24/02/2017 Newsnight


The programme focuses on the aftermath of the by-elections in Stoke and Copeland. With Kirsty Wark.

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She came, she saw, she conquered - is this Theresa May's imperium?


Theresa Maia Brigantibus subiectis rempublicam hodie dominatur.


Quis igitur est factio potens contra hoc imperium?


And what I think we've seen from this victory is that this truly


is a government that's working for everyone and for every


Have you, at any point this morning, looked in the mirror and asked


yourself this question: could the problem actually be me?


We'll be asking the shadow Foreign Secretary if,


with Corbyn at the helm, Labour can really march on Rome?


Ukip tripped up spectacularly in the Stoke by-election -


are they a party now looking for a purpose?


Our political panel is here to discuss what Theresa May should


do with her victory, and if she wants Jeremy Corbyn


Theresa May was on the losing side in the referendum.


She's an unelected leader, with a small working


majority of 16, one up from yesterday,


having to lead the most complex constitutional negotiations perhaps


since the Act of Union in 1707 - negotiations she never


Not a great position of strength, you might say,


but this morning she led her party to victory in an area that's been


held by Labour since 1935 - the first time a governing party has


Her personal approval ratings are far and away ahead


of Jeremy Corbyn's, who today insisted that he was determined


to carry on and appeared to joke that the situation was catastrophic


So this was the Prime Minister's day -


she spent it in her new Tory-held Cumbria seat.


Our political editor Nick Watt reports.


For the moment, our unlikely Prime Minister reigned supreme, a


by-election win in an area that had been beyond the reach of the Tories


since the interwar years leaves Theresa May surveying a political


landscape with few credible opponents. Theresa May once likened


herself to Queen Elizabeth the first, a woman who thrived in a male


dominated world by knowing her mind. But she's never seen herself as a


glory on a figure and she is one of the least assuming occupants of


number ten. She's more like John Major, Paire Margaret Thatcher in


her imperial pomp and just like John Major, who secured the highest


number of votes of any Tory leader, Theresa May is not the slightest bit


complacent and knows that around every corner there are bear traps --


than Margaret Thatcher. Theresa May has been shrewd in her position, she


has a huge amount of authority and the Conservative Party believes


she's an election winner. Those three things give her a lot of power


and so at the moment she very strong. You always have to have a


strategic view of what's coming next. The economy has been very


strong for a long time, what will happen with that? Brexit is


difficult but if you have those three things, and you have that


authority, if you're seen as a winner, you can make a mark on the


scene. Theresa May doesn't have any opposition, everyone has fallen


away, the Labour Party can't deliver votes in its core seats, Ukip has


shown that they cannot organise a campaign, they can't turn things


into success locally, and the Lib Dems are regaining their seats after


a devastating loss, so the Conservatives have the political


landscape to themselves and the only real enemies they have placed to


Theresa May's advantage because they are slightly unpopular Europeans


that she can go to war with. As something of a diffident figure,


Theresa May rarely shows much emotion but there was no mistaking


her joy when she turned up in Copeland this morning. The Prime


Minister even woke up her husband in the middle of the night to tell him


the news. If you extrapolated the swing from Copeland which was 6.7%,


and put that on top of the results of the last election, you would see


a uniform swing across the country, depending on the boundaries and the


decisions of the smaller parties, you would end up with Labour on


about 150-160 seats, the Conservatives on something like 400,


so a very substantial Conservative majority. Jeremy Corbyn made his way


to stoke to celebrate his party's win in the potteries but this did


not have the feel of a triumphal march. Labour's share of the vote


had fallen in each seat. Internal critics mostly kept quiet, his


allies were less restrained as they laid the blame for the party's poor


showing at the feet of Tony Blair for criticising the leadership last


week over Brexit, the issue that is bedevilling Jeremy Corbyn. The great


irony is that Jeremy is losing a lot of support among the people who


flocked to the party not over Iraq, austerity, or nuclear weapons, the


things that define him, but on Europe where many younger supporters


are very pro-European and he and -- at best is anaemic about it and that


is the issue, combining the issue of ratings and popularity has. The Ukip


leader hopes to break up as the MP for the seat he described as the


Brexit capital of Britain but instead Paul Nuttall faces a fight


to restore his credibility after managing a modest increase in his


party's vote share in Stoke. One expert said that perhaps all is not


lost for Ukip. In terms of Paul Nuttall personally, he had a


difficult campaign in Stoke-on-Trent. I'm not sure I'd say


yet that the idea of Ukip going after Labour in the heartlands


businesses assembly the wrong strategy because Labour has a


weakness in an area where Ukip have strength, so clearly there will be


some potential upside there and it doesn't seem like a bad strategy,


but the problem is that they aren't executing on it. Theresa May will no


doubt allow herself a modest celebration this weekend. But one


admirer says that when the going seems easy, a wise leader makes


preparations for more difficult times. The biggest problem you have


when you are very strong is that you can't imagine a moment when you


might not be and therefore you don't plan for it. The long-term strategic


challenge for the Conservative Party, with younger voters and more


diverse voters and urban voters because you are doing so well


because you're winning, you forget that you have to keep renewing your


appeal, you have to keep modernising the party. You can do that by some


extent with instinct but you require deliberate strategic moves. Our


Prime Minister is for the moment Britain's unchallenged empress. She


will need no reminding of the role of the Roman slave who whispered to


the triumphant general to be wary of hubris, remember, you are mortal.


The shadow foreign secretary is Emily Thornberry and she joins me


Good evening. You've held Copeland since 1935, widely due lose it? It


has always been a marginal, it has always been a fight, we had a


majority of 2000 and there were particular factor is happening in


the constituency. The biggest employer was Sellafield and the


Tories were putting out leaflets saying that Jeremy is against


nuclear power. That came up on the doorstep all the time. Even though


we had conversations and said we were in favour of nuclear power: we


couldn't have enough conversations to allay peoples fears, so that was


a major factor. The health service came up. I don't want to burst your


bubble, I know you've had fun with that clip, but come on, Theresa May


was raised on the doorstep by people who pointed out that when she


visited the constituency she had been asked four Times about the


future of the hospital maternity unit and failed to answer. The


concern is whether she sees it as a green light to close the maternity


used it -- maternity unit at that hospital? That's leave that aside.


Jeremy Corbyn, there is this big thing about him being a man of


principle but the point is, in his leadership campaign in 2015 he said


was he -- he was against new nuclear because it created Dicko problems.


-- eco problems. Is he saying he is pro-nuclear now? The people in


Sellafield didn't believe him. It wasn't fake news, they didn't


believe him. What he did, after the nuclear disaster in Japan he said


that if we close down the nuclear power plant and invested in new


energy, renewables, then we could fill the gap. That hasn't happened


and that's why he says now we need to make sure that we keep the lights


on, we have a commitment to closing down our carbon emissions, we need


to be able to cut them down so we must invest in Sellafield and


elsewhere, which he committed to add Theresa May didn't. And now whether


the result was a disaster for the party. Was it a disaster for the


Labour Party? I think it was really disappointing, we had a really good


candidate and we had a good ground campaign and we lost and we are very


disappointed. Dave Prentice, the Unison boss who is traditionally a


bit supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, called the result disastrous. Is he


wrong? I think it is disappointing, disastrous is too high a bar, I


don't think it was a disaster. There were particular factors, the


confusion about Jeremy's attitude towards Sellafield was important. A


lot of people rely on it for their jobs, high skilled jobs. Even though


we try to make it clear what the position of the Labour Party was...


The candidate's husband works in the nuclear industry, we tried to cut


through the false news and stories being put around about the Labour


Party policy but we weren't able to and that's disappointing. Would you


say that Jeremy Corbyn is the problem? I would say that the


messages we have are absolutely the right ones and we must make


ourselves sharper in terms of getting the messages out. Jeremy


Corbyn said there was no question to answer when he was asked whether he


was a problem. Is that incredibly arrogant when the people of Copeland


clearly didn't believe he was on their side and he didn't allay their


fears? He didn't seem to take any responsibility at all for what


happened in Copeland. I think it was down to local issues and it was down


to whether or not we could convince local people that we were in favour


of the major employer of the area. It's quite and the standard ball. We


ran a good campaign on the house service -- quite understandable. My


concern is whether Theresa May sees this as a green light to close down


the maternity unit, but if she does she will have problems in Copeland


because people are loving arms about it. You had five by-elections and


you have dropped votes in every single one. Corbyn's personal


ratings, -40, with every age group and region and social class, net


unfavourable to Labour Party voters as well. How bad does it have to


get? We have to fight on the issues and make sure that we make it clear


to people that the Tory government don't have the answers to the


problems that we face today. But if Jeremy Corbyn your leader can't do


that, then he has a problem because he's been in his position for quite


some time and if he can't make it clear, who can? If he doesn't think


he's a problem, perhaps he is deluded? If you think politics is


down to sop up, one person against another, quoting Latin that one


leader, you are playing it in this way. I would like to talk about


issues and what makes a difference in people's lives and what makes a


difference is having the sort of government that will address the


concerns of people, has some solutions. This government does not


and we must make clear that we are the alternatives and we have


alternative solutions that will work. It must be not laid at the


door of one individual. But he is your leader. David Miliband has said


that Labour is in the weakest position it has been in in 50 years


and it doesn't get much more damning than that. We need to make sure that


we have the answers to people's problems now. But you don't,


clearly. We must make clear that we have those answers and we must keep


working at it. You keep repeating that, when people in Copeland are


listening... You keep asking the same question. You say you have to


work at things but this was a major by-election for you come in a seat


you've held for 35 years, albeit the majority is 2500. You would think


that this is a seat that is naturally your territory and you


couldn't hold on. And you say Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to do with the


result? The whole picture, there were two by-elections and in Stoke,


where Ukip said that this was a moment when they were going to win


the Brexit capital of Britain, they were going to use it as a launch pad


to attack Labour in its working class seats in the north of England,


that's what they said, that's how it was built, people said Ukip were


going to win, or the Tories... The Labour vote went down in Stoke. And


we won the by-election, Kirsty. But that is naturally your territory.


And Copeland... And Copeland was a marginal, it was a marginal with


local factors. We've discussed Sellafield and the problems we had


in relation to Sellafield and that is the picture, that is a truthful


picture. You can quote Latin and put on as many silly programmes and


clips as you want, but let's look at the issues and the difference


between the two seats and the fights we had. We had a pivotal moment in


Stoke and I think you should talk about that too. We will, thank you.


Labour drew some comfort in Stoke - where the Labour candidate Gareth


Snell saw off the new Ukip chairman Paul Nuttall - albeit


Cut their majority in half and we've unified the party like never before


But Stoke was dubbed the Brexit capital in the referendum,


where working class voters had voted in their droves to leave the EU.


So why did Ukip not do better, and with their new leader at the helm?


With us is Neil Hamilton, Welsh Assembly member,


Could you explain why you did so badly in Stoke? We didn't do badly.


As you said, we had a modest increase in our vote. We got 25% of


the vote and beat the Conservatives into third place. But that was an


area where you did strongly in the referendum and you were not able to


capitalise on the, even with your new leader. It is a mistake to


believe that just because people vote for Brexit, they will vote for


Ukip. There were people in our own party


who made that mistake, and expectations were raised


unrealistically. We could have won in Stoke if there had been tactical


voting by the Tories to defeat Labour. That is what happened in


Copeland, because the Ukip vote in Copeland was squeezed and went to


the Tories, so they won the seat. It didn't happen in Stoke, so we just


failed to win it. We made a modest increase in our support and we


fought on the ground the biggest campaign Ukip has ever fought in a


by-election. Let's just say that Ukip's finest moment was when you


drove a vote on the referendum. You might say that your finest moment


was when you got the Brexit majority. No shame in saying job


done. But Ukip is far more than just a pressure group to take Britain out


of Europe. In the Welsh assembly, we fought an election last May and we


got seven members elected. We hold the balance of power in the Welsh


assembly, and all the issues we debate our domestic issues. Ukip now


has to refocus itself, because after we leave the EU in two years' time,


we will be operating in a domestic UK context. What will the focus of


Ukip be to separate it from the other parties come and do you have a


problem given that you have one spinster MP in Douglas Carswell that


you don't talk to? I talk to Douglas a lot, actually -- one Westminster


MP. We have policies, such as, we would like to take 8 billion out of


the foreign aid budget and put that into the NHS. We would like to cut


300 quid off everybody's household electricity bills by stopping


subsidies for wind farms etc. We would like to democratise the health


service and we want a return to grammar schools. We have a range of


policies which we think will be vote winners. Labour is clearly in


terminal decline. To have lost a seat like Copeland, to have


converted the content -- Stoke-on-Trent Central from a safe


seat to a position where they got only 37%, Ukip had no votes 25 years


ago and now we have 25%. Would you accept that going after the Labour


vote doesn't work any more? Of course it works. Stoke-on-Trent


Central is one seat, but it was number 72 on our target list. There


are 71 seats that are higher on the target list. In different parts of


the country, Ukip will do better or worse. Labour are obviously very


catering a position in the political system -- they are vacating the


position they have traditionally held, and Ukip are ready to move


into that void. Few would demur from the idea


that this was a critical day for Jeremy Corbyn -


even if he resolutely denies it. But what about the man


who was one of the first What shape does he think


Labour's in now? Here's a Viewsnight


from the New Statesman The by-elections aren't


the end of Corbyn. Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected,


commentators on the right and the left have lined up


to predict that this event that We're joined by John Rentoul,


who is Chief Political Commentator at The Independent, Ava Vidal,


who is a comedian and writer and Fraser Nelson,


who is the editor of The Spectator. First of all, how healthy a state do


you think politics is in at the moment? Pretty healthy. An effective


opposition? Well, no, but that is not how you judge a healthy


democracy. You can see parties changing to the circumstances. The


Conservatives have reoriented after Brexit. Theresa May is less popular


the further north in the country you go. -- she is more popular the


further north you go. You are seeing some sign of life in the dead Lib


Dem body. And the Labour Party is is it's own personal agony right now.


Ukip, you see them trying to supplant Labour as the party of the


working class, but failing in Stoke. But it is interesting, this idea


that the 48% of the population voted to remain. But who is the effective


innit effective voice for them? It is not Labour. It was Tony Blair.


But his position is not the position that the Labour Party can adopt. He


can articulate it well. And take the blame for Copeland? Well, no. They


have tried to blame everything - the weather, Peter Mandelson, Tony


Blair, all the rest of it, all events in the Labour Party going


back to the 1950s. Copeland was a disaster. And the Labour Party is


going to have to deal with that. How does the Labour Party deal with


that? Jeremy Corbyn resolutely, even in the face of John McDonnell and


Dave Prentice, refuses to think that this disaster is anything to do with


him. It is partly because of him, because of the way he has been


treated. From the minute he stepped into power, he has consistently been


undermined within his own party and by the press. Even tonight, when you


introduce, you said the Corbyn supporters are still clinging on to


hope. The way you framed that is the way it is constantly friend when it


comes to Jeremy. You just lost a massive by-election. He has not just


lost a massive by-election. The figures for Labour were going down


in Copeland. Lee Young wrote a fantastic piece in the Independent


today. He pointed out that the figures for Labour were going down


in Copeland since Tony Blair's days. And Labour had not done anything


about it. That is the point. A Labour minister called it a great


position to be in. Said what? Kat Smith said the result in Stoke was


an extraordinary achievement. I was talking about Copeland. But I do


think that was a good achievement, because the way that everybody was


speaking, everyone had believed that Ukip stood a chance up there. So the


fact that Labour held onto the seat, but how they did is a -- another


matter. Jeremy Corbyn has led the fight starts here, and it obviously,


he voted in the lobbies with Theresa May on the question of article 50,


so it is a bit late to stop the fight. People don't think


necessarily that this behaviour shows someone ready for a fight. But


if you look at the results, take Stoke, a very pro-Brexit


constituency. They had a very pro-Remain Labour MP who actually


won and Ukip hardly did very well at all. He's talking about the fight


starts here. It is not as if Brexit has completely changed politics. It


has shipped it a bit, but if Brexit was the defining issue, Labour would


not have won in Stoke. So from the two elections, we can see a more


nuanced picture. I think the Tories would be happy if Labour clung on in


Stoke, because they suspect we will cling on to Jeremy Corbyn for


longer. Does he want to stay? I don't think he does. He does. All


right, he does. But I think he feels a sense of duty.


The fact is that people love to paint Jeremy Corbyn as this week


leader, clinging on. I don't do any one of us on this panel could take


the amount of criticism that Jeremy Corbyn has to take, the amount of


backstabbing within his own party. It is made out that he is a weak


person. He is a very strong person. You have to be to tolerate what he


has had to tolerate every week. He was a complete maverick on the


backbenches. He did vote against the Government, but he did it in a


respectful way. He's not doing it in the way that people criticise him


for. He is not sending around snide e-mails and calling people names. I


think Jeremy Corbyn should be stronger. He keeps talking about


nicer politics. If he doesn't know politics isn't nice by now, I'm


sorry. I agree with you. There was no moderate saying he has got to go


now. They have been very quiet, because they have worked out that


the hard left in Labour hasn't just taken over the leadership, they have


taken over the membership as well. So even if you were to come up with


the perfect candidate, then the Labour membership as it is now would


not have it. The unions are beginning to say Jeremy has to take


responsibility for what happens now. A couple of caustic comments do not


show that they are losing patience with him. And a lot of Labour Party


members would rather that Jeremy Corbyn or someone like him captured


the Labour Party and got into power. Not everybody judges Corbyn's


success by whether he is knocking on the door of Number Ten. The most


important thing is what will happen to the 300,000 members and


supporters who voted for Jeremy Corbyn just five months ago. I think


a lot of them are beginning to be disillusioned. It may take a long


time, but I think they were very upset about Jeremy Corbyn whipping


his MPs into the Conservative lobby on the Brexit bill. But not actually


chastising those who didn't. But that doesn't matter, that is


politics. But losing Copeland was such a serious blow. There will be a


state of denial, where Emily Thornberry will say it is a marginal


or something. But that was the Government gaining a seat from the


opposition, and that doesn't happen in British politics. I think he will


go... Before Copeland, he could have survived until the next general


election. Now, I don't think so. Either he gives up all the people


around him will lose faith in him. It will have to be the people around


him that lose faith in him, because while he has the support of so many,


he is not going to let them down and go. Thank you all very much.


Before we go, the Government announced today that it would be


providing an incentive to universities to offer more


The move has sparked criticism that students will be rushed


through the course material and not have the time and space to really


Well, Newsnight has been given a sneak peek


at what the new condensed history courses could look like.


MUSIC: We Didn't Start The Fire by Billy Joel


# South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio


# Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television


# North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe


# Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom


# Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye


# Eisenhower, vaccine, England's got a new queen


# Marciano, Liberace, Santayana, goodbye


# It was always burning since the world's been turning


As promised, much calmer today. Having said that, the weather is


going downhill for the weekend again. We are not predicting any


storms, but the winds will be picking up once more and there is


cloud and rain on the way. After a wet morning, it may brighten up


across Northern Ireland and Scotland. There will be a few


showers around, but the weather is looking better here for the second


half of the day. The further south you go, the thicker the club will


be. Most of the rain is on


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