Brecon & Radnorshire by-election liveblog: Lib Dem GAIN

Sienna Rodgers

Welcome to LabourList’s Brecon and Radnorshire by-election liveblog. Polls closed at 10pm and results are expected in the early hours as usual. This liveblog has now closed.

02.32 This is obviously an incredibly disappointing result for Labour. The party wasn’t expecting to do particularly well in a seat that has been switching between Lib Dem and Tory since 1979, but even so – only just scraping the threshold for getting the deposit back is undeniably poor. Local candidate Tom Davies, selected in March this year, worked the seat hard, but it seems that the Labour vote was squeezed with Labour Leavers going to the Brexit Party and Labour Remainers going to the Lib Dems. Meanwhile, Tom Davies himself has said that Tory candidate Chris Davies – despite literally being convicted for expenses fraud and recalled as an MP – retained personal popularity as a local man.

The Lib Dems are happy, obviously. They’ve got a new MP, Jane Dodds, who brings their number in Westminster up to 13. It’s a good result for their new leader Jo Swinson, who was only chosen last week. It proves that they can win Leave seats too (although it’s important to note that it only vote narrowly for Leave in 2016).

The seat was written off by the Tories, and they even put up the candidate who sparked this by-election when 19% of his constituents signed a recall petition to boot him out of office. They will be heartened that they came a close second. But the result shows that the Brexit Party, even with Boris Johnson as leader, can eat into the Tory vote and deprive them of Tory holds. It also suggests the Lib Dems could sweep up in more Remain-heavy Tory-Lib Dem marginals in the South.

For Labour, it will add to the current anxieties about the party’s performance in Wales as well as across the UK. Although the Brexit policy has moved to an incredibly pro-Remain stance, it will likely fuel criticism on that basis and people will claim that Jeremy Corbyn’s hesitations will have undermined trust in Labour on the issue. But even that argument backs up what the leader’s office was saying a few months ago. “It is not obvious… that a more “pro Remain” position from Labour would in itself win back voters currently lost to the Liberal Democrats,” the shadow cabinet briefing in June warned. Nonetheless, it will probably only encourage Labour activists to push the party towards an even stronger pro-Remain stance.

I’m off to bed now. Commiserations, comrades. Let’s keep fighting.

02.25 Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds has won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, slashing Boris Johnson’s working majority in government to just one. Labour came fourth, with only 1,680 votes, on 5.3%, only just keeping its deposit.

02.21 Full results:

Conservative – Chris Davies – 12,401

Labour – Tom Davies – 1,680

Lib Dem – Jane Dodds – 13,826

Brexit Party – Des Parkinson – 3,331

UKIP – Liz Phillips – 242

Monster Raving Loony – Lady Lily Pink – 334

Ballot papers rejected: 73. Turnout: 59.72%. CON to LD swing: 12.0%.

02.20 Result: Lib Dem win. But we’ve just had the result read out in Welsh so no idea what has just happened.

02.14 Five minutes until the official declaration.

02.02 The provisional result is now being disclosed to the candidates only. We’ve still got a little bit of a wait, but shouldn’t be too long. We know that the result is supposed to be tight.

02.00 Here’s a prediction, followed wonderful prose by Andrew Teale on the seat:

“This is a constituency with no large towns,” Teale writes on Britain Elects. “Indeed, the largest centre of population here is a place whose name few people will recognise and even fewer will have any idea how to pronounce. Ystradgynlais is nestled in the south-west corner of Breconshire and isn’t too far from Swansea down the Tawe valley; it’s a town of around 8,000 souls which was called into being by heavy engineering, specifically the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks and the coal needed to run them. To this day Ystradgynlais is atypical of Brecon and Radnorshire as a whole: most of the seat’s Labour voters and more than half of its Welsh speakers live here.” Read the rest of the profile here.

01.52 Labour source at the count confirms that it’s “looking pretty close”, though the Lib Dems seem to have “edged it”. Adds: “Still concerned about our deposit…”

01.48 Labour is largely expected to come fourth in this by-election, a result trailed earlier this week in the Welsh Political Barometer. The poll by YouGov put Labour at 22%, behind the Tories on 24%, its lowest-ever showing in the traditional Labour heartland. The Lib Dems were fourth with just 16%.

Detailed analysis of the results can be seen here.

01.22 Oh, I lie. Neil Coyle has commented:

01.21 Not one Labour MP has tweeted about this by-election since the polls have closed. Nor have many activists as far as I’ve seen. But who can blame them? The picture is bleak.

01.14 Why are the Tories – with Chris Davies as their candidate again – forecast to come second, rather than third or fourth? The local Labour candidate says he thinks the Conservative candidate is popular with Tory voters across the constituency, in spite of… everything. Others are putting it down to Jeremy Corbyn being personally unpopular with voters. Or perhaps it’s the ‘Boris bounce’, which has certainly dampened the success of the Brexit Party.

The question is whether this pattern will be repeated at a general election. Optimists will say probably not – partly because that’s when Labour gets a fairer hearing in the media. But if the next election is a snap one in the autumn, it’s bound to be all about Brexit, unlike the battle in 2017. And that’s difficult for a party that may support another referendum and Remain but is still not strictly identifiable as being on one end of the Brexit spectrum. For example, would Labour revoke Article 50 to stop no deal? We don’t know.

01.00 A brief summary: Lib Dems are expected to win the seat, but not by a huge margin; Tories are doing better than predicted despite putting up the same candidate, who was only just recalled as an MP after being convicted of expenses fraud; Labour sources are saying their party will come fourth and may even lose the deposit.

00.53 If you’d like some turnout comparisons:

00.50 Turnout for this by-election has been confirmed: an impressive 59.72%. That’s the highest turnout in a by-election this parliament, according to Prof Scully.

00.47 Labour candidate Tom Davies has just been on Sky News talking to Sophy Ridge. He said “voters are clearly worried and upset about austerity and a no deal Brexit” and “the feeling we’ve got is that austerity is biting and people are really fed up”.

Why, then, aren’t people coming to Labour? “We’ve got a difficult position in this by-election because there are many different factors at play,” he said. “A lot of Labour supporters have said, ‘this time we want the best opportunity to get him out and that’s why we’re lending the Lib Dems our vote’.”

Tom Davies said he hasn’t got the feeling that people are confused about Labour’s position on Brexit, which is to support another referendum and Remain.

Asked about the result, he replied: “It’s too close to tell.” But agreed that the Conservatives seem to be doing better than expected. Why? “Chris Davies is popular with certain communities and Conservatives across the constituency. Perhaps it is more of a personality thing.”

How do locals see Jeremy Corbyn? “Mostly positive.”

Next, Sophy asked him whether Labour Leavers were turning to Boris Johnson. Tom Davies said he didn’t meet one doing that, but did meet some voters who switched to the Brexit Party.

00.30 Here’s Politics Joe with some vox pops on no deal from Brecon and Radnorshire. These are almost always useless but nonetheless enjoyable to watch, and this one is certainly far more entertaining than the BBC Wales video.

00.25 Monster Raving Loony Party’s Lady Lily Pink arrives:

00.20 Sir Ed Davey is doing a lot of expectation management on Sky News right now. He says the result will likely be very close. Why? Not due to a Boris bounce, Ed says. He can’t really name any reason. Fascinating stuff.

00.15 Our digital guy James points out that the local Tory Facebook ads rarely featured their (disgraced) candidate Chris Davies, but instead focussed on Brexit and Boris Johnson. Or windmills.

00.10 Labour spent just over £400 on ads for its by-election campaign over the last month, compared to over £6,000 of local spending by the Tories.

00.05 What does a poor result tonight mean for Labour? Local candidate Tom Davies told LabourList that the characterisation of this poll as a “Brexit by-election” is inaccurate, and I’m sure that is true as voters bring up the impact of austerity on public services rather than their 2016 vote. But we will undoubtedly see further panic over Labour’s Brexit position if the party does drop to fourth place in this Welsh seat as expected. Pro-EU activists are sure to apply further pressure ahead of conference, where delegates will probably say the party must campaign for Remain against any kind of Brexit at the next election.

23.58 You know how Labour sources are briefing tonight that they’ll be lucky if the deposit is returned? Fun fact. Along with the DUP and SNP, Labour was one of the few parties and the only UK-wide party to have zero candidates lose their deposit in 2017.

(By the way, it’s largely thought that Labour will secure over 5% and get the deposit back tonight, but come fourth.)

23.50 The size of Luxembourg!

23.45 Jack Evans from BBC Newsnight says it’s looking good for the Lib Dems – despite their last-minute jitters/expectation management – and that the Tories and Brexit Party are battling for second place. It looks like Labour is coming fourth – maybe…

A well-placed Labour source says it’s proving to be a difficult night, as expected, and the party will be pleased if their deposit is returned (which requires securing at least 5% of the votes cast). Ouch.

23.40 Sky News is still focussing on the broken dam in Derbyshire, and it’s all quite slow at the moment. Things will pick up from midnight. And it’ll be time to crack open the Jaffa Cakes.

23.30 This is a mildly interesting tweet, albeit from a Lib Dem, on how long it’s taken previous Prime Ministers to lose by-elections:

23.29 LabourList‘s digital advisor James Calmus, also my partner, just turned to me and said “you can do emojis on a MacBook, you know”. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks. (Joke, he doesn’t. 😝)

23.23 Labour news from the count: “It’s not looking good at the moment.” And then my well-placed source put the slanty face emoji. Oh dear…

23.20 Complete Politics are tweeting an interesting thread on the electoral history of Brecon and Radnorshire. This is a good nugget: much like today’s poll, considered a test of Boris Johnson who became Prime Minister just last week, in 1985 a by-election was seen as an early test of Neil Kinnock’s leadership. The Liberal candidate Richard Livsey won, and Labour came a very narrow second (just 559 votes behind).

23.10 What’s this seat like? Well, to state the obvious, it’s Welsh and very rural. Particularly remarkable for its natural beauty. In our interview, Labour candidate Tom Davies noted that it’s the third largest constituency in the UK, and the biggest in England and Wales by area. As he said, that means many voters will have travelled considerable distances to sign that recall petition (easily meeting the threshold for success at 19%), and there were just six stations across the seat where they could help boot him out.

It voted to Leave in 2016, but fairly narrowly – by 51.86%. On a difficult night for the Tories, they did well in 2017 with a +7.5 swing. But as mentioned below, they do now have Brexit-based competition from the Brexit Party and UKIP whereas Remainers could coalesce behind the Lib Dems. Not to mention their candidate has literally pled guilty to two counts of expenses fraud. (I can’t repeat this fact enough times.)

By the way, there is no exit poll – they aren’t done for by-elections.

23.03 ITV Cymru Wales political editor Adrian Masters has a Labour source who says the party could come fourth, behind Lib Dems, Tories and Brexit Party. Apparently the Brexit Party is confident that they’ve attracted Labour Leavers, while the Lib Dems think they’ve nicked our Remainers, leaving Labour well and truly squeezed.

22.43 Look who’s been campaigning for Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds with their new national leader Jo Swinson today! (Speaking of which, just a quick update: I’m told Labour is going to set the ball rolling on its Streatham selection, but it hasn’t officially kicked off or anything yet. Diane Abbott’s aide Bell Ribeiro-Addy is already considered the frontrunner, backed by Momentum, the Labour left and several unions including Unite.)

22.38 BBC Wales News has just posted a video with vox pops from voters in Brecon and Radnorshire. To be honest, it’s pretty dull. I wouldn’t particularly recommend watching it. But if you do give it a go skip the first minute, which is an overly long introduction.

22.32 The Greens and Plaid Cymru have stood aside and backed the Lib Dems to give Jane Dodds a better chance of winning (though let’s pause to note that the Greens got just 524 votes in 2017 and PC got 1,960). No doubt the Tories will be pointing to this fact if they lose the seat, while highlighting that they had competition from the Brexit Party and UKIP.

Here are the candidates standing for the by-election:

Conservative – Chris Davies

Labour – Tom Davies

Lib Dem – Jane Dodds

Brexit Party – Des Parkinson

Monster Raving Loony – Lady Lily Pink

UKIP – Liz Phillips

22.27 Via his Facebook page, Tory candidate Chris Davies illustrates his on/off relationship with parliament:

22.24 Head of politics at Cardiff Uni tweets:

22.22 Tory MP Paul Scully has just been on Sky News talking to Sophy Ridge. He described their candidate Chris Davies – the one convicted for expenses fraud – as “a popular local guy” with “local interests at heart”. Sure, Jan.

Scully also labelled Jane Dodds, the Lib Dem candidate who is also their leader in Wales, a “career politician”. The local Tories have apparently been emphasising her record of standing in areas other than Brecon and Radnorshire.

22.15 Labour’s candidate is Tom Davies, selected in March. Slightly confusing, he has the same surname as the disgraced Tory candidate. But I’m sure he’s the opposite in every other way.

Want to know more about Tom Davies? Read my interview with him from earlier this week. We covered Brexit, the most popular policies among local constituents, Remain alliances, dirty Lib Dem tactics and why they don’t deserve to win.

And then you can watch this video featuring him and Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford:

22.10 So, we’re expecting the Tories to get a good kicking in a seat that they’ve held since 2015. And that would reduce Boris Johnson’s working majority to just one, which doesn’t really work at all. Good news, right? But it’s the Lib Dems who are expected to clean up, not Labour.

The Welsh seat in Powys has switched between Tory and Lib Dem since 1979. Here’s a nice-looking graph illustrating Labour’s decline in the constituency over the last century:

22.00 Hello, LabourList editor Sienna Rodgers here. Welcome to our Brecon and Radnorshire by-election liveblog. Polls have just closed in the constituency, where voters have been choosing who to elect as their new MP after successfully booting out Chris Davies. As their last MP, he was convicted of expenses fraud.

19% of locals went to the effort of signing the recall petition. The hope is therefore that voters will punish the Conservatives, particularly as the governing party in Westminster has shamelessly put up the disgraced Chris Davies as a candidate again. Why would they do that? The prevailing theory is that they wanted a good excuse for losing the seat and to avoid the result reflecting badly on new leader and PM Boris Johnson.

We’re expecting the final result in the early hours, probably between 1am and 3am, but stay tuned for further updates in the meantime.

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