Friday, 2 August 2019

Thoughts on the Radnor byelection.

The LDs winning in Radnor is a good result and one that will scare some Tory MPs. It demonstrated that a proper Remain Alliance between Greens, LDs and Nationalists can work. There will doubtless be instant  payback in the form of the LDs standing down in places like Camarthen East and Dinefwr, one of the Tory targets currently held by Plaid Cymru. The Labour vote was squeezed as Labour voters lent their votes to the LDs, demonstrating that Remain Alliance has the potential to be bigger than the sum of its parts. 

A look at LD target seats for the next election shows that such an alliance can work but the LDs have only four target seats with majorities less than 1,000. Two Tory, one Labour and one SNP. If we look at target seats with majorities less than 10,000 they have 17 of these, most of them Tory. However there are also a number of other Tory Remain voting seats that are now vulnerable to the LDs, such as Dominic Raab’s seat of Esher and Walton, on the face of it a solid Tory seat, one of the wealthiest in the country but one where there are a lot of Tory Remain voters scared by his gung-ho Brexit attitude to no deal. If we include seats like this, we can expect the LDs to gain at least 20, possibly as many as 30-40 from the Tories at the next election. 

We know that the SNP are almost certain to take 10-12 from the Tories at the next election whatever happens, which leaves the Labour target seats: Labour is second in 42 Tory-held seats with majorities of less that 3,000, add Uxbridge and Ruislip South (Boz Johnson’s constituency which is heavily targeted and has a majority of less than 5,000 after boundary and demographic changes) and there are 43 potential targets 13 of which have majorities under 1,000. The Tories are targeting 15 Labour and two LD seats with majorities under 1,000. So this is where the battlegrounds are going to be, less than 100 seats, there will be very few seats changing hands outside this group, and where they do they are likely to be as a result of the Remain Alliance. 

We are already seeing Labour votes squeezed in places like Radnor because of this, they are likely to be squeezed further in other places where this works, in the same way that LD votes tend to get squeezed in Labour-Tory marginals.

One thing to note here is that, while the LDs will achieve a high rate of success taking Tory Remain seats like those of Dominic Raab by being solidly anti-Brexit, all but four of Labour’s target seats voted Leave, as did all but one of the Labour-held Tory marginals. Now we can expect some changes in all of these, in that the Leave vote nationally has gone down by around 7% and the Remain vote up 7%, it is also important to note that the group that has most changed its mind, apart from farmers, is low-income Labour voters in insecure employment and housing, which means that, in many of these seats there is now a Remain majority, couple that with the fact that Leavers tend to be less ardent about Brexit than Remainers are about stopping it and there are probably fewer things to worry about on that score than some might fear. 

However it is clear that Labour needs to treat its target seats very differently than the LDs treat theirs, and the result of the Peterborough byelection demonstrates how Labour’s approach can work; Labour ruthlessly targeted issues that more obviously matter to the electorate rather than focussing on Brexit, issues such as the NHS, Universal Credit, housing, jobs, education. A Remain Alliance is unlikely to produce many, if any gains in these seats.

This is pretty much how the next election is going to be played out. In 100-odd seats out of 650. That’s how the system works, not my choice but the one we’re stuck with. If the LD and Labour game-plans pay off, then the Tories will lose approximately 70 seats with a handful of gains at the most. 

It will probably mean some kind of parliamentary alliance between Labour, the LDs and the SNP in order for a government to be formed, but that alliance will have, as its common denominator, a second referendum, something all parties are signed up to in full, whatever the circumstances. In this scenario there will be a second referendum, whatever else happens.

But this will only happen if Labour wins its target seats and the LDs win theirs, targeting two different groups of voters; there is nothing in common between the wealthy voters targeted by the LDs in Richmond Park and Esher and Walton on the one hand, and those on low-incomes and insecure housing and employment in Stoke-on Trent and Northampton targeted by Labour on the other. 

Want to stop Brexit, you need to target both. There is no choice here, that is the situation. Do it any other way and Boris will be able to claim his mandate to hit the country with No Deal. Voters in other groups and other areas are, unfortunately, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant.

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