have hit the ground running. Our activists are already delivering literature and talking to voters, aptly supported by a dedicated and experienced professional team. Your help is very much needed and by getting involved you may just make history. 

Click here to support our campaigning efforts in Copeland.


Chris Rowell is a Senior Public Relations Consultant based in the North of England. He ran Andrea Jenkyns MP’s successful 2015 General Election Campaign, which unseated sitting Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. He is a member of the Conservative Way Forward Board.

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