This week we will see the fourth by-election in the history of the National Assembly for Wales.
By-elections only occur when constituency seats become vacant. As we were reminded over the Christmas break, when a regional list AM vacates their seat, for whatever reason, they will normally be replaced by the next person on that party’s list at the time of the election.
Of the four by-elections, three have come about in tragic circumstances. A brief discussion of the previous three by-elections, and the results of the first two, can be seen here; the result of the August 2013 by-election for Ynys Môn is available here.
The Alyn & Deeside by-election comes in perhaps the most of all circumstances. The candidates standing to replace Carl Sargeant are:
Sarah Atherton (Conservative)
Carrie Harper (Plaid Cymru)
Donna Lalek (Liberal Democrat)
Duncan Rees (Green)
Jack Sargeant (Labour)
In normal circumstances (although by-elections are, almost by definition, not normal circumstances, and these are certainly not), Alyn and Deeside is a safe Labour seat. At the 2016 National Assembly election (which, we should recall, saw a fall across Wales of almost eight percentage points in the Labour constituency vote from the 2011 result), this was the outcome in Alyn And Deeside:
|Candidate (Party)||Votes||% (change on 2011)|
|Carl Sargeant (Labour)||9,922||45.7% (-6.9)|
|Mike Gibbs (Conservative)||4,558||21.0% (-7.1)|
|Michelle Brown (UKIP)||3,765||17.4% (+17.4)|
|Jacqui Hurst (Plaid Cymru)||1,944||9.0% (+1.4)|
|Peter Williams (Lib-Dems)||980||4.5% (-3.1)|
|Martin Bennewith (Greens)||527||2.4% (+2.4)|
I’ll be back later in the week to review the outcome of the by-election.
The result of the by-election, as most of you will by now have seen, was:
|Candidate (Party)||Votes||% (change on 2016)|
|Jack Sargeant (Labour||11,267||60.7 (+14.9)|
|Sarah Atherton (Conservative)||4,722||25.4 (+4.4)|
|Donna Lalek (Lib-Dems)||1,176||6.3 (+1.8)|
|Carrie Harper (Plaid Cymru)||1,059||5.7 (-3.3)|
|Duncan Rees (Greens)||353||1.9 (-0.5)|
|Turnout 29.1% (-5.5 on 2016)|
The longer-tem electoral implications of by-elections are typically over-stated. Remember the Richmond Park victory for the Liberal Democrats in December 2016, which apparently signalled the start of their comeback? The result in Alyn and Deeside was clearly a very substantial victory for Jack Sargeant, but in the circumstances it is doubtful whether any broader implications can be read into it for the Welsh Labour party. In the absence of a UKIP candidate this time, it is unsurprising that the Conservatives increased their vote-share a little; the Liberal Democrats had a respectable result but did nothing to indicate any resurgence in their support; and Plaid Cymru continue to flat-line.
The real importance of the by-election does not concern the result, which was eminently predictable, but its wider implications. I have put some of my thoughts about those implications into this piece for the New Statesman.
Finally, as I said on Twitter – this was not an easy by-election for anyone to fight. As was said on Tuesday night, it was not a by-election that anyone had wanted to happen. All candidates deserve considerable credit for what appears to have been a well-conducted campaign. As for the victor: well, as I commented on Wales Live most of us know the pain of losing close family members. But few of us experience this in as public and distressing circumstances as has Jack Sargeant and his family. And all of us, of every party and none, should admire the dignified and mature way in which he has conducted himself over the last three months.