Speculators are going to speculate. As the Copeland constituency is a marginal held by Labour with a 2,500 majority, it is suggested that Jamie's jumping ship before the party gets a pummeling at the 2020 general election. That's possible. On the other hand, under the boundary proposals Copeland is due to be dismembered and shared between three other constituencies, none of which are notionally that favourable to Labour. Whether Jeremy is leader or someone more to Jamie's tastes had ascended the hot seat, things aren't looking good had he battled on and contested one of the successor seats.
That's the future, but what about now, how is the imminent by-election going to look? Labour's majority in 2015 was 2,564 on a 64% turn out. The Tories are in second, though they too lost votes to UKIP (who trailed a distant third), and the LibDems and Greens made up the numbers. Their combined totals however is just a smidgen under the size of Labour's majority, and so could make a difference. Though it is very interesting to note that in this tight contest none of the advocates of a so-called progressive alliance have popped their heads up to demand the Greens and the Yellows hold their horses and stand down for the greater good. The demands of political altruism run in only one direction, it seems.
A couple of other things worth noting. The tendency for Labour voting in Copeland since 1997 is down, but historically it is a place the party held onto even through the nadir of 1983. Aeons have passed by since, but it indicates a long-term loyalty to the party in its radical and centrist phases. In other words, there is Labour support in the constituency who won't be put off by Jeremy Corbyn. And there might be a few attracted back to make up the numbers who are, as per by-elections in safe Labour seats during this Parliament. A second interesting dynamic is local government. Mike Starkie, the directly-elected mayor on Copeland Borough Council is an Independent while for the last 40 years, the council has more or less always been under Labour control. Discontent with local authorities, which can and do play important roles in Parliamentary by-elections could come into play here, though that depends on how the previous Labour administration was perceived and how Starkie is performing as mayor - to those sections of the electorate that care about such things. However, given his prominence in the roughly contiguous constituency Starkie or a Starkie-endorsed indie could well throw a hat into the by-election ring, which would make for another set of interesting dynamics.
Then there is Brexit. All of Cumbria voted Leave in the referendum, apart from Tim Farron's patch in Westmorland. While the result across the county was 56%, in Copeland itself 62% of voters cast their ballots for Leave. Troublesville for Labour? Possibly. Possibly not. While two thirds of Labour constituencies backed Leave, two thirds of Labour voters backed Remain. If the EU referendum result is a new social cleavage, the majority of Brexiteers are already outside the Labour Party. They present a challenge to be managed, and not the existential threat the likes of Paul Nuttall hope they do. Second, it might be too early to tell, but indications from Witney, Richmond and Sleaford, and the record of local council by-elections since June suggest that if there is an emerging cleavage, it's Remain voters who are most motivated by it. While Labour didn't perform fantastically in the local authority contests, evidence that Labour leavers are jumping ship is questionable. It appears only much smaller proportion of Leave voters vote primarily with Leave considerations in mind.
That is opportunity and threat for Labour in Copeland. The party's literature has to ensure its Brexit position is clearly spelled out. Trying to make the by-election a referendum on the NHS, which is the magic button for too many in our party these days, will not work. Here's an opportunity now for Labour to seize this issue and start owning it. If we don't, the LibDems will, they'll pile up the votes, and the Tories could squeak through the middle - even though their disarray and cluelessness becomes clearer by the day. As Labour hasn't lost a seat to a Tory government in a by-election since 1982, we should ensure the 34 year record has some way to run yet.
The second problem has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with the nuclear industry. Jeremy Corbyn is well know for his opposition to nuclear weapons, but on nuclear power he is opposed to new stations and retention of what presently exists. The problem is a new power plant in Cumbria has recently been unveiled and is out for public consultation. Early clarity about this is vital as the Tories are sure to support it and use it to underline their claims to economic competence. After all, Sellafield alone has 10,000 employees (from January, plus one) and so this could be the key determining factor in this by-election. Again, the Tories will fight to make it so.
Labour however does have some significant advantages. Its membership base is much bigger than that of the rival parties, though the Tories and LibDems can be expected to concentrate resources as the seat is vulnerable. Second, Labour's spread of 29 councillors in the borough gives the party an unrivalled understanding of the key issues on the ground. That means the local party must select someone from within the constituency to stand the best possible chance of successfully defending the seat.
Will Labour win? I don't know, but I think it's a mistake to assume the Tories are the favourites.