So you think last night’s Brecon and Radnorshire by-election result was a disaster for Labour? Well, you’re right – but probably not in the way you think.
Looking at the figures, we can see that although the Liberal Democrats enjoyed a slight boost, of around 1,700 votes, that’s nowhere near the numbers they were getting when Roger Williams was the candidate back in 2005 and 2010.
When he lost in 2015, Mr Williams’s vote fell by 37 per cent. Yesterday’s result clawed back only 13.8 per cent of that loss.
It seems the Liberal Democrats managed to retain their core vote – possibly due to the almost fascistic fearmongering of the campaign (“Only the Liberal Democrats can beat the Tories here!” – and the like); some of their supporters who went to Chris Davies in 2015 may have come back home; and – yes – some Labour supporters may have lent Jane Dodds their vote to get her past the line, in the belief that a bad MP is better than a diabolical one. We shall see.
But the Liberal Democrats are still damaged. Even allowing for the fact that the by-election attracted 17 per cent fewer voters (nearly 10,000 people) it is clear that they have not regained the popularity that consistently won Mr Williams more than 17,000 votes before their calamitous coalition with the Conservative Party between 2010 and 2015. And the toxicity of Ms Dodds’ campaign won’t improve their reputation.
And remember: Plaid Cymru and the Green Party chose not to field candidates in this election. Last time they both stood candidates for election, they netted 3,028 votes between them. It seems, even with such a huge campaign, Ms Dodds could not have beaten a criminal without their help.
The Conservative vote, on the other hand, collapsed. It is true that some of the pro-Brexit vote went to the Brexit Party and if that organisation had not stood a candidate for election, Chris Davies may have been returned to Parliament – but his criminal conviction for dishonesty seems to have stuck in voters’ collective craw and they couldn’t find it in themselves to hold their noses and vote for him; they would have choked on it.
So, while turnout was down by 17 per cent, Mr Davies lost more than double that proportion of his voters – 38 per cent. Some undoubtedly went to the Liberal Democrats (or back to them; ideologically, the two parties are very close), and I think some just stayed away.
But if the Tory vote collapsed, Labour’s evaporated. The party attracted less than a quarter of the electors who supported it in 2017. Where did they all go?
Well, some certainly went to Jane Dodds, along with disaffected Conservatives. And obviously Labour will know that it cannot count on the support of people who say they are Labour but consistently “lend” their votes to the Liberal Democrats – they are themselves Liberal Democrats and should not be treated otherwise. Some will have gone to the Brexit Party, heaven help them.
And the rest? I think they stayed at home. Having seen the huge weight of resources that the Liberal Democrats were pouring into the constituency, and noted the “Project Fear” tone of the campaign, they decided to keep their powder dry and wait for a better chance to get their candidate in.
I can’t say I blame them.
Now the focus will shift to Jane Dodds. Having made any number of castle-in-the-air promises, she has to keep them. Waiting for Ofcom to make good on its demand for better broadband in Brecon and Radnorshire by next March and then claiming it as a success won’t work, because we all know about that particular cheat now. She has to do some real work.
That doesn’t mean marching up to Boris Johnson, wherever he is, and saying “stop playing with the future of our community and rule out a no-deal Brexit”, as she claimed yesterday. He would simply brush her off and carry on doing whatever he damn well pleases because he’s the prime minister and she’s a nobody.
No – Ms Dodds will need to show she can be a good constituency MP before she can presume to have any effect on the wider issues.
I think she’ll mess it up because she simply doesn’t have the chops for it – and her party’s policies won’t do anything for the people of Brecon and Radnorshire.
If you don’t believe me, watch this:
From the tone of her campaign, we can see that Ms Dodds is a typical Liberal Democrat – an unprincipled political opportunist who’ll jump on any vote-grabbing bandwagon but won’t follow through with genuinely progressive work.
She’s going to fall flat on her face, isn’t she?
And we’ll all be watching when she does.
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