Jeremy Corbyn allies spread blame for by-election defeat to 'fake news' and Tony Blair
Top allies of Jeremy Corbyn have blamed “fake news”, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair’s government for Labour’s defeat in Copeland.
Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison overturned Labour’s 2,500 majority to win the constituency for the first time since 1935.
Mr Corbyn has ruled out standing down in the wake of the defeat, and senior figures including John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Ken Livingstone have rallied around the Labour leader today.
They offered a range of explanations for why the Conservatives were able to take the seat – from the interventions by Lord Mandelson and Mr Blair in the week before the by-election, to media coverage of Mr Corbyn’s previous comments opposing nuclear power.
Shadow Chancellor Mr McDonnell claimed there were “unique circumstances” in the constituency because of the local economy’s dependence on the nuclear industry, and said Labour “couldn’t cut through” on that issue.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Ms Thornberry told Sky News that “fake news” about Mr Corbyn’s views on nuclear power had cost Labour.
“Word had got out that Jeremy was not in favour of nuclear power – that isn’t true, that is what you call ‘fake news’ and we were having great difficulty fighting that,” she said.
Ian Lavery, the newly installed Labour election coordinator, insisted Mr Corbyn was “one of the most popular politicians in the country” even as Mr McDonnell accepted there were “mixed views” about the leader.
Mr Livingstone, meanwhile, said people were still drifting away from Labour because of Mr Blair’s legacy as prime minister.
He told Sky: “Given Jeremy’s attitude on nuclear power and so on, there was always going to be a vulnerability there.
“But if you actually look at the collapse in the vote, back 20 years ago when Tony Blair won his first election we got 58% of the vote in Copeland; two years ago at the last election, that had collapsed down to about 4% more than we got yesterday.
“This isn’t a decline that’s happened under Jeremy; it’s been happening for 20 years and you hear it from so many ordinary people on the street, saying ‘what did the last Labour government ever do for me?’.”
The Shadow Chancellor also took aim at Mr Blair and Lord Mandelson for making interventions in the last week before polling day, as did Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald.
Mr McDonald said: “It's people like Peter Mandelson who should be looking at themselves and asking how they are serving the Labour party.”
Labour MPs have said Mr Corbyn’s leadership was an issue that came up repeatedly on the doorstep with voters in the Cumbrian constituency.
Neighbouring MP John Woodcock warned Labour was “on course to a historic and catastrophic defeat” at the next election, while fellow backbencher David Winnick said Mr Corbyn was “simply not acceptable to a large number of people who would normally vote Labour”.
But Mr Corbyn has ruled out resigning as a result of the defeat.
“No. I was elected leader of this party – I’m proud to lead this party,” he said.
He was also asked by ITV whether he had asked himself “Could the problem actually be me?”, to which he replied briskly: “No. Thank you for your question.”