Dr Spencer Pitfield OBE is director of Conservative Trade Unionists.
The amazing by-election success of Trudy Harrison in Copeland has no end of sub-texts which will be poured over by journalists and political experts alike in the weeks ahead.
Governing parties do not win by-elections in what have been Labour areas – those are the rules. Or rather, it seems, those were the rules.
But rules are there to be broken and you have to ask the question – is the result really so incredible? I would say it is not.
Clearly, there were big local issues at play – the protection of consultant led midwifery services at the West Cumberland Hospital for one which led to one of the most unpleasant and objectionable campaigns Labour has fought with headlines like ‘Babies will die – How can you live with that?’
Another important local concern was about the lack of investment in road infrastructure throughout the region. Many campaigners like myself will have learned the finer details of journey times from Whitehaven to Carlisle – a distance of some 40 miles. As one local resident explained to me at some length, a journey on the A595 can take a ‘very long time’ when you are behind a tractor!
No doubt these campaign issues and many others that came forward during the by-election were of great importance to local residents. But when all is said and done the Copeland result was not determined by these issues.
This by-election came down to just one key issue – jobs.
Which party would support jobs, create jobs, and help to secure even better quality jobs. And perhaps most critically, which party understood that the protection and support of these jobs also necessitated making sure that workers’ rights – in particular hard-earned pension rights – were protected at all costs.
Throughout the campaign Prospect – a politically independent trades union of which I am proud to be a member – fought a high profile and most effective campaign in support of their membership. Many thousands of Prospect members live and work in the constituency, most notably for the nuclear industry based at Sellafield Ltd.
The union actively sought endorsement from all candidates and their parties on two key issues: support for nuclear power production and the proposals to develop a new nuclear power station at Moorside; and support for an agreed outcome to proposed reforms to final salary pension schemes across the nuclear estate.
Anyone who has visited Copeland understands that the nuclear industry and the high-skilled, well0paid jobs the it provides to some 20,000 workers across the region are absolutely vital to local people. In many respects a parallel can be directly drawn between Copeland and Trident jobs at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.
Jeremy Corbyn’s confused, half-hearted, and frankly unconvincing support for the nuclear industry no doubt resonated badly for him and the Labour Party.
It is important for all Conservatives not to lose sight of the fact that Labour’s woes alone would not have been enough for us to win in a seat like Copeland. Perhaps more strikingly for me is the fact that not only did electors feel that their jobs were safer in our hands, but also that their hard-won employment rights including pensions, would be best protected by voting Conservative.
Early on the Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists signed up to the Prospect campaign listed above, particularly supporting the honouring of promises made to workers in the nuclear industry relating to pension entitlements. We will continue to work closely with all moderate trade union colleagues as we search out a fair and affordable settlement for all parties.
With this great by-election success in Copeland we can quite fairly declare that the Conservatives are now the party of all hard working people in our country today. The true workers party – Tory workers. Labour no longer represent the concerns and aspirations of workers and have been shown to have lost touch with their previously core working-class roots.
We must continue to stand up for the values of all working people, and particularly focus on workers’ rights. Here we must listen readily and openly to our union colleagues – we will not always agree with them, but their values are our shared values.
Our common aspiration is for a country which works for everyone. I have no doubt that if we are able to deliver for the hard working people of Copeland over the years ahead then we will be delivering for all workers across our great country today.