Off the wire
French Cup draw  • Roundup: China lose to Netherlands, Canada edge past Denmark at Algarve Cup  • Luis Enrique to leave FC Barcelona at the end of season  • Dollar changes hands in lower 114 yen range in early trade in Tokyo  • French Cup results  • Experts call for looking into mindset for placebo response  • Chicago agricultural commodities settle higher  • Canadian market rebounds with biggest gain in six months  • Mexico to build 52 new clean energy parks by 2019  • Contact Group on Ukraine agrees on withdrawal of heavy weapons  
You are here:   Home/ Editors' Choice

British by-elections and Brexit / by Sumantra Maitra, March 2, 2017 Adjust font size:

As Labour becomes the first opposition party in Britain to lose a by-election since 1982, and the Copeland constituency goes to the Conservatives for the first time in 80 years, there are naturally questions regarding the future of the Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

After the historic elections, myths related to Brexit are also under serious scrutiny. PM Theresa May of course congratulated the Conservatives' "astounding" victory and states that this proves her government "is working for everyone." Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, also as usual, maintained that he will not climb down from his position, despite Labour being at a historic low.

But first some facts which may break down myths. An estimated 22,480 people in Stoke Central voted Leave in the EU referendum. 5,233 voted UKIP yesterday. In Copeland, the ultra right BNP had around 150 votes. These facts have enormous implications. Post Brexit, the majority analysis of the country focused on whether Britain has turned completely racist and xenophobic and ultra right.

The elections, in the unlikeliest places, show the trend is actually the opposite. The fact is that the ultra-right wing vote is actually decreasing in number in Britain, compared to Europe, where right wingers might even win national elections in France and Netherlands. Secondly, the UKIP loss proves that Brexit needs not be a hard Brexit, and Conservatives would be prudent to keep that in mind.

Conservative candidate Harrison got 44.3 percent of the vote, increasing the Conservatives' vote share by more than 8 percent and overturning a Labour majority of more than 2,564 to take the seat by 2,147 votes, which is a swing of 6 percent, a considered historic, given the context of a by-election.

But what does it say about Labour? There was always a healthy skepticism of foreigners in the U.K., as Professor of Politics at University of Nottingham, Dr Steven Fielding told me once. It is not xenophobia per se, but skepticism of migration, that is a standard idea in U.K. politics, and that's not just related to Europeans.

It is a tragedy that the moment the U.K. needs a center left party the most, there is practically no opposition to the Conservatives now. And this was bound to happen. Labour was always a platform containing two distinct, different and opposing social forces. One, the urban pink haired, college graduate, septum pierced liberals as well as racial and sexual minorities. The other was working class British. Over the course of Brexit, however, that tie is broken.

On one hand, the urban middle class wants Labour to lead the movement of staying in the EU, or lacking that, at least to dim the effort of a hard Brexit. The cycle of protests in London is spearheaded by this group. On the other hand, the northern and urban labour belt, the main labour support in the British heartlands, essentially feels betrayed by Labour's top politicians all clamoring to be a part of global elite and Europe. For far too long, this Labour heartland and working class have felt neglected by a globalist section of the party and that is now irredeemable. The coalition that formed left politics in Britain broken beyond repair, with a section of Labour, led by upstart leaders like Jess Phillips, who are obsessed with race and gender and identity politics and victimhood and not the economy. While the leadership is completely detached from the electorate, and ironically the conservatives find themselves more aligned to the working class voters.

This is an absurd situation, and this cannot obviously go on. In any democracy there needs to be a healthy debate and a strong opposition to keep the government in check. In the U.K., Labour is in a state of near collapse and the Liberal Democrats cannot be a successful opposition. As a result, the middle class is moving towards the Conservatives, as we see the slowest death spiral of Labour in U.K. There's only one hope, with the middle class flocking to Conservatives, hopefully the May government will keep their interests in mind, while leading Britain's exit of the EU.

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of