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The Beacon in Brecon

By David Vance On August 2nd, 2019

Shifting through the runes of the Brecon and Radnorshire by election result, it becomes clear that British politics is changing in ways that we have never previously seen and that Brexit is the primary engine of this change.

First the facts. This seat was captured by the LibDems in 1997 and stayed in their hands until the 2015 GE when the Conservatives won it. Today, it is back in LibDem hands. So the “change” here can be seen as simply a return to the status quo. LidDem Leader Jo Swinson has claimed that this is a devastating defeat for Boris Johnson and further proof that the LidDem “bollocks to Brexit” strategy is winning.

Is she correct?

What lies behind this result and what are the broader lessons?

In the first instance, the only reason that there WAS a by-election was because the incumbent Conservative MP Christopher Davies was found guilty of forging expenses documents!

This is called, technically, not a good look!

‘On 21 February 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service  announced that Davies had been charged with two counts of making a false instrument and one count of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims. He pleaded guilty to two counts on 22 March 2019 in the Crown Court at Southwark. On 23 April 2019 he was sentenced to a community order requiring 50 hours’ unpaid work, together with a fine of £1,500. In sentencing, the judge said “It seems shocking that when confronted with a simple accounting problem, you thought to forge documents. That is an extraordinary thing for a man with your position and your background to do.”

This led to more than 19% of his constituents signing a petition to have him recalled. At this point he lost the seat and a by-election was triggered. That was on June 21st. Remarkably, just two days later, he was allowed to stand again and try and re-win the seat he had lost. Obviously this decision was taken by the Theresa May administration at that time.

The wisdom of selecting a man as Conservative candidate for a seat which his ill judged behaviour had seen him lose that seat remains inexplicable!

That said, he narrowly failed to do so, coming in with 12,401 votes vs the LibDems winning total of 13,826.

But even this small margin of LibDem victory is not quite what it seems.

Both the Green Party and Plaid Cymru (Allegedly “The Party of Wales”!) decided not to stand in this by-election, allowing Remain votes to coalesce around the Libdem candidate. In 2015, the year the Conservatives won the seat, the Green/Plaid combined vote was 3028.

Last night, the LibDem majority was circa 1400. So even WITH Plaid and the Greens lending their votes to the LibDems, the expected easy 3000+ majority didn’t happen. Instead a narrow win was achieved in a seat which has been held by the LibDems for decades. Stellar success or squeaking a win?

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Brexit Party DID stand and in doing so attracted 3331 votes. One can assume that had they NOT stood, then the Conservatives would have had a better result. In fact if all the votes cast are toted up, it is interesting to see that LEAVE parties attracted 50.2% of vote and Remain Parties attracted 49% of the vote. So a majority of those who voted supported an unambiguous LEAVE position. Quite how Jo Swinson sees this as a “victory” for Remain is a curious

Of course at one level it IS a victory for Remain insofar as it has reduced the Conservative Government majority to 1 (and that includes the DUP ongoing support) Given the Remain fanatics entrenched on Conservative benches, it is very hard to see how Prime Minister Johnson can push through a WTO Brexit by October 31st. It would only take a Dominic Grieve, a Phil Hammond or a Justine Greening – or all of them – to vote against the Government and that would bring the Government down.

So the political noose tightens around the neck of the Prime Minister. He has several options;

  1. Seek some sort of “deal” with the EU, or at least give that impression. When it doesn’t happen, blame the EU for being intransigent, try and push through a No-Deal and dare his backbench opponents to bring their own government down.
  2. Seek some sort of “deal” with the EU along the lines of May’s WithDrawal Agreement minus the backstop and try and push that through Parliament, with the fear of a No Deal as the incentive for Remainers to back him.

There is trouble with both these scenarios. It seems very unlikely that the devout Remainers on his own backbenches would be willing accomplices to a No Deal Brexit and there is a very high chance that they WOULD put the EU before the UK and bring their own Government down. Those like Grieve have already indicated this as a real possibility. In a similar vein, if the Government tries to push through the May Withdrawal Agreement minus the backstop, Conservative MP Mark Francois has made it clear that dozens of his colleagues will vote that down.

In each scenario, a General Election looks to be the only way to relieve the pressure cooker. And this is where the idea of a pragmatic Brexit coalition comes into play. It the Conservatives and Brexit Party could come to a sensible tactical arrangement then this might well result in a new Government with a Conservative-Brexit alliance at the heart of it.

Labour are languishing in the polls – coming a miserable 4th in this by-election, managing to just about beat the Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate but no one else. So the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street recedes and it will recede further if he does that urged by the likes of Emily Thornberry and that is to entirely and expressly abandon ALL those Labour voters who want to Leave the EU and stand on a full REMAIN ticket. This would then provide the Conservative-Brexit Party Alliance with rich pickings in those northern English heartlands.

The beacon in Brecon is burning bright to see.  Unify the forces of Brexit and start winning back. This is bigger than Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – it is about delivering a sovereign and independent United Kingdom outside the EU this year.

24 Responses to “The Beacon in Brecon”

  1. Good post, David.

    // it is interesting to see that LEAVE parties attracted 50.2% of vote and Remain Parties attracted 49% of the vote. So a majority of those who voted supported an unambiguous LEAVE position.//

    In the referendum, Leave got 51.86% and Remain 48.14% of the vote, so the Leave vote is going in the right direction – down.

    But still, not as far down as it should be, considering the circumstances. The result has something for everyone and, if replicated across the country, would probably lead to even more chaos.

    //the political noose tightens around the neck of the Prime Minister. He has several options;//

    Another option would be to get rid of the Backstop by drawing the customs union border down the Irish Sea. That would satisfy the English nationalism that drives much of Brexit.
    He’d lose the support of the likes of Kate Hoey, but would probably gain the support of enough other Labour MPs to get the deal through.

  2. But even this small margin of LibDem victory is not quite what it seems.

    You’re correct it’s not what it seems. The almost 1,500 votes of a difference between the Con and Lib Dem candidates fails to mention that the vote overturned Con Chris Davies 8,038 majority in the last election.

    As for the Green Party and Plaid Cymru withdrawing candidates from the election. Three words, unionist electoral pacts:


  3. Who is the strange man posting here….. Why it is Mr Vance himself…..

    The Castle halls have echoed with your absence Sire….. your chair awaits you by the hearth.

  4. DV –

    Yes, the vote to regain our sovereignty, independence and self-governance dropped a bomb on British politics.

    In many ways the party allegiances have eroded. Many now think of themselves as either Brexiteers or anti-democrats. The old parties cannot contort themselves into the new identities. Voters are changing preferences and the parties are, albeit at glacial speed, responding.

    If the Tories and The Brexit Party don’t enter into electoral pacts then everyone will lose.

  5. Yes, the vote to regain our sovereignty, independence and self-governance

    Remember how you squealed like pigs about the ‘enemies of the people’ when it looked like your sovereignty, independence and self-governance could endanger triggering Art 50?

  6. I don’t understand why there is a need for the backstop.

    After all the UK is not leaving the single market. http://www.atangledweb.org/?p=63675

  7. I’m just amazed that 12000+ people voted for a convicted fraudster to be their MP , but then that’s Brexiteers for you.. 😉

  8. Remarkably, just two days later, he was allowed to stand again and try and re-win the seat he had lost. Obviously this decision was taken by the Theresa May administration at that time.

    No David, that was the decision of the local constituency party. But I agree with your general point. The Lib-Dem majority of 1,400 would have been wiped out if the 3,000 Brexit voters had supported the convicted Tory fraudster.

    Given the small majority, the Tories will be confident that they will win the seat back in the inevitable autumn general election, with or without a pact with Farage.

  9. Yes and no. The Tories came this close at the height of their “Boris bounce”. Should those poll numbers remain where they are then likely a fresh Tory candidate would have won this by-election, and would win any subsequent general election. That’s a big if. Theresa May received a far larger polling bump when she became Prime Minister. That receded pretty fast.

  10. The beacon in Brecon is burning bright to see. Unify the forces of Brexit and start winning back.

    The Lib-Dems won because Plaid and the Greens agreed not to run against them. Electoral pacts can cut both ways, and of course they are only necessary because of our appallingly anti-democratic voting system. Let’s never forget that UKIP won 14% of the votes in 2015 and managed to elect one single MP. No wonder that Farage is in the same camp as the Lib-Dems on the issue of electoral reform, as are all true democrats.

  11. Seamus

    The Tory candidate has a big personal following and it will be very surprising if he is not the candidate again in the autumn general election. Brecon is 50-50 Leave-Remain so it will be a close call, but the Tory majority was 8,000 in 2017 and the Lib-Dem majority is only 1,400 now. I would bet on the Tories unless the election is held in the aftermath of a disastrous no-deal Brexit.

  12. Peter,

    My point is that in the run up to the by-election the Tories are at about 31% (on average) in the polls. Before Boris became leader they were only on 24%. The 24% is likely the closer number for their actual support (when you factor in that they have dominated the news cycle in recent weeks with first their leadership election and then Boris becoming PM and assembling his cabinet). Most likely by the time election comes round the Boris bump will be gone. So the Tories 39% in Brecon in this by-election is likely artificially high. There does seem to be some talk that Davies had built up some local personal support (though the extent is questionable as he has only been an MP for a few years – and lost in the Assembly in pretty much the same constituency in 2011). Additionally, it is likely they will have a new candidate (unless the election is sooner rather than later) as also rans are relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) in British politics.

  13. Here’s an unusual suggestion for a radical change in the Brexit situation (from Fintan O’Toole in today’s Irish Times)

    Ireland, North and South, is facing a political and economic crisis. But the key to preventing it lies in Irish hands. One Irish political party has the power to change the balance of power at Westminster and to alter the dynamics of British politics, prevent a no-deal Brexit, avoid a hard UK-Ireland border and save the economy of Northern Ireland from catastrophe. It can do this without compromising its principles. All it needs is boldness, imagination and patriotism.
    So, what’s needed, and needed urgently, is something much more imaginative: a pact among all the anti-Brexit parties in Northern Ireland – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens. The agreement would have four basic elements. First, the seven Sinn Féin MPs will stand down temporarily, triggering byelections in Foyle, West Tyrone, Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Belfast.

    Secondly, the four parties will agree a candidate for each of the seven constituencies. These candidates will not be aligned to any party, will command wide respect and will be drawn from civil society, academia, business and the arts.

    Thirdly, these candidates will sign a public contract committing themselves to stand down as soon as Brexit is either accomplished or aborted, and not to seek re-election.

    Fourth, the candidates will commit themselves to respecting Sinn Féin’s policy of abstention on all issues except the ones that pertain to Brexit and the unfolding crisis. Their platform is simple. They will support all measures, procedural or legislative, to stop a no-deal Brexit, up to and including the revocation of article 50. They will support in all circumstances the retention of the backstop. They will support any proposal for a new referendum. They will support a motion of no-confidence in Johnson if he seeks to push through a no-deal Brexit. And they will support, if the opportunity arises, the formation of an alternative cross-party administration.

    What’s in it for Sinn Féin is an end to impotence. There is no Assembly or Executive in Belfast so it has no voice there, and it is highly likely that direct rule will be imposed by Johnson in September as a prelude to a no-deal crisis. It has no voice in Westminster, which has meant that the entire anti-Brexit majority in Northern Ireland has been silenced in the Commons too. And it has very little influence over Brexit policy in Dublin. Here, in one bold move, it can have an electrifying effect on the course of Irish and British history and in the process definitively end the perception that it is a party of protest rather than power.

  14. Very imaginative. Works for me.

  15. Additionally, it is likely they will have a new candidate (unless the election is sooner rather than later) as also rans are relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) in British politics.

    I disagree Seamus. Given that Davies came so close last night in very difficult circumstances I would be amazed if he is not the candidate in the autumn general election. But the turnout was only 60% so who knows what will happen if it is 75% in the GE, but my bet would be on a Tory win in Brecon. Of course I hope I’m wrong.

    It’s clear that the general election will be a substitute second referendum on Brexit, but it’s also pretty obvious, as David says, that the Tories will form some sort of pact with Farage in order to maximise the pro-Brexit result. It’s much less clear that there will be an effective pact on the Remain side, given that it would involve four separate parties, assuming that Labour will opt for Remain. My bet would be for a Tory-Farage win. Let’s not forget that the Tory membership of 160,000 which elected Johnson by 2:1 last month included at least 40,000 who had joined in the past 18 months. Now I wonder which side of the Brexit debate they are on?

    If it’s a full-on Brexit crisis I would expect a coupon election. This would mean the Tories giving Brexit candidates a clear run against Labour in many northern and midland constituencies and Brexit returning the favour by giving the Tories a clear run in the south and west against the Lib-Dems. If Labour and the Lib-Dems fail to create a similar pact there could be a big win for Johnson. This seems much more likely at present than a win for Corbyn. It is almost certain that for the third general election in a row (2015, 2017 and 2019) Labour will be led by an unelectable leader. The Tories haven’t made that mistake since 1964.

  16. Personally I think the conversation in the Tory Party vis à vis Brecon is that they would have won it with a different candidate. That a large number of the constituents voted for him to be recalled. And expenses offences seem akin to paedophilia in modern politics.

  17. Fintan O’Toole overlooks one salient fact, which is that Sinn Fein see Brexit as a superb opportunity to push for a border poll. So they have zero interest in obstructing a no-deal Brexit for the simple reason that it is what they most wish for.

    I cannot see any combination of circumstances at Westminster which will prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, unless a general election is triggered as soon as Parliament sits again in early September. And there will only be a two day window to pass a vote of no confidence in Johnson before another recess for the party conferences. That’s assuming that Johnson doesn’t engineer a coup d’etat prorogation of Parliament at the end of August in order to ensure that Article 50 passes by default on 31 October. Don’t rule it out.

  18. Personally I think the conversation in the Tory Party vis à vis Brecon is that they would have won it with a different candidate.

    No, the local party decides and Davies is still their man, unless he decides to stand down. He is a ell-known local auctioneer with a very wide network of supporters, which is why they decided to back him again. I suspect that they will see last night’s result as the very best that they could have hoped for. The most recent opinion poll gave the Lib-Dems a comfortable win, but it was very close in the end.

  19. “No, the local party decides and Davies is still their man, unless he decides to stand down”

    Not necessarily. If there is no sitting Tory MP (and there now isn’t) the local party decides the candidate from a select list of candidates. That list is decided by CCHQ.

  20. Davies will be on the list if he wants to be.

  21. A win is a win and the political arithmetic looks a little worse for the hopeless Tories. So what is stopping the opposition from calling a no-confidence vote in the government ? To answer my own question – Fear ! Fear that they might actually come out of it a little worse than than they went in. Not a good platform to crow from I aver.

    There is a third alternative – Run the BREXIT Clock down. Time is running out for a GE and, even if the opposition were to win a no-confidence vote the date is at the discretion of the PM. So with the HoC not returning until 3rd September there is no room for manoeuvre for Remainers.

  22. Mark B

    Not true. In the event of an approaching no deal deadline the EU 27 could formally offer an extension and Parliament could hold a binding vote forcing the govt. to accept it.

  23. Mark, I suspect what is preventing the opposition from calling an NC motion is the government’s working majority of one.

  24. Except that Parliament dissolves 25 working days before polling day. So if the Queen, upon the advice of the Prime Minister, was to delay the general election then it would provide time in Parliament to temporarily delay Brexit. If the Government lack a majority (and it would at this stage have been publicly shown to be so) then they would likely also be unable to block Parliament’s will to delay a no deal Brexit.

    So even if polling day was the 31st October Parliament wouldn’t’ be dissolved until the 26th September. If a no confidence vote was passed earlier in September then it would give Parliament weeks to avoid a no deal Brexit by passing a law instructing the Prime Minister to extend or revoke Article 50.