As expected, the Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election – thereby reducing Boris Johnson’s majority to one. The news ought not to come as much of a surprise. Ahead of the vote, the Tories appeared to be doing everything they could to lose it. The by-election itself was triggered following a recall petition after Tory MP Chris Davies was found guilty of submitting a false expenses claim. Despite this, Davies was chosen to stand again rather than a new Conservative candidate.
While some Tories have been campaigning in the area, it could hardly be described as all hands on deck in the lead up to the election. Brecon and Radnorshire only turned blue at the 2015 election and there was a sense that by selecting Davies the Tories wanted a reason for losing it which couldn’t be used to attack their new leader. However, this morning that strategy will be questioned. For the result was close in the Leave area – it was not the Lib Dem landslide that had been talked up. The Liberal Democrats won 13,826 votes to the Tories’ 12,401 – a margin of 1,425. Elsewhere the Brexit party managed 3,331 votes (and Labour finished a distance fourth with 1,680 votes).
This suggests that the Brexit Party is not building the momentum it needs to be a serious electoral force. However, they are still effectively eating into the vote share of the two main parties. Just as with the Peterborough by-election, it seems that the Brexit party can successfully eat into the Tory vote and thereby allow the pro-EU party in contention to sneak through. If an early election is to happen this year, the Brexit party will need to decide what role to play.
Part of the reason the Liberal Democrats won this seat is that they entered into a Remain alliance, with both the Greens and Plaid Cymru not standing candidates. Had a Brexit alliance come into play (something senior Tories have spoken against) and the Brexit Party not stood a candidate, the Conservatives could have in theory kept hold of it. Johnson has promised to put the Brexit Party ‘back in its box’ so it’s likely he will argue that with more time in office the Brexit party will be diminished further. However, this result highlights the difficulties a Remain alliance presents to the Leave vote when they have nothing similar to counter it. Now that the Conservative majority has been reduced to one, they may not have too long to come up with an electoral strategy to tackle this in a general election.