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Tory James Cleverly puts brave face on Brecon by-election defeat

Aug 02, 2019
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Tories warned today that an election showdown with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party would be a ‘massive own goal’ – after Boris Johnson suffered a shattering defeat at the hands of the ‘Remainer alliance’.  

The PM’s honeymoon came to a crashing halt after the Lib Dems triumphed in Brecon & Radnorshire, slashing his Commons majority to just one.  

Jane Dodds overcame a Conservative majority of 8,000 to take the Welsh seat by 1,400 votes.

Tory ex-MP Chris Davies, who stood again despite his conviction for expenses fraud having triggered the contest, held on to second. 

But Conservative chairman James Cleverly complained that the Lib Dems only won due to a ‘dirty deal’ with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, which saw the pro-EU rivals stand aside to give Ms Dodds a clear run.

In contrast, the Brexit Party did field a candidate.  Mr Cleverly pointed out that that although they only received 10 per cent of the vote, combined with the Tories it would have been more than enough to have delivered victory. 

Prominent Eurosceptic MP Steve Baker today pleaded with Mr Farage not to split the Brexit vote by fielding candidates in vulnerable seats.

‘It is becoming obvious to all now that the Brexit Party standing against the Conservative Party would produce a massive own goal,’ he said. 

Mr Johnson has flatly dismissed the idea of a pact – but one MP told MailOnline today: ‘He is going to say that, isn’t he?’

They warned that a Commons confidence vote could only be weeks away, and said a number of Tories had been ‘putting out feelers’ to Mr Farage about a pact for ‘months’. 

‘If we don’t the Remainers are having a little pact… and we know what happens when they do,’ the MP said. 

Former minister Crispin Blunt, who has previously urged an arrangement with the Brexit Party, told MailOnline Mr Johnson had taken a ‘very important judgement’ by publicly rejecting a deal, but suggested he would have to think again

‘Whether he then gets a chance to review it if we find ourselves on the wrong end of a general election where we don’t choose the time, that will be a matter for him.’ 

He added: ‘Are they really interested in Brexit, or are they interested in damaging the Conservative Party?’ 

Allies of Mr Farage have also warned that Mr Johnson must start ‘talking’ to the MEP. 

The election result leaves the Government side with 320 and opposition with 319. These totals do not include Sinn Fein’s seven MPs, who do not take their seats in the Commons, and the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers, who do not vote

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson (right) joined victorious candidate Jane Dodds in Brecon today

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson (right) joined victorious candidate Jane Dodds in Brecon today

In theory, the Tories would have comfortably won the Brecon by-election if they were in a pact with the Brexit Party

In theory, the Tories would have comfortably won the Brecon by-election if they were in a pact with the Brexit Party 

Mr Clevery refused to blame Mr Davies for the loss, describing him as an ‘incredible local candidate’. 

‘What we saw was a very close result in a by-election in which the Lib Dems were expected to romp home comfortably,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

Speaking on ITV’s GMB, he said it was ‘disappointing’ that an area that voted Leave in 2016 now had a Remainer MP. 

Brecon election result 

Here are the results of the Breon and Radnorshire by-election:

  • Jane Dodds (Lib Dem): 13,826  
  • Chris Davies (Conservatives: 12,401
  • Des Parkinson (Brexit Party) 3,331 
  • Tom Davies (Labour ) 1,680 
  • Lady Lily The Pink (Monster Raving Loony) 334 
  • Liz Phillips (Ukip) 242 

‘I find it disappointing that a lot of people voting for the Brexit Party who want Brexit to be delivered, now have a Lib Dem MP who is going to do everything she can to stop Brexit being delivered.’ 

Mr Cleverly said the pro-EU parties had done a ‘dirty deal’, but admitted the alliance was allowed within the rules. 

He stressed that the combined votes for Brexit were still more than for Remain parties.

‘They’ve said it again in combined votes in this election,’ he added. 

Mr Cleverly said the parliamentary maths had been difficult for the Tories since the 2017 election, and urged MPs to get behind the PM. 

‘The Prime Minister got a clear mandate from parliamentarians… the wider Conservative Party gave him an even more thumping victory in the leadership election.

‘So I do think it’s incumbent on all Conservatives to support the Prime Minister in what has been a long-standing Conservative policy.’ 

The vote shows the scale of the job Mr Johnson still has to do with 90 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU. 

Is Boris’s majority about to disappear ALTOGETHER? 

A Tory MP has threatened to defect to the Lib Dems in protest at Boris Johnson’s hardline Brexit policy, 

Dr Phillip Lee, who supports a second EU referendum, suggested he will ‘spend the summer’ deciding whether to cross the floor. 

Speaking on a podcast with fellow Tory Remainer Sam Gyimah, Dr Lee said: ‘I’m really not comfortable about my party pushing for no-deal Brexit without proper consent of the public.

‘Purely on the national interest, I think it’s wrong to do this. But party politically I think it’s narrowing our base in a way that I don’t see how we win elections.

‘And if you don’t win elections in a democracy you don’t have power and you can’t do things you want to do. It’s just simple reality.

‘I’m sort of sitting here, looking on and – yeah – I’m going to spend the summer thinking a lot.’

A defection would leave Mr Johnson leading a minority government. Instead of the current wafer-thin advantage of one in the Commons, Opposition parties would have one more MP in the House.  

Three Tory MPs – Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen – quit earlier this year to join an independent grouping in the House of Commons.

It will inevitably fuel speculation about a pact between the Conservatives and Nigel Farage’s party if a general election is forced over the coming months. 

Ms Dodds, 55, who secured a majority of 1,425 after a ‘Remain alliance’ with Plaid and the Greens cleared the way for her to take on the Tories, said the result was ‘sending a message to Westminster that we demand better’. 

She said her first act as an MP would be to find the Prime Minister and tell him to rule out No Deal.

She said: ‘People are desperately crying out for a different kind of politics. There is no time for tribalism when our country is faced with a Boris Johnson Government and the threat of a no-deal Brexit.

‘So my very first act as your MP when I arrive in Westminster will be to find Mr Boris Johnson wherever he is hiding and tell him loud and clear: ”Stop playing with the future of our communities and rule out a no-deal Brexit now”.’

There was more bad news for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s Tom Davies was humiliatingly beaten into fourth place by the Brexit Party’s Des Parkinson and narrowly avoided losing his deposit. 

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said: ‘We are thankful to Plaid Cymru and the Green Party for putting the national interest first and not contesting this by-election. 

‘We now have one more MP who will vote against Brexit in Parliament.’ 

In a further blow to Mr Johnson, a sitting Tory MP has threatened to defect to the Lib Dems in protest at his hardline Brexit stance.

Phillip Lee said he ‘spend the summer’ thinking about his future. If he follows through on the threat, Mr Johnson’s wafer-thin majority of one would be eradicated. 

Instead, Opposition parties would have one more MP in the House of Commons than commanded by the government. 

Tory 'spartan' Steve Baker said the Brecon result had demonstrated that the Brexit Party standing against all Conservatives would be a 'massive own goal'

Tory ‘spartan’ Steve Baker said the Brecon result had demonstrated that the Brexit Party standing against all Conservatives would be a ‘massive own goal’   

Jane Dodds (centre) won the Brecon by-election for the Lib Dems with a majority of 1,425, and said the result was 'sending a message to Westminster that we demand better'

Jane Dodds (centre) won the Brecon by-election for the Lib Dems with a majority of 1,425, and said the result was ‘sending a message to Westminster that we demand better’

Disgraced expenses cheat Tory Chris Davies, whose conviction and expulsion via a recall petition forced the summer vote, held on to second

Labour's Tom Davies was beaten into fourth place by the Brexit Party's Des Parkinson and narrowly avoided losing his deposit

Labour’s Tom Davies was beaten into fourth place by the Brexit Party’s Des Parkinson and narrowly avoided losing his deposit

Ms Dodds was embraced by the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate after the result was read out in Welsh this morning

Ms Dodds was embraced by the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate after the result was read out in Welsh this morning

Lib Dem front bencher Ed Davey (left) had travelled down to Brecon to join Ms Dodds (centre) for the result declaration

Lib Dem front bencher Ed Davey (left) had travelled down to Brecon to join Ms Dodds (centre) for the result declaration

The vote in the Welsh borders constituency yesterday was sparked by the criminal conviction of Tory MP Chris Davies for expenses fraud in March and a subsequent recall petition.

But the Tories’ decision to allow the disgraced ex-MP to contest the seat despite local people voting to oust gave the Lib Dems the chance to win the seat.

The other Remainer parties stood aside to give their candidate Jane Dodds a clear run to take a seat the party won as recently as 2010. 

Defeat for the Tories in Brecon and Radnorshire reduces Mr Johnson’s majority in the rebellious and fragmented Commons fall to just one – including the DUP – and add a Remainer to the force opposing him. 

Turnout in the election in the UK’s largest constituency was 59.7 per cent, the highest in a by-election since 1997. 

A Welsh Liberal Democrat source said they expected the result to be ‘a lot closer than we thought’ but was still confident of beating the Conservatives before the result came in. 

The victorious Lib Dem team posed for pictures after inflicting a stinging blow on new PM Boris Johnson this morning

The victorious Lib Dem team posed for pictures after inflicting a stinging blow on new PM Boris Johnson this morning

Monster Raving Loony Party candidate Lily the Pink (centre left) still had a smile on her face despite coming in fifth. She did beat the Ukip candidate

Monster Raving Loony Party candidate Lily the Pink (centre left) still had a smile on her face despite coming in fifth. She did beat the Ukip candidate 

Boris Johnson (pictured at Downing Street) has crashed down to earth after the by-election reduced his Commons majority to just one

Boris Johnson (pictured at Downing Street) has crashed down to earth after the by-election reduced his Commons majority to just one

The source said: ‘We are confident we can do this, but it isn’t in the bag. It’s a big majority we’re looking to overturn across a big seat. Our campaign has put us in a good place.’

A Welsh Conservative Party source said they believed Boris Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister had boosted Brexiteer support for the party, saying the number of votes between them and the Lib Dems would be ‘closer than people thought’. 

Mr Johnson has dramatically boosted the party’s national ratings, with one poll yesterday suggesting it was 10 points ahead of Labour. 

Mr Johnson’s solemn ‘do or die’ vow to take the UK out of the EU by the end of October appears to have reversed some of the haemorrhage of support to Nigel Farage’s fledgling outfit.

The combined vote of the Tories and Brexit Party is more than that for the Lib Dems, an outcome that could heap pressure on the PM to consider a pact in a potential election widely expected within the next year.  

Mr Davies, 51, was picked by local members despite his conviction and a subsequent recall petition signed by 20 per cent of voters demanding he be ejected from the seat. 

Mr Johnson made a fleeting visit to Brecon earlier this week, attending the offices of the BVG Group with Mr Davies. 

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove have both visited the constituency in recent weeks. 

The Liberal Democrats were trying to not look complacent, talking about the size of the rural seat making its doorstep efforts harder.

The Brexit Party had been hoping to steal votes from disaffected Tories with its candidate, former local police superintendent Mr Parkinson, 71.

Who is Jane Dodds? The social worker who reduced Boris Johnson’s majority to one

Jane Dodds is the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats who won Brecon and Radnorshire’s by-election last night. 

The 55-year-old speaks Welsh and was born and bred in Wrexham in the north of the country.

She has worked for the Refugee Council, specifically in the section that focuses on children.

Pictured: Dodds after her win at Brecon and Radnorshire's by-election last night, where she reduced Johnson's majority to one

Pictured: Dodds after her win at Brecon and Radnorshire’s by-election last night, where she reduced Johnson’s majority to one 

Dodds has also worked for the Salvation Army, Child Protective Services and across various councils. 

The social worker kicked off her political career in 2006 as she become one of three councillors for North Richmond ward in London.

But she lost her seat in 2010, when her party went into coalition with the Conservatives.  

She stood for her party in the 2015 and 2017 general elections and contested the Welsh Assembly constituency of Montgomeryshire in 2016.

Her policies include a strong opposition to leaving the European Union without a trade deal in place. 

She said that her first priority in negotiations with the bloc is that a no-deal Brexit is ‘taken off the table’.   

But their showing will have disappointed Nigel Farage, coming way off where they will have wanted to have been. 

The Brexit Party was forced into third after the new PM's solemn vow to leave the EU by Halloween - but still came comfortably ahead of Labour

The Brexit Party was forced into third after the new PM’s solemn vow to leave the EU by Halloween – but still came comfortably ahead of Labour  

Six parties were contesting the by-election after Remainer parties pulled out to allow the Lib Dems a free run

Six parties were contesting the by-election after Remainer parties pulled out to allow the Lib Dems a free run

The Brexit Party (whose bus was in Llandrindod Wells yesterday, above) had hoped to secure second place ahead of the Tories

The Brexit Party (whose bus was in Llandrindod Wells yesterday, above) had hoped to secure second place ahead of the Tories

A YouGov poll for the Times yesterday found the Tories had gained seven percentage points in support over the past week - and were 10 points ahead of Labour

A YouGov poll for the Times yesterday found the Tories had gained seven percentage points in support over the past week – and were 10 points ahead of Labour  

A swing of at least 9.8 per cent was needed by Ms Dodds to win the seat, which saw a majority of 8,038 for Mr Davies in 2017. 

It is the sort of swing which, were it to happen at a general election, could see the party pick up around a dozen seats from the Tories. 

In the end there was a 12 per cent swing. 

A poll of the area by the Number Crunching Politics website last week suggested that the Remainer party was on course to achieve a 14 per cent swing from the Tories to 43 per cent.

But  it put the Tories in second on 28  per cent, ahead of the Brexit Party on 20 per cent, with Labour and the Monster Raving Loony Party coming in ahead of Ukip.

On Monday a separate poll suggested the ‘Boris bounce’ had spread to Wales, finding the Tories had leapfrogged Labour.

A survey found the Conservatives had jumped seven points since May on voting intention for a general election.

Chris Davies secured a majority of more than 8,000 for the Tories at the 2017 general election, but was recalled after his conviction for expenses fraud

Chris Davies secured a majority of more than 8,000 for the Tories at the 2017 general election, but was recalled after his conviction for expenses fraud

They now enjoy a slender two-point advantage over Jeremy Corbyn’s party – which was down three on 22 per cent, the lowest level ever recorded.

However, the YouGov research for Cardiff University and ITV underlines the fragmentation in party support in Wales.

Despite being down five points since the last poll just before the European elections, the Brexit Party was on 18 per cent, while the Lib Dems were up four on 16 per cent. Plaid Cymru is also riding high on 15 per cent. 

Defeat for the Conservatives in the by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire reduced the Government’s working majority in Parliament to just one.

There are currently 320 MPs who – on paper – would back the Government in a crunch vote in the House of Commons – 310 Tories and 10 members of the DUP.

The DUP agreed to support the Conservatives in certain key votes, such as confidence motions and Budgets, as part of a deal reached in the aftermath of the 2017 general election.

The Lib Dems' Jane Dodds was the odds-on favourite to win the by-election

The Brexit Party's Des Parkinson was hoping to sneak second

The Lib Dems’ Jane Dodds (left) was the odds-on favourite to win the by-election, with the Brexit Party’s Des Parkinson (right) hoping to sneak second

Mr Johnson in Brecon on Tuesday

Mr Johnson made a fleeting visit to Brecon on Tuesday evening with candidate Chris Davies, who was convicted of expenses fraud earlier this year

After the by-election, there are 319 MPs from all other parties set against the government total of 320. 

These totals do not include Sinn Fein’s seven MPs, who do not take their seats in the Commons, and the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers, who do not vote.

The Lib Dems held the seat of Brecon and Radnorshire from 1997 to 2015. 

The Tories won 49 per cent of the vote in 2017, compared with 29 per cent for the Lib Dems, 18 per cent for Labour, 3 per cent for Plaid Cymru and 1 per cent for Ukip. 

Who were the candidates in the Brecon By-election?

Brexit Party: Des Parkinson. The retired Dyfed-Powys Police chief superintendent, 71, wanted to cut local council tax and opposed wind farms being built in the attractive rural area. A former Ukipper he ran unsuccessfully to be the area’s Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016. During the campaign he attacked Boris Johnson, writing in Politics Home that ‘if he really wanted a clean Brexit he would have asked the tainted Tory to stand down’.

 

Welsh Conservatives: Chris Davies – The 51-year-old former MP for the seat. In April this year the ex-auctioneer, who is married with two young children, was given a community order after admitting two charges of expenses fraud over false invoices for photographs, sparking a recall petition and this by-election. A Brexiteer who was backed by the local party despite his conviction. But No10 had deep reservations, and the PM made only a brief visit to the constituency this week.

 

Welsh Labour: Tom Davies. The Brecon born and raised lawyer, 29, sits on the town’s council. He trained as a barrister and works in Cwmbran, while living in Brecon. He’s a fluent Welsh-speaker and rugby fan. He supports a second referendum but is not expected to win. But Mr Davies finished fourth behind the Lib Dems, Tories and the Brexit Party.

 

Welsh Lib Dems: Jane Dodds. The 55-year-old married child protection social worker and Welsh Lib Dem leader had been the firm favourite to take the seat, which was held by the party as recently as 2010.  She is also a Welsh-speaker and was born and raised in Wrexham in the north of the country. She won the candidacy after a vote of party members and contested Montgomeryshire in 2015 and 2017.

 

Ukip: Liz Phillips. The former personal assistant to former Ukip leader Gerard Batten lived for a long time in Rhayader in the constituency but currently lives in Kent. She struggled to win votes from the Brexit Party, and ended up in last place. She previously contested the seat at the 2001 and 2005 elections –  on the latter occasion finishing last.

 

Monster Raving Loony: Lady Lily The Pink. Representing the perennial election also-rans, Lily, who lives in Brecon, is targeting people not planning to vote because they don’t like the more mainstream candidates, using the slogan ‘if you don’t know what to think, vote Pink’. She managed to avoid coming last, gaining 334 votes. 

 

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