By Matt Tomlin
Gair Rhydd breaks down the all important Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.
Why is there a by-election?
The constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire has been held by Conservative MP Chris Davies since 2015 when, following the national trend, he took the seat from the Liberal Democrats. He was subject to a recall petition after pleading guilty to two counts of making a false instrument and one count of providing false or misleading information in relation to his parliamentary expenses.
A recall instrument requires at least 10% of the electorate in that MP’s seat to sign the petition in order for a by-election to take place. By the time the petition had closed, 10,005 constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire had signed; accounting for 19% of the Brecon and Radnorshire.
Since his removal as MP, Chris Davies has been reselected by the Conservative Party as their candidate. The complete list of candidates standing in the seat are as below:
Brexit Party – Des Parkinson
Conservative Party – Chris Davies
Labour Party – Tom Davies
Liberal Democrats – Jane Dodds
Monster Raving Loony Party – Lady Lily the Pink
UKIP – Liz Phillips
Plaid Cymru, the Renew Party, Change UK and the Welsh Green Party chose not to field candidates and have subsequently backed the Lib Dems; creating a ‘remain alliance’ that has long been mooted within Westminster circles.
What issues are the four main parties campaigning on and what challenges they will they face?
The Conservatives will have to maintain their core base support in the area in order to dissuade voters from siding with other parties. The main threats to their base support are the Liberal Democrats and Brexit Party, who will be attempting to gain votes from Remainers and Brexiteers in the party, respectively.
In an attempt to get voters to support him once more, Mr. Davies has described the acts which led to the recall petition as an ‘administrative error’ and a ‘mistake’.
In his campaign leaflets, Mr Davies has drawn on the perspectives of local supporters who have entrusted their votes in him for reasons ranging from him campaigning for individuals’ disability support to him being a supporter of local farmers. The latter point is a key vote winner in the agriculture-driven constituency and has also been a campaigning point of his two previous general election campaigns.
Despite the recall petition, the Conservatives could retain the seat for which they had a majority of over 8,000 during the 2017 general election.
Having held the seat from 1985 to 2010, and with Powys County Council having previously been a Liberal Democrat council, the party is attempting to regain the influence it has lost in the area in recent years. The party’s candidate, Jane Dodds, is also the leader of the Welsh Lib Dems.
Like in previous election campaigns, the Liberal Democrats are attempting to use the electoral system to their advantage. They claim that they are the only real contender against the Conservative Party in this constituency, having been the only serious opposition in the last two elections and having received 29% of the vote in 2017.
The party is basing their campaign around securing rural services, particularly improved healthcare with shorter waiting times. They have also emphasised their policy of a People’s Vote on Brexit. Given the withdrawal of other second referendum-supporting parties from the race, the Liberal Democrats will be seeking to gain pro-Remain support from voters who would have otherwise voted for these parties.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party have not held Brecon and Radnorshire since 1979. Over the last few decades, the constituency has bounced between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with Labour coming a distant third most of the time.
Labour won 7,335 votes (17%) during the 2017 election and have fielded a candidate in this by-election to campaign on the basis of opposing austerity cuts to public services and proposing a People’s Vote on Brexit, for which the candidate, Tom Davies, says the Party would side with Remain.
His campaign has also focused on climate change, stating that the Labour Party would continue to aim for a carbon-neutral public sector in Wales by 2030.
The Brexit Party
The Brexit Party will be aiming to gain pro-Leave votes in the area from the Conservative Party and UKIP in particular.
This may prove difficult considering that the pro-Remain vote has converged to the Liberal Democrats; yet the pro-Leave vote will be split between the Brexit Party, the Conservatives and UKIP.
However, the newly formed party is aiming to capitalise on its success in May’s European Elections, which saw it gain the highest share of the vote in Wales, gaining two of the four Welsh MEPs. It also won the highest share of the vote, 40%, in Powys, during those European Elections.
The party has set up a hub on the high street similar to the Liberal Democrats, as well as utilising a campaign bus. The candidate, Des Parkinson, has previously stood in other elections for the Conservatives and UKIP, and is campaigning on the basis of leaving the EU without a trade deal, securing better public services, and opposing onshore wind farms, which he believes should only be placed offshore.
Why is this by-election important?
If the Conservative Party loses this seat, their working majority in Parliament decreases from two MPs to one. With a number of pro-Remain Tory MPs expressing their distaste at the Prime Minister’s pledge to take the UK out of the EU “do or die”, every vote will count over the coming months.
The by-election is taking place on Thursday 1 August.