The Liberal Democrat win is a boost—but the task ahead is enormousby Jonathan Lis / August 2, 2019 / Leave a comment
It was the honeymoon gift Boris Johnson deserved. A week into his premiership, the prime minister has lost a seat held comfortably by his predecessor just two years ago. That’s right: under Theresa May, the failure Johnson has spent the last year traducing, Brecon and Radnorshire was won by over 8,000 votes. Last night, it fell to the Liberal Democrats. With Plaid Cymru and the Greens moving out of the way to help that party, we could even say that the seat fell to Remain.
Let’s be honest about this. The win was not large. And the pieces did not quite fall as predicted. When the Tory MP Chris Davies was convicted for false accounting and then recalled as an MP by a petition of his constituents, the Conservatives were slated to come third in the by-election, with the seat a toss-up between the Liberal Democrats (who held the seat for 18 years until 2015) and the fresh-faced Brexit Party. That didn’t happen. The Lib Dems won the seat with a majority of just 1,425 votes, on a share of 43.5 per cent. The Tories won 39 per cent. The Brexit Party, which polled top with 35.3 per cent in Brecon’s council area of Powys in May’s European elections, gained just 10.5 per cent on Thursday.
The Conservatives can take some comfort from this loss. They came fourth in Powys in May. More significantly, Johnson has gone some way to achieving that traditional Tory pastime, “shooting Nigel Farage’s fox.” David Cameron attempted it in 2013 by announcing a referendum in the first place. Now Johnson attempts it by claiming for himself the policy of no deal. If your Brexit is the hardest it could ever be, why would your hardline supporters desert you?
But it was still a loss. Johnson’s “bounce” was, in the end, not enough. The prime minister’s fundamental problem is that he cannot assemble a viable electoral coalition. He has partially succeeded in uniting the hard or no-deal Brexit vote—that is, around a third of the population—but the more he attracts one side, the more he repels the other. Thursday’s Liberal Democrat tally will not only have included Plaid supporters, Greens and tactical Labour voters, but also disaffected Tories who are as…