What does Newport West tell us?

What does Newport West tell us?

Newport West was the 28th by-election to be held in Wales since the 1950 General Election. Of those 28, twenty have been defended by Labour with only one loss (Carmarthen in 1966) so therefore a Labour hold was pretty much a given. However, that doesn’t mask the fact that Labour should be worried.

Labour’s vote fell by 13% on the general election, the fourth biggest drop in the Labour vote share in a Labour defence since 1950 (Caerphilly 1967 -29%, Rhondda West 1968 -27%, Carmarthen 1966 -13%), the turnout was down 30% (on a par with Islwyn in 1995) and the 2.4% swing to Con was the first swing to Con in a Lab defence where the Conservatives came second since Abertillery in 1965 which means that the Conservatives would be rubbing their hands with glee, right?

Wrong! The Conservative vote fell by 8% (2% worse than the average change in every Welsh by-election since 1950) and their worst performance in a Con target since the 1956 Newport by-election (which only needed a 3.71% swing to gain).

So, if Labour’s vote was falling and the Conservatives were not picking it up, then who was you might ask? Well, UKIP gained an extra 6%, breaking their rather lacklustre performances in Welsh by-elections since Islwyn in 1995, the Greens gained 3% (just a fraction behind their increase in Cardiff South in 2012) and Plaid picked up 3% as well (although that is by far one of their smallest increases in recent times and will bring some to wonder whether Adam Price is having the effect in the Labour heartlands that they hoped for).

The main people who gained were the myriad of Others who stood, combining to a total increase of 6% (their highest increase in any Welsh by-election ever).

Does this mean that Wales is rejecting the two mass powers of British politics and standing up for those less likely to be represented in Parliament? Well, it’s a bit early to tell, but if Wales was, it would not be the first time. Pontypool in 1958 saw the time that Plaid Cymru polled double digits in the share of the vote, Carmarthen in 1966 was the first seat to elect a Plaid Cymru MP, Blaenau Gwent in 2006 was the first constituency to stay non party at a by-election, and of course what review of Welsh by-elections cocking a snook at the mainstream would there be if reference to Brecon and Radnor in 1985 wasn’t given.

What we need is another by-election in a constituency where all three main parties have an reasonable chance of winning the seat, where the constituency voted LEAVE by roughly the same margin as the United Kingdom as a whole and has a history of giving Westminster what for!. And wouldn’t you know it, such a seat is in the offing, if the sentencing of Chris Davis MP (Con, Brecon and Radnorshire) triggers either a by-election or a recall petition.

Harry Hayfield

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