Betfair punters are fast losing faith in Labour's ability to defend two historically safe seats. Paul Krishnamurty reports as the party faces an existential crisis that could finish Jeremy Corbyn...
"Pulling off this upset...would put UKIP centre stage again. It will prompt widespread predictions of Labour's Northern and Midlands core vote switching in droves to a nationalist alternative, just as we saw in Scotland."
The news just doesn't get any better for Jeremy Corbyn. Facing yet another rebellion from his MPs, this time over the Article 50 vote, today's Yougov poll puts Labour 16% behind the Tories. Now, the market signals for next month's two by-elections project historic defeats that would plunge his troubled reign into a potentially terminal crisis.
In Copeland, the Conservatives remain firm 1.635/8 favourites, despite Labour holding the Cumbrian seat since the 1930s. At 3.02/1, Betfair punters give them just a 33% chance of retaining it.
Defeat there will be a disaster, though not necessarily terminal for Corbyn, because Labour are already expected to lose what was already a fairly tight seat. This relatively old, white, Brexit-supporting electorate, in an area dominated by the nuclear industry, is precisely the type that feels alienated from 'metropolitan Labour' and in particular the leader's socially liberal, left-wing, anti-Trident platform.
To lose a seat like Stoke, on the other hand, would confirm that Labour are genuinely facing an existential crisis. Theresa May's party aren't a problem here and have reportedly given up, leaving the path clear for UKIP to sweep through in another heavily pro-Brexit seat.
With new leader Paul Nuttall bidding to enter Parliament, UKIP are certainly building up a head of steam. They've been relentlessly backed down since opening at 4.94/1 to today's new low of 1.84/5, equivalent to a 56% likelihood.
In the absence of more authoritative polls, the move may have been driven in part by reports of an internal poll taken by Labour Leave, which showed the Kippers ten points up. Given that 30% were undecided, it was hardly conclusive. Enough, nevertheless, to generate big splashes in The Sun and Daily Express.
The importance of generating positive headlines in those newspapers - favoured by UKIP's core audience - cannot be understated. Most days they face the perennial minor party problem of being ignored, especially with a new leader who has lived in Nigel Farage's larger-than-life shadow for years.
Pulling off this upset, or merely being expected to do so, would put UKIP centre stage again. It will prompt widespread predictions of Labour's Northern and Midlands core vote switching in droves to a nationalist alternative, just as we saw in Scotland following their independence referendum.
It could also prove the tipping point for Corbyn. Already opposed by most of his MPs, two humilating defeats would be the ultimate reality check for his supporters.
Whilst the leader's mandate comes from the membership, he is still reliant on at least some some MPs and, critically, funding from the unions. Without dramatic change, Labour are headed for a massive defeat and possibly extinction. They won't sit on their hands forever whilst the party burns.
We've already seen plenty of drama in the Corbyn To Go Before The Next Election market, for which Yes traded down to 1.041/25 during last year's leadership challenge. Expect plenty more action here during the months ahead as speculation mounts. Right now, I'm very much a Yes backer at 1.84/5.
Back Jeremy Corbyn to go before the next election @ 1.84/5