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Why the Copeland by-election is Theresa May's to lose

While Brexit is the defining issue, Labour is vulnerable everywhere. 

Jamie Reed, the Corbynsceptic Labour MP for Copeland, has accepted a job offer at Sellafield, and will quit the Commons at the end of January, triggering a by-election in February.

The circumstances could hardly be less favourable for Labour. We’ve seen in the Richmond and Sleaford by-elections that the party is shedding both Remain-inclined voters to the Liberal Democrats and Leave-inclined voters to the Conservatives and Ukip.

What much of the commentary around various constituencies as “Brexitland” or “Remainia” is that even in places which saw the biggest landslides for one side or another, a sizable and potentially electorally decisive block of voters went the other way.  Even Lambeth, the most Remain-friendly borough in the country, has a 22 per cent Leave vote, while Boston, its Leave counterpart, has a 25 per cent Remain minority.

In the case of Copeland – Leave won by thirty points, but that still leaves a third of voters who backed the status quo.

Put plainly, there is no seat where Labour is not potentially in jeopardy from both the parties of the right and the Liberal Democrats while Brexit remains the animating political issue. That Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to both nuclear power and the Trident submarines – major employers in the region - is, in these circumstances, rather low down the list of Labour’s problems in Copeland.

The party’s majority is just 2,564, though as ever, it’s more instructive to talk percentages where by-elections are concerned.  Labour leads by 6.5 per cent. All that the Conservatives need to do is tread water and hope that the Liberals and Ukip can take just three points each from Labour.

As such, the Tories start as strong favourites to win the seat, with one minor caveat. The Labour leadership believe that when the conversation turns back to the economy, the Brexit polarity will fade, easing the party’s woes. The expectation is that the by-election will be held in February, when food price inflation could be beginning to make itself felt. Labour usually likes to hold by-elections as quickly as possible. It may be that, on this occasion, time is on its side. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.