Brecon by election autopsy

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Its worth reflecting on the recent by election in Wales, which was won by the lib dems, overturning a Tory majority of about 20% at the last election. Inevitably the Tories cried foul, as they tried to make various excuses. But clearly this shows that if the people did indeed vote for no deal as they claim (and we’re still waiting for the evidence no deal was even mentioned in the referendum campaign), why didn’t they take this safe seat comfortably? Haven’t just had a bounce in poll numbers since Boris came along?

All in all there’s a lot for the major parties to take away from this by election. Notably as it cuts the Tory majority down to just one seat. All it takes is one or two back benchers to disagree with the PM and he loses, even with the support of the DUP. In fact if SF were to take their seats, he’d be facing a deficit of 5 votes against him.

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I’d argue that while the results are bad for the Tories, its not terrible. Ruling parties rarely do well in by elections. Losing a safe seat by 5% isn’t great news, but its not a disaster. By elections have been lost in a similar fashion before (by both major parties), only for the seat to retaken in a general election shortly afterwards.

On the other hand, the brexit party took 10% of the vote, despite the strong line taken by the PM as regards brexit. The Tories are backing no deal because they reckon that it will allow them to out UKIP UKIP. However, they’ve been trying to do this for the best part of a decade and the reality is that there’s always some right wing nutter who’ll be able to outflank them. Those voting for the brexit party are placing comforting lies and free unicorn fantasies over…well slightly less comforting lies….and white horses with traffic cones.

In fact the 10% support here is about within the margins of what I’d assumed the brexit party would likely get in any future election. Ironically of course, this is similar to the margin of support they were losing to UKIP before the referendum. They’ve put the country through the last three years of hell in order to win back that support. But instead, much as I predicted before the referendum, its ended up costing them even more support support.

Because by backing no deal it just means they are now also losing votes to the lib dems. Which is perhaps not surprising, given reports that the country is now even less prepared for a Halloween brexit than it was back in March, with warnings of potential food shortages and panic buying in the run up to Christmas. Now in a general election, while they might not lose as much support to the lib dems/brexit party, they’ll probably lose enough to make a difference in many marginal seats….one of which is now Boris Johnson’s!

However, the real loser in this by election was the labour party. They crashed into 4th place and nearly lost their deposit (just ahead of the 5th place candidate, Lady lily Pink of the monster raving loony party). This represents a drop in support of 12.5% (earning just 5.3% of the vote), a pretty catastrophic showing, but entirely within the margins of what the last few months of nationwide polling has suggested.

For several months now Corbyn and his inner circle have had their fingers plugged in their ears refusing to recognise these polls and screaming bias at anyone who dared draw attention to the fact that the cult of the one true Corbyn labour is haemorrhaging support. Least we forget, labour needs to WIN SEATS next election (and lots of them!) to have any chance of gaining power, not lose the ones they’ve already got. And even the most optimistic polls say they are going to lose dozens of seats in any future election.

As I’ve long pointed out, fence sitting on an issue like brexit isn’t a strategy. Unless the plan is to make sure nobody votes for you! While there aren’t many leave voters who would vote for Corbyn anyway, I suspect few of them would be endeared to him given that he’s spent the last three’s dithering on one of the most important issues of our time. Is this likely to convenience them that he’d make a good PM? Probably not. He’d probably earn more votes from leavers if he took a firm remain position, as they’d at least respect him for taking a stand on the issue.

And remain supporters are reluctant to back him, given he’s a eurosceptic surrounded by a cabal of eurosceptics (the lib dems have an interesting quiz here, did Corbyn say it or Farage?). Even when Corbyn claims he now backs remain and a people’s vote, few believe him and why should they? He’s reneged on pass promises to support remain before, how can they be sure he won’t do it again?

And labour can’t simply rely on the assumption that remain voters will be so scared of a Tory government that they’ll vote labour. The lib dems showed in Brecon that its possible to form an electoral alliance and unite the left wing and centrist vote. They do the same across the country next election and labour is in serious trouble.

To my mind labour has one of two options if it wants to win an election. Firstly unequivocally back remain in a way that cannot be unpicked by any of Corbyn’s merry band of saboteurs. I’d bring forward the party conference, or hold an emergency one, to legislate that labour, once given the chance (by forming a government with rebel Tory remainers or winning an election), will back a people’s vote with remain as an option. And the entire party will actively campaign for it (three line whip and all that). An electoral alliance with other pro-remain parties should also be attempted.

Anyone who has a problem with that, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And yes Hoey, Cruddas et al will leave (and likely join the brexit party), but so what, they’re effectively brexit party MP’s anyway, we may as well make it official, guaranteeing they’ll lose their seats next election.

That is pretty much what Corbyn needs to do to convince people to vote labour. Noting that had he not spent the last three years fence sitting and dithering, he’d not be in this mess. The alternative way for labour to win back voters, is that Corbyn goes and a pro-remain party leader (but presumably someone from the left of the party) takes over. Polls do suggest this might well revive labour fortunes. The longer labour sits on the fence, the more likely the latter becomes their only option.

The worse case scenario for labour is they stick with their present ambiguous policy and next election (which could be as early as September) they will get annihilated. While the most likely outcome is a Tory/brexit party coalition, that’s not guaranteed, as they may well fall short (creating a real crisis and the left would equally be unable to form a coalition either and I doubt the lib dems would be stupid enough to go into power with the Tories again). Of course this could destabilise the UK and cause it to break up, which would deprive the left of a big chuck of left wing voters making it very difficult for them ever to win an election again (and of course Corbyn will have to resign…likely replaced by a Blairite).

So the message for the Tories is that, yes they might be able to win an election, but that’s a big maybe. And it relies not so much on them being able to take votes off Farage, but on labour losing them to remain supporting parties (and of course if labour forms an alliance with remain parties they are stuffed). Inevitably the Tories will lose some seats, as they will be losing votes to remain supporters as well as too the brexit party. Hell, even Johnson might lose his seat. So it would be a bit of an audacious gamble.

As for labour, they have a month or two to decide, do they want to win power (by backing remain), do they want to keep Corbyn as leader (which is impossible now unless they quit dithering) or do they want to risk being wiped out.

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