PB’s man in Wales, Harry Hayfield, on today’s Newport West by-election

PB’s man in Wales, Harry Hayfield, on today’s Newport West by-election

Only the second GB by-election of the parliament

The Newport West by-election caused by the death of Paul Flynn, who gained the seat in 1987 from the Conservatives, was always going to be held in the shadow of Brexit. Chris Hanratty’s estimates shows that the constituency voted LEAVE by 53% to 47% and the council area voted LEAVE by 56% to 44%, but there is more, much more to Newport than how it voted in the referendum, so let’s take a look at the constituency and see if we can garner some clues as to what will happen today.

There is a great deal of personal pride in the whole of the city, with people stating “I’ll be Port forever” with the connections to Craig Bellamy and the traditional snack of the South Wales valleys (despite being a coastal constituency) Welsh rarebit (usually done with Caerphilly cheese).

The constituency is more than just Newport itself with the more rural parts of the area covered as well, for instance Caerleon, home of the castle and for a long time the source of much consternation about the location of the border between England and Wales, indeed this consternation was demonstrated during the referendum to create the Assembly in 1997 as Newport voted NO by 63% to 37%, but when the law making referendum came around in 2011 Newport swung behind the YES camp on a swing of 17% (greater than the national swing of 13%) despite the English Democrats standing at the 2007 Assembly elections proclaiming that Monmouthshire (which Newport used to be part of) was part of England and whilst 3% of those who voted agreed with that statement, there was not another test of that opinion as the English Democrats didn’t contest the 2011 elections.

It has been stated that Newport is a concrete jumble with nothing in order, but my belief is that with a diet of chips, cheese, curry and the occasional Special Brew, this doesn’t really matter all that much but one of those buildings is of course the famed Transporter Bridge. It’s a bridge, yes, but not in the conventional sense of the word. It’s actually an aerial ferry which is made of a platform suspended by a pulley mechanism and it literally carries you across the river Usk from Newport West to Newport East and vice versa. But why not a normal bridge, you may ask? Well, the approach road in order to meet the requirements would have been too long. A tunnel under the Usk? Too technically difficult. So who came up with the clever wheeze? Well, it was a bit of a joint effort actually between Ferdinand Arnodin (who built the bridge) and Robert Hayes (who commissioned it) but now nearly 113 years after it was first opened it is still going strong, in operation every day from April to September, except when the winds get above a certain speed, and is a highlight of the constituency and the city.

There are, as with most constituencies across the UK some rather surprising connections. For instance, not only is it twinned with the Guangxi province in China, but did you know that one of it’s most famous residents is Josie D’Arby (formerly of CBBC and then various dramas)? No, well, if it is any consolation I didn’t know either and therefore must give the customary hat tip to Wikipedia for that one. However, it does share one other connection and it is one that could well be an issue on the doorsteps and that is infrastructure. Due to the rather excessive number of bends in the roads not only in Newport but also the environs there is an unwritten rule for the taxi drivers of Newport, namely if you throw up in the taxi there is an instant fifty pound surcharge added to the fare. Whether that will make it into the discussions remains to be seen, but at the least when the result is announced later tonight, the presenters won’t have to their tongue around Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwrndrobwllantysiliogogogoch (although that said in the Ynys Môn by-election to the Assembly in 2013, they did)!

So how will the constituency go? Well, the long term trend suggests a bit of dead heat actually. When the constituency was created in 1983, the notional calculations suggested that Labour had won the constituency by some three thousand or so votes, so when the Conservatives gained the seat by 581 votes the Alliance were quickly adjudged to have been the guilty party and with good reason as the Conservative vote fell 2%, Labour fell by 11% and the Alliance increased by 13%, but as the Alliance waned Labour took full advantage gaining the seat in 1987 (Labour +10, Alliance -11%) and clocking up another 6% swing in 1992 before reaching a peak in 1997 when Labour’s majority was 14,537 (36%) making it one of the safest seats in Wales, but as the new century dawned Labour’s tide, like the Usk, went into reverse until in 2015 it became a viable Conservative target again (needing only a 4.35% swing to gain) but after the referendum and the collapse of UKIP it was clear what had happened, as the UKIP vote fell 12% and that vote split 61% Lab and 39% Con putting it back to where it was in 1979, so could the Conservatives pull off the double (gaining Copeland before the last election and gaining Newport West before the next one) well, it’s plausible, but since then we have seen new parties and an eroding for the 83% two party vote to just 65% in recent polls, but I think it is more likely than not that Labour will hold the seat, the real interest will be to see who comes third and with what level of support.

Candidates duly nominated:
Jonathan Clark (Plaid Cymru), June Davies (Renew), Matthew Evans (Conservative), Neil Hamilton (United Kingdom Independence Party), Ruth Jones (Labour), Ryan Jones (Liberal Democrats), Ian Mclean (Social Democrats), Hugh Nicklin (For Britain), Richard Suchorzwski (Abolish the Welsh Assembly), Phillip Taylor (Democrats and Veterans), Amelia Womacj (Green Party)

Harry Hayfield

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