Resigned MP Jamie Reed
Resigned MP Jamie Reed

A Labour activist has penned an open letter to the Greens calling on the party to stand aside in the upcoming Copeland by-election.

Debate is growing within the Greens about whether to follow the suit of local Richmond Green Party activists recently, and to choose not to stand – offering indirect backing for the progressive candidate who has the best chance of winning.

Chris Mears, a Labour member, wrote on Wednesday ‘Why the Greens must stand down in Copeland – [a] Plea from an ally’ on Wednesday, in a bid to persuade the party to make way for Labour in what is likely to be a tight three-way race.

Mears argues that the only way to change Labour members’ sceptical attitude to the party after the Richmond decision is ‘to treat Copeland as you [the Greens] treated Richmond Park. Labour needs to to see that you are not just the Lib Dems’ eager little brother’, pointing to Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley winning the leadership on a policy of backing progressive alliances.

He continues: ‘Most of the principles that applied in Richmond still apply here – a marginal seat which is not a Green target, the need to diminish/defend against a Tory Majority and effect the parliamentary balance that will determine the nature of Brexit, and a chance to open cross-party dialogue.’

The open letter goes on to argue that Copeland will be seen as a verdict on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership: ‘A defeat could be disastrous, heralding a return to open civil war in Labour. Some Green tribalists…may be tantalised by the prospect of causing chaos in a rival party. But I know ordinary Green members are pragmatists most concerned with the cause, not party politics, and support Jeremy Corbyn.’

However, it is uncertain as to whether the local Labour party will choose a ‘moderate’ candidate, or a Corbyn-backer, with local Labour supporters reported to be hostile to the leader – aside from the fact that not all Greens back Corbyn’s leadership of the party either.

The Copeland by-election was triggered by Labour MP Jamie Reed announcing his resignation as MP for the area on the 21st December, to take on a role in the nuclear industry. The move will trigger a by-election likely to take place in February.

Labour have held the seat for decades – however, it was won with under a 7% majority in 2015, down on its 2010 result and the lowest share for the party since 1992.

With Labour polling at its lowest level for years, a universal swing at present could hand the seat to the Conservatives, who secured 36% of the vote in 2015, while UKIP got over 15%. The tight race piles pressure on local Greens to step aside.

However, although Labour have not selected their candidate yet, the winner is likely to be a strong supporter of nuclear power, given that the Sellafield nuclear de-commissioning site is a major local employer – something that is bound to make any ‘progressive alliance’ with the Greens more difficult.

You can read the open letter in full here.

Bright Green will be covering the Copeland debate within and outside the Greens as it unfolds.