Jeremy Corbyn has handed the task of defending Labour’s narrow majority in the Copeland by-election to a leading shadow cabinet minister.
Andrew Gwynne, shadow cabinet minister without portfolio, will spearhead efforts to hold the Cumbria seat, where the 2,564 majority is under pressure from the Tories.
Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish in Lancashire, revealed his appointment today. It follows his involvement in other high profile contests over the last year, such as in Oldham West and Royton, where he took the lead in organising a successful campaign for Jim McMahon. He is also campaign manager for Andy Burnham, who secured the Labour nomination for the metro mayor contest in Greater Manchester, which takes place in May.
“Proud to have been asked by Jeremy Corbyn to run the Copeland by-election for Labour. Looking forward to it. The fightback starts here!,” Gwynne wrote on Twitter today.
Labour are defending the Copeland seat after Jamie Reed shocked Westminster by announcing his intention to step down shortly before Christmas. Reed has been an outspoken critic of Corbyn but there had been little indication he would leave the Commons until he announced he would take up a job at the Sellafield nuclear plant.
Reed, a backbencher, had fought to keep Britain in the EU last year but his local authority area voted Out by 62 per cent. He said Britain needs a “Brexit that works for communities like Copeland” and denied his departure was linked to his differences with Corbyn, saying his relationship with the party leader has been “cordial”.
In the 2015 general election Reed held Copeland with 16,750 votes, ahead of the Tories on 14,186. UKIP were a distant third on 6,148 votes.
Some MP critics of Corbyn have suggested he could be the first Opposition leader for decades to preside over the loss of a Commons seat in a by-election but his supporters have pointed to success in votes in Oldham West and Royton, and Tooting, as well as the London mayoral contest.