Labour’s Ruth Jones has taken the Newport West Parliamentary seat in a by-election prompted by the death of the hugely popular Paul Flynn, but fewer people turned out to vote, Labour’s share of the vote fell, and all parties reported unrest over Brexit on the doorstep.
It doesn’t mean Labour is losing popularity, and it is possible that the result shows support for the party’s policy on Brexit, but media spin may suggest otherwise (especially if you caught the BBC’s Politics Live today (April 5).
I tried to encourage a debate about it on Twitter, and the responses were revealing.
My first tweet was deliberately provocative:
The #NewportWestByElection result gives us an accurate voter intention result (because it's an actual election) putting Labour NINE POINTS AHEAD of the Tories. Labour were on 40 per cent, Tories on 31. #PoliticsLive
— Mike Sivier (@MidWalesMike) April 5, 2019
And I followed it up with another that was intended to prompt response, claiming: “It’s pretty close to the most recent opinion polls!”
I was referring to polls that put Labour ahead of the Conservatives, with 41 per cent against the Tories’ 36, according to DeltaPollUK, and you can see that I exaggerated slightly.
Some of the responses took that on board:
err mike, that's not how GEs work, both main parties have heartlands, what's worrying here is swing from Labour to Tories is 2.4%
— donovan suddell (@donovan950) April 5, 2019
**Only nine points**. The seat has been held by Labour since 1987. Also many voters cited the torrential rain and hail as a deterrent. So I wouldn't count your chickens.
— Welshwoman #ALM #KBF 🏴 🇬🇧 (@Welshwoman) April 5, 2019
I took a different tack, pointing out that the seat had been held by veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn for 32 years until his death, and that he had huge personal support – and one response showed up the failings in the arguments above:
The thing is only if u compare to 2017 nrs when
LAB got 52 & Con got 39 . Compare to 2015 when LAB got 41 Con 32 .And yet again to 2010 when LAB got 41 and Con 32. Last nights numbers dont look that bad.
— speaker (@upnorthowen) April 5, 2019
So there we are: The result is consistent with previous polls on Newport West, with 2017 being an exception – perhaps a response to the pathetic Conservative campaign and Theresa May’s then-complacent belief that she would win a huge majority against Jeremy Corbyn, allowing her to bulldoze her (as we were to learn) dire Brexit plan over us all.
Newport West is a Labour heartland, and the weather did put some of the electorate off voting. The uptick in percentage support for the smaller parties may be a reflection of the lower turnout.
But the result broadly upheld the findings of recent national opinion polls, and suggests that Labour’s Brexit policy is not a vote-loser.
The big question now is, what kind of Labour MP will Ruth Jones be?
Good point about .@jeremycorbyn having trouble getting his right-wing MPs to support him. I wonder how .@RuthNewportWest will behave. #PoliticsLive
— Mike Sivier (@MidWalesMike) April 5, 2019
Initial evidence is positive – she opposes Tory austerity that has taken £1 billion in investment away from Wales; she opposes Universal Credit and the huge financial harm it represents to her constituents; and Tory cuts mean fear of crime in her city is rising. On top of that, there is huge controversy over plans to build a new motorway in Newport.
Ms Jones said she regretted the low turnout but was hoping to engage with all voters to ensure their voices are heard and that they re-engage with politics.
That could be difficult, considering the bad publicity that has been attracted by Labour’s own treatment of its members recently.
The National Constitutional Committee, which handles disputes involving Labour members, has been dubbed a “National Kangaroo Court”, and the party has been accused of pandering to its critics, rather than listening to members. The most obvious example is the response to often-spurious claims of anti-Semitism against members who are then automatically treated as guilty before any inquiry takes place, with the results of the disciplinary process pre-determined to support the prejudicial behaviour.
Will Ruth Jones support changes that could restore justice to that process? Or will she keep her head down and allow the wrongs to continue – because supporting justice may create adverse publicity?
We’ll be watching.
The ‘Brexit parties’ of course were UKIP and Conservatives who, we have to admit, did well. Clearly, where Brexit was concerned, the ‘Leave vote’ was split which allowed Labour thankfully in again albeit at a reduced majority. The truth is Labour ‘squeaked it’ because of the split Brexit factor that must have confused the Welsh Brexit voters in this ballot. UKIP doubled their take of the vote. This has to be a salutary tale for Labour in realising that Brexit is very much part of the voter’s psyche in any elections now and in the future whether local elections or national. Labour will do serious damage to itself if in any future metropolitan or national election it tries to put Brexit aside in favour of the same old traditional well-worn domestic messages we already know about. Be warned there’s hot Brexit Labour blood out there looking to flow in any forthcoming election. This constituency, because of Brexit, to all intents and purposes is now a marginal seat.
What an original opinion! Thank you for it.
Ah will she won’t she just like neaths mp stabbing her boss in the back that’s the question people are getting fed up of greedie labour MPs who ain’t labour but Tory’s in red ties