The Liberal Democrats won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election last night, after a large swing from the Conservatives and Labour, and a 10% share of the vote for The Brexit Party.
It is worth remembering this constituency is a traditional Liberal area dating back to at least 1918. It has also been a solid Lib Dem seat more recently since 1997, up until the 2015 general election. When David Cameron was able to snatch it away, as his Conservative Party won an unexpected parliamentary majority that year.
The Tories even retained the seat after Theresa May squandered that hard-won majority in her disastrous snap election in 2017.
This by-election was called after a recall petition unseated the incumbent Tory MP Chris Davies, who was found guilty of fiddling his expenses by submitting fake invoices.
Shockingly, the Conservatives, perhaps distracted by trying to unseat Theresa May, who was clinging on, limpet-like, as the walls fell in around her; just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of a by-election, and decided to reinstall Chris Davies as the candidate for his former seat, and pretend like nothing had happened..
After this result, Boris needs to understand that so-called ‘moderate’ Tory voters i.e. Remainers, have already bolted from the Conservative stable.
These voters have gone over to the Lib Dem / Greens and wont be back any time soon. It seems unlikely that softening his Brexit position to accommodate them is going to bring these people back into the fold.
For Remainers, just like those of us in the Brexit camp, the issue of leaving the EU is now a ‘red line’ written in blood. There’s no political benefit in this climate trying to be ‘all things to all people’ like David Cameron or Tony Blair.
We can see this from the state of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn, they were crushed down to 5% of the vote in Brecon and Radnorshire.
Corbyn’s calamitous ‘strategy’ on Brexit has alienated everyone apart from his most fanatical acolytes, and a hardcore who will always vote Labour even if the proverbial donkey in a red rosette was leader of Her Majesty’s opposition.
Boris also still has Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party on his right flank. 10% is perhaps a disappointing result after many polls had them at more like 20%, but pundits are reading a bit more into this than is actually there.
The Brexit Party’s EU election victory in May 2019 was achieved by a unique set of favorable circumstances, which gave them a strong headwind; including universal antipathy to a Conservative Prime Minster in Theresa May who simply wasn’t up to the job.
The Brexit Party, unsurprisingly, also had the clearest messaging on Brexit on the Leave side, as Conservatives abandoned the playing field and Corbyn sat on the fence, while the Lib Dems and Greens carried the torch for Remainers.
It appears the Lib Dems have now solidified a large percentage of the Remainer vote in this country, but overall politics in the UK is still very fluid.
We were always going to see a ‘Boris bounce,’ as the Tories who lent their votes to the Brexit Party en-masse, now delighted to finally see the back of Theresa May, waited to give the new Prime Minster a chance to deliver a meaningful Brexit.
Even though the Conservatives have lost this seat, they didn’t get hammered quite like Labour, even when their candidate is a convicted fraudster.
Boris Johnson now has a majority of just one in the House of Commons, a perilous situation for any Prime Minister to navigate, even in a less febrile political atmosphere.
Aside from the DUP, there isn’t much prospect of Boris being able to leverage extra votes from opposition parties on anything to do with delivering Brexit.
If Boris performs an outrageous u-turn, and attempts to get a soft Brexit or slightly modified version of Theresa May’s ‘deal’ through the Commons, then the Brexit Party will be back with a vengeance.
Tory activists and Leave voters would see this as the final betrayal, and the Conservatives would likely be a peripheral force in British politics for many years to come.
The last time this happened in the UK, it was the Liberals who were on the sidelines for the best part of a century.