Sunday 26 February 2017

On Labour's Victorious Campaign in Stoke

While Copeland was important, the outcome didn't dangle the possibility of an existential crisis. That exactly what was in play at the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. For UKIP and their empty cipher of a leader, a viable future was at stake. Both Nuttall and Nigel Farage had made much of UKIP's need to become the party of the working class, and Stoke was seen as a test bed for this strategy. For Labour, a loss would have signalled a disastrous disengagement between the party and a core component of its electoral coalition. As the campaign wore on and Nuttall's person was swamped by a tsunami of lies, Labour's inability to win under those circumstances would have been nothing less than catastrophic.

It didn't happen. After an awful year of grievous retreats, the line was held. And about bloody time. It's the kippers who are now in disarray, and Labour lives to fight another day. The majority fell by a wee amount, and the Tories and UKIP put on small numbers of votes. But on the reduced turn out as per all by-elections, the proportions were roughly the same as the 2015 outing. Apart from the stakes and the media hype, including some truly stupid commentary bigging up UKIP's prospects, was this a pretty dull by-election with very little to say about the state of national politics? Not in the slightest.

As we saw in Copeland, the Corbyn factor combined with the insecurity factor to the detriment of our chances. Did the same happen in Stoke Central? Yes, but with mixed results. During my moments on the doors, the Labour leader only came up the once. It was an old bloke just getting into his motor, and he was voting UKIP. This wasn't because he hated immigrants or thought Labour was a pile of crap, it was a protest: he didn't think Jeremy was any good. And nothing, not the NHS, not Nuttall's lies were going to dissuade him. Having asked around quite a few comrades who worked intensively on the campaign, they found similar sentiments among too many older, white working class voters. These Jez sceptics were either voting for the kippers or abstaining. And yet this was balanced out by the very enthusiastic response he got in other quarters. In Penkhull and bits of Hartshill where there are more middle class and professional residents, and down in Shelton with its large student and Asian populations, Jeremy was a real motivator. When out with Gareth Snell around Shelton, one comrade tells me of how cars would suddenly stop to speak with him and have obligatory selfies taken. 2,500 new electors registered for the by-election, mostly in the student areas, and I would wager that an increased turn out here made up for the decline in the traditional support.

The additional Jeremy factor was evident in the campaign itself. UKIP have talked up its own support on the ground and the people working for it. The party even turned out regular paid-for coach loads from London to bus people in (I wonder if they will appear on their electoral returns?) But truly, the Labour effort was colossal and they were utterly swamped. Yes, plenty of old hands were about doing their bit. However, new members turned out in large numbers as well. For dozens, probably hundreds, The Potteries was their first taste of campaigning. Any analysis skipping the positive consequences of the 2015-16 Corbyn surge is one indifferent to the truth.

The actual campaign was impressive. Huge numbers ensured the entire constituency was covered multiple times. The party could have perhaps dispensed with a direct mail as there were folks enough to deliver them by hand. The strategy was spot on, too. The NHS, Brexit, and more, better jobs for Stoke were heavily featured. Gareth's Plan for the Potteries with his first few months mapped out was exactly the sort of thing our campaign needed to see. Labour did put out one tabloid, The Potter's Wheel, which craftily billed itself as the no spin guide to the by-election, and it spent its time doing over UKIP and Nuttall. It's not often a party leaflet makes me laugh, but as negative campaigning goes its pun-tastic tones were the best way of doing it. The only criticism I would have, and this was evident in Copeland too, was the initial stand-offish approach taken toward the national media. Prioritising local radio, papers and telly is fine, but making it look as though candidates are hiding from reporters is not a good look. Remember, folks everywhere are more likely to follow national news and papers than the local equivalents.

What did annoy me was the constant barrage of claims on the right and the left that Stoke Central CLP had selected a "poor candidate". Never mind the fact Gareth has a campaigning record that would be the envy of hyperactive Trots, never mind Labour Party people. Forget that his tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council saw a no cuts budget (unless you want to get precious about perks for senior management), and increased funding for domestic and sexual violence services and preparing the council to uprate its lowest pay scales to the proper national living wage. Not one member of our national media did their job and properly investigated his record. Instead they lazily alighted upon tweets written a life time ago, including some apparently abusive criticisms of Jeremy that, in context, were crafted as warnings of being taken out of context. Irony. This occasioned a media carpet bombing of Gareth and should act as a warning for aspirant candidates to take the time and carefully clean up their social media now. And so Fleet Street dubbed our comrade rubbish on the basis of a string of 140 character missives. What a pathetic state of affairs. Ask anyone who knows anything about the Labour Party in North Staffordshire and they will tell you about his energy, his formidable organisational ability, his capacious memory for the minutiae of rules and procedure - a plus should he find himself facing an opponent across the dispatch box - and the fact he is Labour to the marrow. Gareth is among the best of us, as the rest of the Labour Party will see in due course.

The take homes from this then are the differential impacts Jeremy can have, and future by-election and local elections' strategy need to bear this in mind. A campaign should have a small number of, easy-to-remember messages with the promise to do something about insecurity at their heart, and should avoid going into siege mode with the media. Yes, they will trash the party, it's what they do. But resisting engagement is not a good look. There are other observations to be made about the UKIP, Tory and LibDem campaigns that have wider significance beyond Stoke, but they will have to wait.


Speedy said...

Well done! Although you will be well aware this victory has Pyrrhic written all over it. The man will not be content until he has destroyed the Labour Party, and I am not talking about Paul Nutter. Jeremy has devoted his whole life to undermining the notion that working people can thrive under capitalism, not least thanks to a party that supports their interests - nothing is going to stop him now.

Badger said...

Phil thank you so much for this report and your previous reports on the election. This serious and balanced reporting and analysis have been a life line. Without them I would have had to rely on professional reporters! Their contemporary and subsequent copy suggested an acritical following of an editorial line of anti-Corbynism. But even more worrying - if LP members are not used to our leaders being trashed, then heaven help us - is the lazy ignorance betrayed by the professionals.

jim mclean said...

There is a "Thanks for that Jamie" attitude in Copeland towards the former MP. The Tories were up and running before Labour got off the ground.

Mick said...

I really enjoyed this piece. It reminds me of the BNP or SWP grabbing figleaves when they’ve been the pathetic losers. The Left in denial as fewer people love them is just the punishment these divisive people deserve.

Labour’s vote in Stoke was only half that of 1997, so it’s hardly been a small drop. Same with everywhere. Labour’s victory was only Pyrrhic as it came despite what they are, a bunch of divided whackjobs who would rather look down on the public they never understood properly, even when New Labour dished up their best victories. Lately, they would prefer to cockblock Brexit rather than respect the wishes of the plebiscite even now.

Snell and the other Labourites openly rubbished Brexit and plunged the district into multi-million Pound debt. Yeah, despite boasting being good at figures.

And remember that, on the council, around half a dozen council members recently resigned in protest at the council’s own ineptitude.

So even when Labour win, they lose. And that’s not to mention losing their other little kingdom which they held for 80 years. It’s rare for an opposing ruling party to take a place which is the other side’s heartland. But fear not, Corbyn has the rescue plan, for Labour to deliver the most radical Marxist redistribution of wealth and resources yet dreamt of. Stealing and people herding, in other words.

Yeah, good luck with that known failure. But all shades of Labour are discredited, so they’re bound to lose, even during Austerity. No wonder all the Left see fit to do are call for wildcat strikes and have tantrums in the street about the US President. They’re only killing themselves faster, and all for my amusement.

Shai Masot said...

A welcome win for Labour. Well done Stoke Central comrades, and thank you Phil for your thoughts and observations. Is it enough to forestall #chickencoup2? Probably not. The Blairites have to strike before the McDonnell amendment can be passed at conference in the autumn. So, fasten your seat belts folks!

Andrew Curry said...

One observation about both these by-elections: it used to be said that when MPs resigned to swan off to a nice job somewhere else they tended to get punished by voters to some extent. I suspect that may have happened - to some extent - in both Copeland and Stoke.

Anonymous said...


Pride comes before a fall, you arrogant braying Tory tosser.

Ed said...

Yes, thanks a lot Phil for writing some excellent reports, and showing up how superficial much of the national media coverage is.

MikeB said...

Yes, thanks for the coverage, Phil, and for the work you and the local LP put in to hold the seat. Had Nuttall won, it would have been a disaster for the whole of the socialist/liberal/progressive movement. Sectional arguments about the Corbyn leadership are trivial compared with the importance of pushing back against our own "alt right".

Anonymous said...

A win is a win and its not to be sniffed at. Beating Nuttall and returning a new Labour MP is very good news. But goodness didn't we have to work hard for it. Impressive effort from locals, as well as the many people who travelled to help out.
But...majority halved is not a result that should fill us with any great enthusiasm. Along with Copeland, this was not a good night for us and we should be alarmed at where we are in the polls, and the trajectory they are following. Alarm bells should be loudly ringing in the leader's office, party HQ and all our CLP's.
For now, though, its well done Gareth. Hope he makes a dent at Westminster and turns out to be first rate MP.


Anonymous said...


Let's remember that many predicted a UKIP gain when Hunt flounced off. And much of the media proceeded to big up Nuttall (until his implosion) in almost hysterical fashion - as many had done since he became UKIP leader.

A good example was the Guardian's egregious "bigotry correspondent" John Harris who declared Labour doomed and almost salivated at the prospect of a UKIP victory. Later on Polly Toynbee from the same visit condescended to pay a visit to Stoke (no doubt it was a traumatic experience for her to venture outside the M25) and claimed she could find no Labour voters and UKIP were going to win.

Talking about a "halved majority" ignores that turnout was down. It was a modest swing against Labour overall - had that been repeated in Copeland, the Tories would not have won.

John said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for this, a welcome lift after a weekend of the Tory media banging on about the 'disaster' of Copeland, ably aided and abetted by senior labour figures who should know better.

I did 4 Saturdays in Stoke, travelling up from Warley (Near Birmingham for your readers who don't know it). I did it not because I liked the candidate's policies (although all I knew was he had not supported Jeremy last year), but because he was the labour party candidate (the fact that he was selected by the local CLP & not parachuted in was a plus point though). I also gave up my 4 Saturdays, because it was crucial to push UKIP back.

I suspect the dozens of people I met and canvassed with from all over the country, were there for exactly the same reason.

Like you I only found one person who said they would not vote Labour, because of Corbyn. Bizarrely because although he was a leave voter, it was Corbyn's "fault for failing to get 50 of his MPS to vote for Article 50".


Gary Elsby said...

Just to let you know Phil, the Conservatives are busy canvassing after the election 27/02/17 and I was approached for all future voting intentions on many subjects.