As the dust settles over the beacons following the latest UK Parliamentary by-election, I take a look at the winners, losers and also-rans from Brecon and Radnorshire.
1. It must firstly be stated that this is a bad, bad night for the Conservatives. Sure, by-elections where the governing party loses are not uncommon, but by-elections which put the governing party on the verge of losing their majority are disastrous. Following last night’s defeat of incumbent Conservative Chris Davies, the government’s majority is down to just one seat.
2. So, what went wrong for the Conservatives? The jury still seems out on the candidate, Chris Davies; on the one hand, he broke the law and triggered a recall petition, and act that should scream unpopularity, but word on the ground seemed to be that he’s still relatively popular and wasn’t to blame for the loss. Would a different candidate - with no criminal convictions - have fared better? I guess we’ll never know.
3. One thing is for sure; the Brexit Party certainly didn’t help the Conservatives. Taking 10% of the vote – by no means a massive share – would certainly have taken some votes away from the Conservatives, and likely enough to stop them winning. Boris Johnson was supposedly the man to claw back Conservative votes from the Brexit Party, and while he still may well be, so many constituncies have such slim majorities – and many far slimmer than Brecon and Radnorshire – that simply any Brexit Party presence could really threaten the Conservative incumbents in the event of a snap election or more by-elections.
4. The Brexit Party are certainly a massive winner from last night, despite only recording 10% of the vote. The Brexit Party have two potential end-games: 1) make passing a EU Withdrawal deal through the House of Commons so difficult for the government that No Deal becomes the default or 2) gaining significant Parliamentary representation in the event of a General election before the UK leaves the EU (delay or not). I would say that the chances of both increased after last night.
5. I feel incredibly guilty for not mentioning the actual winners until I’m midway through my piece, so here we go: the Liberal Democrats are winners after last night. Winning back a seat where they’ve had representation before is an important first step in Jo Swinson’s leadership, and although they would have liked a larger majority, a win is a win. Most football fans would take a scrappy 1-0 win, even if a free-flowing 4-0 would be the ideal outcome (if Colchester United fancy winning 1-0 tomorrow, it’d make me immeasurably happy).
6. Where the Brexit Party squeezed the Conservative vote, the so-called Remain Alliance came through for the Lib Dems. Frankly, I’m sceptical that they would have recorded this victory at all had the Greens and Plaid Cymru (plus a handful of others) not stood aside to allow Jane Dodds to run as the only candidate on the ballot paper whose party is fundamentally opposed to Brexit.
7. So, a Remain Alliance prevailed while the Brexit vote was split and perhaps suffered from a lack of an alliance. Could this be the way elections are conducted going forward? It certainly seems likely that some remain parties that have no hope of winning (which will include the Lib Dems in a few very pro-Green, pro-Plaid Cymru or pro-SNP seats) may step aside in order to allow a single pro-remain candidate the best chance to prevail. This type of tactic could really have a huge impact at a snap General Election, especially if the Brexit Party refuse to do such a deal with the Conservatives, where the ‘leave’ vote in seats are split, allowing the Lib Dems, Labour and others to come through and win. The Brexit Party could even put Brexit at risk unless they wise up to this potential tactic by pro-remain parties.
8. Doesn’t usually take me this long to mention Labour, but did they even stand in this by-election? The fact they’re a footnote to this piece is a greater metaphor for their role in the contest, and the only word out of them last night was that they did well to just about hold onto their deposit. Brecon and Radnorshire is never likely to be a winnable seat and therefore it’s unlikely that they’d ever pump resources into fighting it, although word on the ground was that their candidate conducted himself admirably despite the odds being stacked against him. What’s considerably less admirable is Jeremy Corbyn’s by-election record – it makes for very grim reading - and a 12-point drop in the share of the vote, however winnable a seat may be, is not a good look for a supposed Government in waiting.
9. I’ve always been a relatively keen observer of UKIP, and their impact on the UK electoral landscape. They’re currently doing a really good job in the role of ‘laughing stock’, coming sixth last night behind the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, Lady Lily the Pink, who handed out Pink Lady apples during the count, and was very congratulatory towards Jane Dodds on her victory. Surely this is the end for UKIP? I have absolutely no idea where they can go from here except disappearing from existence.
10. Let me end with a pet peeve; can we stop this ‘trend’ of adding together the votes from two or three parties and making conclusions to fit your narrative? A Brexit Party MEP on LBC last night claimed that by adding together the Brexit Party, Conservative Party and UKIP vote shares – a suitably giant majority of 50.2% - this somehow proved that the people of Brecon and Radnorshire were strongly in favour of a hard Brexit. Hearing such nonsense nearly made me choke on my late-night Horlicks but, spokespeople bluster aside, unless your party is willing to stand aside to test that idea, can we all just stop adding these numbers together and claiming anything?