Copeland is no cause for complacency

Ben Steward is a second year undergraduate at Lincoln College and is the Social Secretary

On Thursday 23rd February 2017, Trudy Harrison became the first Conservative MP for the Copeland constituency, and its predecessor, Whitehead, since 1935. The victory was also the first time in 35 years that a sitting government has taken a seat from its main opposition at a by-election. Meanwhile, polling shows that the Conservatives sit around 14-16 percentage points ahead of their only real rivals for government, a party led by a man who is even less popular with Labour voters than Theresa May.

Disappointing results in both Copeland and Stoke, combined with the party's internal problems, suggest that UKIP has lost its momentum, along with its raison d'être (that is, Britain leaving the EU, not keeping Nigel Farage in a job and on the front pages), whilst the Liberal Democrats' claims to represent the 'real voice of opposition' would not be out of place in a comedy sketch.

Yet, politics is notoriously unpredictable, and even the briefest glance at the horizon reveals a multitude of potential issues which could threaten the current status quo. There can be no other place to begin than Brexit, which is, of course, a risk, presenting many potential pitfalls as well as significant opportunities for both Britain and the remaining 27 EU member states. Its long-term effect on our domestic political landscape remains to be seen. The Conservative strategy of enthusiastically taking up the reigns as 'the party of Brexit' appears so far to have been effective, but these are early days, and it is impossible to predict how the British electorate will react to the process which follows the triggering of Article 50.

Even putting Brexit aside, the robustness of the economy will undoubtedly be challenged in the years to come, not least in the form of the housing market, which remains widely problematic, especially for members of the younger generations. The supposed crisis in the NHS and other forms of care has been seriously over-hyped in some quarters, yet the fact remains that significant reform continues to be politically unpalatable, but unavoidable if we wish to continue to provide high quality health and social care to all British citizens alike. Internationally, tensions are high, with issues ranging from the conflicts raging in North Africa and the Middle East to the likelihood of a deteriorating relationship between arguably the world's two most influential nations, the US and China. Viable responses to all of these challenges, and others unmentioned, remain remarkably thin on the ground: these are uncertain times.

One thing, though, is certain. The Conservative Party will not be in government forever. British politics has a long history of moving in cycles, and at some point, be it 2020, 2025, or even 2030, the Conservatives will once again find themselves without a Commons majority. It is therefore vital that whilst the Conservatives do hold the levers of power and dominate political discourse, they continue to confront their persistent image problem and shape policy discussion, in order to secure the best possible future for both the party and the British nation. This is no time for complacency.