In nuclear Copeland, it’s Jeremy Corbyn that’s radioactive via Independent

It will only take a thousand or so people to decide, like the outgoing MP, that the future does not lie with Labour, for a historic victory to be handed to the Conservatives


Take Martin for example, in his forties, who’s hopped on at Millom, on his way to work. I ask, where’s work? “Oh, I’m a contractor up at Sellafield.”

Later in the day, I’ll meet John, a beef farmer these days, “But I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, on the Windscale reactors.”

Then there’s Ian, who drives the school bus: “It’s easier than my last job. I used to work at Sellafield.”

And Keith too, Keith Harrison, the husband of the Conservative candidate, Trudy. “I’m a welder for Shepley Engineers,” he told me, while his wife was strolling round the local primary school for the benefit of the local TV cameras, standing diligently behind the Prime Minister as she grimaced at some seven year olds picking up plastic bees with Lego robots. “Shepley’s up at Sellafield. Everyone round here works at Sellafield.” 

And that’s precisely why the Labour Party has a problem on its hands. After weeks of obfuscation on the issue, on 1 February Jeremy Corbyn finally committed to “new nuclear”, giving his backing to Moorside, a nuclear power plant that’s been in the offing here since 1980 but that no one has yet started building. It also won’t come online til 2024 at the earliest, even if it recovers from recent setbacks. But you don’t get to campaign against nuclear power and indeed nuclear weapons for three decades and not expect those views to carry a long half life. If Copeland’s residents don’t work at Sellafield, there’s a fair chance they’ll work down the Watney Channel at Barrow-in-Furness, building the Trident submarines that Corbyn wants to see carry nuclear missiles with no nuclear warheads.

Corbyn may suddenly be intensely relaxed about the splitting atom, but it has not unsplit his party. His name is radioactive up here, and the decay is clear to see. Next Thursday, Labour will contest two by-elections on the same day, both forced by resignations of their own candidates. In Stoke Central, Labour feels it has the measure of Paul Nuttall and Ukip. In Copeland, the mood music is extremely solemn.


“It’s frightening really,” he says. “You’ve got a Labour leader, people think he’s going to decommission nuclear. That’s thousands of people, coming into work and suddenly they’ve not got a job.”

Dave Scott runs Bootle Stores, the only shop in the tiny village of Bootle, where Trudy Harrison grew up. He’s a Scot who came here 36 years ago. “It’s a tourist area,” he says. “We’re in a National Park here, but everyone round is dependent on nuclear. That’s their livelihood. That’s the hope they have for their children.”

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