The Tories’ reaction to their Brecon and Radnorshire by-election defeat was to deny their culpability for their own glaring mistakes, and contemptuously dismiss the very idea of a pro-Leave alliance, despite their own precarious Parliamentary position
Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 6th August 2019
How to sum up the “Conservative” Party’s reaction to the by-election loss of its Brecon and Radnorshire seat, which reduces the Party’s already wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons to near-invisibility? Well, consider this communique from Party HQ:
“We just can’t work out why 3,331 people would have voted for the Brexit Party. We didn’t leave the EU on 29th March, despite Theresa May, when Prime Minister, promising no fewer than 108 times that we would: and we chose as our candidate the very same MP who was formally recalled after being convicted of expenses fraud. It’s a complete mystery.”
The foregoing paragraph is, of course, a parody. But not by very much.
From the early hours of the morning of Friday 2nd August when the result was declared, the Tories’ reaction to losing the by-election was firstly to blame anyone but themselves, and secondly recoil in complacent horror at the mere suggestion that they might need an electoral pact with the Brexit Party, not only to deliver Brexit and prevent the advent of PM Jeremy Corbyn, but even to survive as a credible electoral force.
“If you vote for the Brexit Party, you make Brexit harder”, intoned newly-arrived Tory chairman James Cleverly on Sky News’ Sunrise programme: “a constituency which backs leaving the EU now has an anti-Brexit MP”.
Curiously, the likelihood that if, as your candidate for a by-election, you select the very same Tory ex-MP Chris Davies whose conviction for expenses fraud led to the Recall Petition which triggered that by-election in the first place, then you make actually voting for the Conservatives much harder, appeared not to have occurred to him.
Even normally staunchly Conservative commentators were, to say the least, unimpressed. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that re-selecting a convicted fraudster was a considerable error of judgement, said Adrian Hilton, wondering why swindling the taxpayer wasn’t sufficient grounds for excluding the candidate from the Approved List.
Others were quick to point out that the re-selection of Davies to fight the seat would have taken place under the regime of the hapless Brandon Lewis as Party Chairman, and the equally hapless Prime Minister Theresa May as (still at that time) Party Leader, who presumably could have vetoed it, but didn’t.
It’s worth recalling some of the other takeaways from the result, not always given prominence by the media, for whom tittle-tattle about who’ll be up and who’ll be down in the Westminster bear-pit as a result is always preferable to more forensic analysis.
Despite an alliance with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who both stood down, the LibDems still only scraped it. With a fraud-free candidate, and more campaigning effort – in his dispatch from the by-election campaign front line, Paddy Benham-Crosswell of The Conservative Woman referred to the Conservatives being “deafeningly silent” – the Tories might even have retained the seat.
A point that was also noted by Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubeney. It’s important to remember, said Daubeney in a telling analysis, that the LibDems had in effect been throwing the kitchen sink at the seat, resources-wise, ever since its Tory MP Chris Davies was convicted, while the Tories in effect gave them a green light by re-selecting him.
For Labour, the result was little short of a disaster. Up against a convicted Tory MP re-standing, its vote was down 13%, and it garnered just 0.3% more votes than the 5% threshold below which it would have lost its deposit. It was the party’s worst result in that constituency in its history. And in Left-leaning Wales, of all places.
The greatest focus, however, not unnaturally, came on the relative performances of the Tories and the Brexit Party: together with the need for, and likelihood of, an electoral pact between them, immediately dismissed out of hand both by the Party hierarchy and PM Boris Johnson himself.
But a Leave alliance would have won the seat. And, as former Number Ten adviser under PM Margaret Thatcher, John O’Sullivan, noted, there could be several hundred more Conservative Party reverses like this if the Tories under Boris Johnson were to repeat their betrayal of Brexit under May.
The lesson of Brecon and Radnor, asserted O’Sullivan, is that the Tories can’t win, and maybe not even survive, unless they deliver Brexit or, failing that, join with the Farage Irregulars to do so.
The Brecon by-election was “a screeching wake up call that, even with Boris, the Tories can’t win a General Election without a Brexit Party pact”, said the Daily Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs.
Even Conservative Party activists recognised this. The Tories must overcome their innate arrogance & snobbery towards competitor parties and reach a tactical voting deal with the Brexit Party if they really do want to deliver a clean Brexit, said long-time supporter and campaigner Molly Giles.
The most savage criticism, though, came in this searing polemic from Reaction’s Gerald Warner. The Conservative Party, blinded by entitlement, he thundered, is now comprehensively dysfunctional. In a full broadside, he condemned the Tories for their arrogance, snobbery & complacency in still covertly pursuing a soft Brexit, while refusing even to consider even local electoral pacts with the Brexit Party.
He has a point. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that members of the Conservative Party hierarchy resemble nothing so much as First-Class passengers on the Titanic, who’d rather go down with the ship than be seen being saved in a lifeboat rowed by those awful Third-Class passengers in Steerage.
He has a point, too, on the accusation of a soft-Brexit being covertly pursued. Just in the previous week, we saw Boris float the idea of a further two years in the Customs Union and Single Market, while Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay recounted his talks with the EU’s Guy Verhofstadt on an “agreement we can get through Parliament”. That points to May’s (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement, less the Northern Ireland backstop, re-branded.
So this is where I’ll stick my neck out. In a tweet as long ago as 5th July, I suggested that the Tories were preparing to sabotage the Brecon by-election. It wasn’t hard, I speculated, to deduce what might be going on. By re-selecting its own disgraced and recalled MP to contest the seat, the mainly-Remain “Conservative” Party hierarchy was deliberately throwing the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election, knowing that the loss of the seat would further reduce its Commons majority, and thus impede Brexit even more.
By that time, the already-resigned and on-her-way-out Theresa May, still hankering after her Remain-Lite BRINO and wanting to make delivering a proper Brexit as difficult as possible for Boris Johnson as her probable successor as PM, acquiesced in throwing the disgraced Tory candidate under a bus, thus handing the seat to the unashamedly Stop-Brexit “Liberal” “Democrats”, reducing his Commons majority by one more.
Let’s face it, the Party’s conduct of the election doesn’t look as though they were trying especially hard to retain it. . . . .
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