Newport West shows no party is benefitting from Brexit – because they’re all being blamed

Newport Transporter Bridge. Picture by Paul Morgan (CC BY 2.0)

Daran Hill

There is no getting away from the fact that Newport West was a seriously good result for Labour. Against a backdrop of confusion and division, and a week where the party began negotiating with the Government to actually deliver Brexit, they still won through convincingly.

If they had not, there would have been an immediate reaction to try and stop those talks.

Yes, the turnout was bad and the vote slumped back closer to 2015 levels, but the campaign and mobilisation was good enough for a clear win.

This was a case of a campaign where national leaders did the local candidate few favours though. Corbyn used his visit to talk about education in England. UK parties can’t blame the media for not understanding and respecting devolution when this sort of deliberate obfuscation takes place.

Theresa May didn’t come at all. This may have been a blessing since she hardly had a midas touch right now, and she would have been accused of playing politics had she done so.

Despite this, the Conservatives had arguably much clearer messages than Labour. – emphatically Leave the EU and build that road – and their candidate could speak plainly and convincingly on both of these matters. He is a confirmed leaver and a confirmed road builder.

But the UK party and the overall situation won’t have helped them either. Neither of the main parties can draw huge comfort from the current situation.

Crisis

The good news for Labour and the Conservatives is that nobody else can either. The UKIP vote was decent enough, especially considering their lack of UK profile, but nowhere strong enough to shatter systems and nowhere near enough to win.

The ardent demand that Britain should exist the EU right now with no deal did not get enough traction. Which begs the question, if it doesn’t get traction now, when will it?

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the pro People’s Vote returns are derisory too. All had uplifts but all apart from Plaid Cymru lost their deposits. The Plaid Cymru, Lib Dem and Green results are mediocre considering the backdrop.

Yes, each one went up in percentage terms, but doesn’t discount the context. This was the week that Labour and the Conservatives joined in talks to deliver Brexit! There has never been a better time for them to be able to show an alternative.

I remain convinced that on this occasion these three parties should have put the political crisis first and come together behind a single People’s Vote candidate.

However, the minor parties played Newport West like they played Ogmore in 2002 and 2016; and they ended up with about half the votes of UKIP and one-seventh of the vote of Labour.

Perhaps no party is benefitting from the Brexit chaos at the moment, because everyone is being blamed. It was a Labour win, but the real winner was maybe people switching off from voting at a time when politics has never been more important.

I simply cannot see how voters in Newport West, given a choice and voice denied to everyone else, overwhelmingly decided to stay at home.

But the by-election is now over. Compared to the 1922 Newport by-election, when the result helped bring down the Lloyd George government, this one will have no reverberations in Parliament.

However, it may have more impact in the Assembly. Now that we have a result, Mark Drakeford can’t hide behind the by-election in taking a decision around the M4 Relief Road report.

Unless he recalls the Senedd, they are now in recess for three weeks and there will be even more delay before a decision is taken on the road to nowhere.

Any temptation to publish during recess and avoid the scrutiny of a statement in plenary, will undoubtedly bring back memories of July 2015, when Edwina Hart released a ministerial statement on the road the day after the Assembly had adjourned for the summer.

Her actions were seen by others, especially Plaid, as a deliberate attempt to avoid scrutiny and contributed to the fracture of politics around the M4 relief road from which the project has yet to recover.


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