Brecon and Radnorshire

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2019 Brecon and Radnorshire by-election[edit | edit source]

BRECON AND RADNORSHIRE: THE FINAL WARNING

EARTH TO NIGEL: Hello? Hello? Anyone home? Date: August 2, 2019 Author: John Ward

DSCN0256 The Newport West by-election was a warning. There was writing on the wall at Peterborough. Now there is Brecon and Radnorshire as a final warning that psephological numeracy matters, the FPTP system is crumbling, and tactical voting is an essential route to power. Brexiteers deserve better than a shambolic ego-driven approach to the realisation of British independence.

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Background[edit | edit source]

A by-election was held in the UK Parliament constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire (Welsh: Brycheiniog a Sir Faesyfed) on 1 August 2019 after Chris Davies, who had held the seat for the Conservatives since the 2015 general election, was unseated by a recall petition.[1][2] The by-election was won by Jane Dodds of the Liberal Democrats. Richard Livsey, a Liberal standing for the SDP–Liberal Alliance, won the seat in the 1985 Brecon and Radnor by-election and retained it in 1987. He lost it narrowly as a Liberal Democrat MP to the Conservative Jonathan Evans in the 1992 general election. The Liberal Democrats regained the seat in the 1997 election and held it until 2015, when Chris Davies won it for the Conservatives.[3] Davies retained his seat at the 2017 general election with an increased majority of 8,038 over the Liberal Democrat candidate.

A seat with the same name and boundaries exists in the Welsh Assembly. This seat has been represented by Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams continuously since its creation in 1999.[4]

In February 2019, Davies was charged with claiming false expenses, pursuant to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.[5] He pleaded guilty in March[6][7] and, in April, was sentenced to a community order of 50 hours unpaid work and a £1,500 fine.[8] Under the Recall of MPs Act 2015, this conviction triggered a recall petition.[9] After receiving notice from the sentencing court, the Speaker of the House of Commons indicated on 24 April 2019 that he would be instructing the constituency's petition officer to begin the recall process.[8] The petition opened on 9 May and remained open for signatures until 20 June 2019.[9] It required 5,303 signatures (10% of eligible voters) to be successful.[10][11] The Conservative Party were officially registered as campaigners for the petition's failure,[12] while the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Plaid Cymru campaigned for its success.[13][14][15]

This petition was successful, receiving 10,005 signatures (19%), significantly in excess of the 10% of constituents required.[16] Davies was removed from the seat,[17] creating a vacancy to be filled at a by-election, in which he was permitted to stand.

The by-election occurred shortly after Boris Johnson won the 2019 Conservative leadership election and became Prime Minister,[18] as well as Jo Swinson taking office after winning the 2019 Liberal Democrats leadership election. The result reduced the working majority of the government (including confidence and supply from the DUP) in the House of Commons to one.[17][19][a]

The by-election came against the continuing backdrop of Brexit. The constituency lies within the county of Powys, where, at the 2019 European Parliament election, the Brexit Party gained the most votes.[20]

It was the first Westminster by-election to take place in the month of August since the second Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election of 1981.

Candidates and campaign[edit | edit source]

The by-election was administered by Powys County Council. The deadline for candidate nominations was 5 July, by which time a total of six candidates had registered.[21]

Davies wished to stand for re-election as the Conservative Party candidate and was chosen by the local party.[22] The Liberal Democrat candidate was Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. The Labour Party candidate was Brecon town councillor Tom Davies.[1] The Brexit Party candidate was retired police chief superintendent Des Parkinson,[23] who previously stood in Montgomeryshire as a UK Independence Party (UKIP) candidate for election to the UK parliament in May 2015, to the Welsh Assembly in May 2016,[24] and as Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, also in May 2016.[25]

Dodds, the Liberal Democrat candidate, was also supported by Plaid Cymru, the Greens, Change UK and the Renew Party. Plaid Cymru first indicated that it might not stand a candidate in order to support another party supporting a second referendum on Brexit.[3] Change UK called for an independent joint Remain candidate in a letter to the Liberal Democrats, Plaid and the Greens.[26] Plaid and Change UK subsequently confirmed that they were in talks with other Remain-supporting parties.[27] Plaid Cymru decided not to put up a candidate, and instead to support Dodds.[28] The Green Party also chose not to stand a candidate, in order to "maximise the chances of the candidate most likely to beat the Conservatives and the Brexit Party."[29] The Renew Party likewise chose not to stand a candidate for the same reason.[30]

Shortly after the result of the recall petition was announced, bookmakers made the Liberal Democrats odds-on favourites to win.[3] In the final week before the election, Heidi Allen MP, former leader of Change UK and now sitting with The Independents, came to the constituency to campaign for Dodds.[31] The new Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, visited the constituency four times, but the New Statesman noted that The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage had not, and described the party's campaign infrastructure as "threadbare".[32]

Days before the election, BBC Cymru Wales reported that, in May 2019, the Conservative Party's Brecon and Radnorshire chairman, Peter Weavers, had discussed a pro-Brexit pact with Nathan Gill, a Welsh Brexit Party MEP. Gill dismissed the idea due to Davies' support for the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May's government. Weavers denied the claim.[33]

Opinion polling[edit | edit source]