Britain’s Labour party on Friday beat UKIP to win a by-election in the Brexit bastion of Stoke-on-Trent, but suffered a historic defeat by the ruling Conservatives in a separate local vote.
Labour clung on to its Stoke-on-Trent seat with Gareth Snell taking 7,853 votes to 5,233 for Paul Nuttall, leader of the UK Independence Party.
The win in Stoke was welcomed as “a clear victory” on Twitter by embattled Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party is deeply divided and languishing in the polls.
The latest poll showed Labour trailing 18 points behind Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party.
The ruling party gained further ground against the Labour Party on Friday, taking the rural Cumbrian seat of Copeland.
Conservative Trudy Harrison hailed a “truly historic event” after winning the by-election with 13,748 votes to 11,601 for Labour’s Gillian Troughton.
The win was the first time a governing party has taken a seat from a rival since 1982.
Labour had held the Copeland constituency since it was formed in 1983, but its majority has been dropping and MP Jamie Reed won by a majority of just 2,564 at the 2015 general election.
Reed announced his resignation in December to take a job in the nuclear industry.
Many jobs in Copeland depend on the Sellafield nuclear processing facility, and Corbyn’s strong anti-nuclear stance may have hurt Labour in the vote.
The party’s unsuccessful campaign focused on threatened cuts to the local hospital, echoing Corbyn’s repeated attacks on May for not giving sufficient funds to the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
‘Capital of Brexit’
“Labour’s victory in Stoke is a decisive rejection of UKIP’s politics of division. But our message was not enough to win through in Copeland,” Corbyn wrote on Twitter.
In Stoke, newly-elected Snell told the BBC that Corbyn was “very much an asset” on the campaign trail.
The seat has been held by Labour since its creation in 1950, but the party’s standing in the city had been shaken by Brexit.
Stoke in the West Midlands recorded the strongest vote to leave the European Union of any of Britain’s 30 major cities in last June’s referendum, at 69.4 percent — even though its Labour MP, Tristram Hunt, opposed Brexit.
Hunt stepped down last month to become the director of the V&A museum in London, citing in his resignation letter his “frustration” at Labour’s direction under Corbyn.
Nationwide most Labour voters supported Brexit while most of their MPs wanted to stay in the EU, a gap which UKIP unsuccessfully sought to capitalise on.
Ahead of the vote Snell told AFP he would back his constituents and support kick-starting divorce talks with Brussels.
In his acceptance speech, the new Labour MP said Stoke should not be defined by its view of the European Union.
“A city dubbed by some as the capital of Brexit, has once again proved to the world that we are so much more than that.”
“This city will not allow itself to be defined by last year’s referendum… nor will we be divided by race, by faith or creed,” he added.
UKIP ‘not going anywhere’
New UKIP leader Nuttall had jumped at the chance to take the seat, in which the party came second in the 2015 election with 23 percent of the vote to Labour’s 39 percent.
The anti-establishment party had hoped to build on the widespread sense of public alienation from mainstream politics — and prove it has a future after securing its founding aim of leaving the EU.
Nuttall insisted the defeat did not mark the end of UKIP.
“There’s a lot more to come from us,” he said. “We are not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere.”
His campaign was damaged by controversy over the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster, after he admitted that claims on his website that he had close friends among the 96 victims were wrong.
Nuttall condemned the controversy as a “coordinated, cruel and almost evil smear campaign”, but there is no doubt it damaged his chances.
Apathy runs deep in Stoke where turnout was 38.16 percent, compared to 51.35 percent in Copeland.
The Conservative candidate Jack Brereton was left in third place in Stoke, with 5,154 votes.