Who will win the Newport West by-election?

Labour’s Ruth Jones. Picture from Twitter/@RuthNewportWest

Ifan Morgan Jones

Who will win the Newport West by-election?

Probably Labour’s Ruth Jones. There is a tendency for political journalists to attempt to create a sense of drama and horse race around elections, but perhaps there is enough political drama around already.

If Labour don’t win the Newport it would be something of a catastrophe for them, at a time when they’re raring to go for a General Election at Westminster. If they really are a government in waiting as they claim they should win this by-election quite handily.

The late Paul Flynn, who held the seat for Labour from 1987, was about as good an MP as any constituency could hope for, and goodwill towards him and his party should also help the vote remain steady.

Labour have also thrown everything they can at the seat, with JC himself, Jeremy Corbyn, descending from the heavens over the weekend (although he lost some of his Messianic status by refusing to speak to the local South Wales Argus newspaper, a cardinal sin in my book).

The impression one gets is that the Conservatives haven’t quite put their shoulder to the door. Yes, Theresa May has been rather busy, but while activists have been very active there have been few big political Tory beasts spotted prowling the streets of Newport West.

With their majority at Westminster already razor thin you would think that if they seriously fancied their chances they would have thrown the kitchen sink at Newport West. The fact that they haven’t suggests that a computer at Tory HQ in London has said ‘no’.

By-elections can, however, be unpredictable, partly because turnouts tend to be around 20% lower than at General Elections.

Rather than choosing a government, voters can happily ‘send a message’ to the parties at Westminster – usually, the governing party.

It will be interesting therefore to keep an eye on the second and third places. In particular, Theresa May’s decision to try for a softer Brexit could encourage some who would normally have voted Conservative to go for UKIP instead.

In fact, UKIP have now replaced the Conservatives as the bookies’ second favourites to win the seat.

I think this is overstating their chances a little bit. Even at the 2015 General Election, when support for UKIP was at its strongest, they got less than half the Conservative vote.

They are also competing against numerous other small pro-Brexit parties such as For Britain, Abolish the Welsh Assembly and Democrats and Veterans who could swallow some of the right-wing protest vote.

It could also be a factor that they’ve chosen Neil Hamilton as their candidate – a man who is well-known but not particularly popular. Perhaps it would be best for him to stick to Assembly list elections where his name isn’t on the ballot.

It will be also interesting to see how Plaid Cymru do here. Newport West isn’t on the map at all for them as a likely seat to pick up. They haven’t even won 2,000 votes here since 2001.

However with a new leader Adam Price and a promise to build a ‘New Wales’ that will rescue neglected cities such as Newport from the economic doldrums they will hope to make some progress, at least.

One thing Adam Price promised in his own leadership campaign was a better campaigning infrastructure and while it may be early days yet there were signs that they were spending money in Newport West, in particular setting up a very visible campaign office in the city centre.

Like UKIP however, they will be competing with other similar progressive, centre-left-parties such as Renew, the SDP and the Greens who could chip away at their vote.

Also, whither the Lib Dems? Newport used to be a city when they were ‘in the mix’ as it were. If a by-election had happened here in the mid-00s they would have been contenders. Then the Westminster coalition happened.

This by-election could give us some idea of whether they’ve been forgiven or are still on the naughty step, or even worse forgotten completely as a potential political force.

What do the parties need to do?

Labour

Excellent result – maintaining or increasing their vote %

Good result – retaining the seat with a slightly reduced % of the vote

Bad result – coming second

Conservative

Excellent result – winning the seat

Good result – coming second

Bad result – slipping to third behind UKIP

UKIP

Excellent result – coming second

Good result – maintaining third place

Bad result – coming in behind one of the other pro-Brexit parties

Plaid Cymru

Excellent result – beating UKIP into third place

Good result – getting a better share of the vote

Bad result – slipping from fourth place into the abyss of smaller parties


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