Andrew Stephenson is the Member of Parliament for Pendle.
2016 was a pretty momentous year by any measure and it didn’t let up until the end. Just before Christmas, the Labour MP and well-known critic of Jeremy Corbyn, Jamie Reed, announced that at the end of January he would leave Parliament for the private sector.
I know Jamie. As a fellow North West MP we often end up on the same train down to London. While our politics may be different, he was clearly committed to his constituents and was well liked on both sides of the House.
It is a sorry state of affairs when talented Members of Parliament like Jamie no longer feel comfortable representing Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – and see that today’s Labour Party can’t stand up for communities like Copeland.
The by-election Jamie’s resignation will trigger will be a tough fight for us. Copeland has been a Labour seat since 1935. The last time we gained a seat at a by-election as a governing party was in 1982 – in the midst of the Falklands War. By-elections are always tough for governing parties.
But this will be the most important election for a generation of ordinary hard-working Cumbrians. We have hit the ground running in Copeland – even Storm Barbara could not keep us away.
Come wind, come rain, come occasional sunshine, Conservative campaigners have been out on the streets since just before Christmas, and members and supporters from across the country have been on the doorstep speaking to residents about their local concerns. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s already been.
From speaking to local people it is clear that nuclear power is going to be a big issue. The choice in the upcoming by-election is a vote to defend existing jobs at Sellafield and to back another 21,000 new jobs at the proposed Moorside nuclear power plant – or to put that all at risk by supporting a Labour Party which won’t stand up for local working people.
Jeremy Corbyn opposes nuclear power. He opposes building a new nuclear power plant at Moorside. He called for Sellafield to be decommissioned. If a Labour candidate is elected, and Jeremy Corbyn is helped on his way to power, then tens of thousands of local jobs in the nuclear industry would be at risk. That would be a disaster for communities across Western Cumbria.
That is why this election is so important. It is important for Copeland – and it is important for Britain too. We need power stations like Sellafield and Moorside, and the people who work there, to keep the lights on across the country.
People’s votes should never be taken for granted. I never have in Pendle and I never will. Just because Copeland has been a Labour seat for nearly 82 years doesn’t mean it has to stay a Labour seat. After all, as by-elections have often shown us, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ seat in politics.
2016 proved that anything can happen. That’s why this by-election is a chance to show how the Conservatives are building a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.