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About Last Night…

The result from the Newport West by-election came in just after 1.30am this morning. As was generally expected, Labour held the seat although with a reduced majority. As had also been expected, turnout was significantly down on that in the general election. Here is the full result:

Candidate (Party) Votes % (change on 2017)
Ruth Jones (Labour) 9,308 39.6 (-12.7)
Matthew Evans (Conservative) 7,357 31.3 (-8.0)
Neil Hamilton (UKIP) 2,023 8.6% (+6.1)
Jonathan Clark (Plaid Cymru) 1,185 5.0 (+2.5)
Ryan Jones (Lib-Dems) 1,088 4.6 (+2.4)
Amelia Womack (Greens) 924 3.9 (+2.9)
June Davies (Renew) 879 3.7 (+3.7)
Richard Suchorzewski (Abolish the Assembly) 205 0.9 (+0.9)
Ian McLean (Social Democrat) 202 0.9 (+0.9)
Phillip Taylor (Democrats and Veterans) 185 0.8 (+0.8)
Hugh Nicklin (For Britain) 159 0.7 (+0.7)

Turnout: 37.1%

Majority: 1,951

Swing: 2.4% Labour to Conservative

A first notable thing about the result is the turnout figure. At 37.1%, the official turnout was far from an all-time low for UK parliamentary by-elections. But it was also clearly a little ‘below trend’: as Matt Singh pointed out on Twitter prior to the results being declared, a standard rule-of-thumb is that turnout in parliamentary by-elections tends to be about two-thirds of that in the same seat in a general election. Given the 67.5% Newport West turnout in 2017, we should have been looking at a turnout figure in the mid-40s. Of course there are legitimate excuses: we can point to factors like Brexit monopolising nearly all political attention, as well as to the rather horrible weather on the day itself, to help explain low participation. But one conclusion does seem clear: the current political crisis did not mobilise angry voters to take part; if anything, people seem to have been alienated from participating in the electoral process.

As far as the parties are concerned, the by-election produced the Labour victory that it always should have done. They have held the seat since 1987, and this was a mid-term by-election that saw them fighting against a deeply unpopular Westminster government that has been failing to deliver on its central policy objective. Even with the loss of any personal vote that Paul Flynn had, of course Labour should have won. They did so comfortably enough. But this was hardly an outstanding result for the party. At this stage in a parliament, against a government as troubled as that of Theresa May, there really should not be a swing from Labour to the Conservatives, however small. This result does not look like the sort of outcome you would expect from a main opposition party that was on course for a general election victory.

The Conservatives had a strong local candidate, but Matthew Evans was always battling against the odds. In normal times the candidate of an unpopular UK government would not expect, during a mid-term election, to have much of a chance coming from behind in a by-election – and that is just how it turned out. At least some of the old rules of normal politics, it seems, do still apply. In these circumstances, his strong second place was a very creditable result.

Putting together the results of the two main parties, we see a big fall in their dominance. This has been a feature of recent opinion polls, both Britain-wide and in Wales. After the 2017 general election saw the largest two-party vote share since 1970, recent months have witnessed a steady erosion of support for both the Tories and Labour. Newport West showed an even larger fall than the polls have recently been suggesting. This may in part have been down to the sheer number of candidates – voters did not exactly lack for alternatives to the old duopoly. But the by-election result reinforced the sense that the resurgence of two-party politics in 2017 may already be in significant decline.

UKIP were a clear third, but a long way behind the Tories: talk of them pressing for second place turned out to be a long way short of the reality. Nonetheless, their improved showing on 2017 was in line with what recent polls have suggested. Much though many people might dislike it, the party in its post-Farage incarnation is currently experiencing a modest resurgence in support.

Of the other parties, there were highly respectable showings, in a seat where they had little 2017 vote to build on, for Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. Renew polled surprisingly strongly from a standing start; Abolish the Assembly fared significantly less well.

Parliamentary by-election results can often by over-interpreted. The fact that, in a seat which voted Leave in June 2016, a Labour candidate who had backed a second referendum was able to win, probably means less than some would like it to mean; I do not think that this result can, in isolation at least, legitimately be taken to indicate very much about public attitudes to Brexit. Perhaps the most important thing, in a week that has seen parliamentary votes decided by a margin of one, or even by the Speaker’s casting vote, is that Newport West simply has an MP again. And her vote in the House of Commons may well matter quite a lot in the next few days and weeks of these extraordinary political times.

Comments

  • Christian Schmidt

    So basically its the national opinion polls, with losses of the big two slightly bigger because it is a by-election with many candidates, and Labour’s even more slightly bigger because of the loss of Paul Flynn’s personal vote.

    And being a Newport West resident I can confirm that turnout is at least partially down because of the weather. I know a few neighbours who said they were going to vote but then didn’t because whenever they had a moment more icy rain and hail came down…

  • Christian Schmidt

    Oh, and given the rather good showing of Renew, who fought vigorously on the ground (lots of leaflets, town centre presence, even a banner plane) but obviously had no media presence, I do wonder what would have happened if the TIGers had stood…

  • John R Walker

    I make that 7 candidates who lost their £500 deposits, though it could be 8 if Plaid’s vote was rounded down to 5% of the valid votes. Does anybody actually know, please? Either way, it was an expensive run out for the minor parties but if they don’t try they don’t know…

    I find it amazing how many people are prepared to stand for parliament when their chances of losing their deposit are pretty high, as the figures for the 2017 general election show:

    https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/parliament-and-elections/elections-elections/lost-deposits/

    As usual, the centre-right split the vote – UKIP could have had ~11% if everybody similarly inclined voted on the same ticket. It makes no difference here but it will in the List seats in the next Assembly election. The one thing that unites them is division! It’s been this way since at least 2004. Some things never change. When will they ever learn?

    At the end of the day we got yet another MP who does not represent the 17.4 million who voted to leave the EU. No surprises there then…

  • Paul Fear

    Just an observation, Newport as a whole was in favour of leave. As far as I know there was no separation between Newport West & East.
    Newport West could have been a remain majority while East could have been a leave majority. Therefore it is impossible to speculate on reasons for voting as far as brexit is concerned.

  • Christian Schmidt

    @ John, please note that the point of the election was to elect an MP to represent the 80-90k population of Newport West, and not the 28.8 million who voted to leave the Soviet Union in the Ukrainian Independence Referendum…

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