The incoming prime minister will have a lot on his plate when he finally strolls into Number 10 in July – with a looming Brexit deadline on the horizon and only a threadbare majority in the Commons to deliver a deal or no-deal Brexit. But he will have even less time to relax than first thought, now that a by-election has been triggered in Brecon and Radnoshire.
The Welsh Tory MP representing the area, Chris Davies, has been ousted today from his seat after almost 20 per cent of his constituents signed a recall petition to remove him (only 10 per cent of voters needed to sign the petition for him to be ousted). The petition was called after the MP was found guilty in March 2019 of submitting a false expense claim.
The timing of the election, which is expected to take place shortly after the next prime minister comes to power, is likely to be a major headache for Boris Johnson if he wins the Tory leadership contest. Boris has focused a major part of his leadership pitch on the idea that he is the ‘Heineken’ candidate, who can appeal to voters across the political spectrum to win elections, as he did as London Mayor. If the Conservatives go on to lose this by-election so soon after he takes power, not only will it weaken his authority, but it will have the effect of reducing his already slender majority in the House of Commons, making any Brexit deal harder to get through parliament. It will also make Tory MPs more reticent about fighting a general election under his banner.
To lower the stakes, Tory election chiefs could attempt to fight the by-election before the next prime minister comes to power. Yet with or without Boris Johnson, Brecon and Radnorshire will still be a difficult seat to win for the Conservatives. In the 2017 general election, Chris Davies (who may be contesting the seat again) defeated the Liberal Democrat candidate by 8,000 votes, a reasonable margin. But the Lib Dems, hoping to build on their momentum from the European elections, have had this seat squarely in their sights since it seemed likely that Davies could be ousted. They have built up an impressive campaign operation in the area, and were confident based on their conversations on the doorstep, that the recall petition threshold would be met today. Meanwhile, the Brexit party is also expected to split the Conservative vote, and the Tories will be fighting the seat after their MP was found guilty of submitting false expenses claims. All in all, not the ideal conditions to be defending a seat against a resurgent Lib Dems.