UK Brecon & Radnorshire by-election: Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative

Polls show gains for the Conservatives at the expense of the Brexit party, and why Parliament is running out of options to prevent no-deal. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

The by-election for the Conservative-held seat of Brecon & Radnorshire occurred on August 1. The Liberal Democrats won with 43.5% (up 14.3% since the 2017 election), the Conservatives had 39.0% (down 9.6%), the Brexit party had 10.5% and Labour just 5.3% (down 12.5%). In a poll taken before Boris Johnson became PM, vote shares were 43% Lib Dem, 28% Conservative, 20% Brexit and 8% Labour. The results suggest the Conservatives gained about 10% from the Brexit Party after the change in PM.

There have been six polls taken since Boris Johnson became PM on July 24 and appointed a hard Leave Cabinet. The Conservatives have gained at the expense of the Brexit party, and now have 1-5 point leads over Labour in three polls, but ten point leads in two YouGov polls and an Ipsos poll. With the Conservatives consolidating the hard Brexit vote, Labour needs to consolidate voters opposed to no-deal. There are no preferences in first past the post, so if the Conservatives monopolise the hard Brexit vote, they can win if the no-hard Brexit vote is split between Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens.

Labour’s wishy-washiness on Brexit has driven many Remain supporters to the Lib Dems and Greens. But most seats in England and Wales will be Labour vs Conservative contests. If there is a general election soon, Remain supporters could elect a Conservative government by voting for the Lib Dems or Greens. At the 2017 election, Labour had a pro-Brexit position, and they have been reluctant to change lest they lose their Leave voters.

Commons running out of options to avert no-deal

The Commons is not scheduled to return from Summer recess until September 3. If Johnson lost a confidence vote then, the Commons sits for two weeks in an attempt to form a government. If no government can be formed, a new election is required. Under this scenario, the earliest possible election date is October 24 (a Thursday, which UK elections are held on), but Johnson could advise it be held on October 31 or later. If held on October 31 (Brexit day), there would be no time to form a government before the UK crashed out.

Parliament could pass legislation requiring a Brexit extension be requested for an election, but I think Johnson is unlikely to obey any such legislation. It is the government, not parliament, that needs to make this request. I do not think there is anything parliament could do to immediately force a disobedient government to comply, especially given the Commons would be dissolved for the election. If Labour won the election, Johnson could be held in contempt of parliament, but that would be after a no-deal Brexit had occurred.

There are two ways for the Commons to ensure a no-deal Brexit does not happen. One way is to revoke the Brexit legislation altogether, without a referendum. The second way is not just to vote no-confidence in Johnson, but vote for confidence in a new government during the next two weeks. In the second scenario, Labour would be very unlikely to support any non-Labour PM. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn could be persuaded to step aside, and allow a Labour MP with more cross-party support to become PM, but this scenario is still unlikely.

In summary, unless the Commons enacts one of the above two scenarios, Johnson may be able to force a no-deal Brexit.

Spain’s Socialists fail to form government

The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.

UK Conservative leadership: Johnson 66.4%, Hunt 33.6%

Boris Johnson to become British PM after a crushing victory in a Conservative members’ vote, but suffers a parliamentary defeat even before becoming PM. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

The result of the Conservative members’ ballot for leader was declared on July 23. Boris Johnson defeated Jeremy Hunt by 66.4% to 33.6%, out of the almost 139,000 valid votes cast. Johnson will become British PM on July 24, after Theresa May formally resigns. He has repudiated the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement in Theresa May’s deal. It is very unlikely that an agreement with the European Union can be reached without such a backstop, making a no-deal Brexit more likely.

On July 18, the Commons voted by 315 to 274 to accept an amendment that would make it more difficult for Johnson to prorogue (suspend) Parliament to force a no-deal Brexit. Just one Labour MP voted with the Conservatives while 17 Conservative MPs voted with Labour, and there were notable Conservative abstentions, including current Chancellor Philip Hammond.

While this was a decisive defeat for Johnson’s position, commentator Stephen Bush says that Johnson’s big gamble is not that the Commons will oppose no-deal, it is that the Commons will be unable to agree on something (revoking Brexit, a second referendum, a general election or making Jeremy Corbyn PM) that will actually prevent no-deal occurring. The Commons will rise on July 25 for its summer recess, and is not scheduled to return until September 3. There is a three-week recess for party conferences from mid-September until early October, so there will be less time for Parliament to deal with Brexit. It is unlikely there will be a no-confidence vote before the summer recess.

In five of the seven most recent national polls, Labour had two to six point leads over the Conservatives, but trailed the Conservatives by four points in two YouGov polls. YouGov is the most Conservative-leaning pollster, and it is no coincidence that Labour’s 18%, which I mentioned in my last UK politics article, was from a YouGov poll. There has been some drop in the Brexit party and Liberal Democrat vote, so it has become more of a standard two-party contest.

The most recent ComRes poll had a clear warning for Johnson.  Current voting intentions in that poll were 28% Labour, 25% Conservative, 19% Brexit party and 17% Lib Dem. When asked how they would vote if a new election were held before October 31 with Brexit undelivered, vote shares became 28% Labour, 22% Brexit, just 18% Conservative and 18% Lib Dem. If Brexit is delivered before the next election, vote shares are 32% Conservative, 29% Labour, 18% Lib Dem and 10% Brexit.

Hypothetical polling should be taken with a grain of salt, as people are not good at predicting how they will react to an event.  If Parliament is seen as obstructing Brexit, the Conservatives could do better in the first scenario, although the number of Conservative rebels in such a scenario could itself be damaging. In the second scenario, serious negative economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit would be likely to hurt the Conservatives.

The Brecon & Radnorshire by-election, which I covered in more detail last time, will be held on August 1. A poll has the Lib Dems easily winning with 43%, followed by the Conservatives on 28%, Brexit party 20% and Labour 8%. This result would be a Lib Dem gain from the Conservatives. I will be writing about this by-election result and post-Johnson polls on August 2.

US Democratic presidential primaries and Trump’s re-election prospects

I wrote for The Conversation on July 18 that Joe Biden is leading the Democratic presidential primaries, and is followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. Donald Trump’s ratings are well below where they should be given the strong US economy. Even with the current economy, he will probably lose in November 2020. If the economy tanks, e.g., due to a no-deal Brexit, he is far more likely to lose.

UK Conservative leadership: Johnson firms as next PM

A poll finds nearly three-quarters of Conservative Party members support Boris Johnson to become Britain’s new Prime Minister, as Labour falls to fourth place on voting intention. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

An early July YouGov poll of Conservative members gave Boris Johnson a massive 74% to 26% lead over Jeremy Hunt. Ballot papers for the leadership election started being sent out late last week, and must be returned by July 22. The result will be declared on July 23. Johnson’s overwhelming lead in this poll means that the remote chance of a Hunt victory has gone, and Johnson will be the next Conservative leader, and thus British PM.

An early July YouGov poll of general voting intentions gave the Conservatives 24%, the Brexit party 23%, the Liberal Democrats 20% and Labour was fourth with just 18%. An Opinium poll was better for Labour, as they had 25%, followed by the Conservatives at 23%, Brexit at 22% and the Lib Dems at 15%. In both these polls, the combined Conservative and Brexit vote was 45-47%. This makes sense as, in the previous Opinium poll, 48% favoured a “no-deal” Brexit if no deal can pass the Commons by October 31, while 40% wanted more delay and a second referendum.

I believe Labour’s decline can be explained by their positioning on Brexit. At the 2017 general election, Labour adopted a pro-Brexit position, and this helped them to retain seats that voted Leave. As the Brexit debate has played out this year, Labour has been forced to adopt a more pro-Remain stance. However, this stance has cost Labour votes with Labour Leavers, while not being emphatic enough a rejection of Brexit for Remain voters.

Once Johnson becomes PM, the question is whether the Commons will act to prevent a no-deal Brexit. While there has been talk of some Conservative MPs voting against their government to prevent no-deal, defections from Labour MPs in Leave seats could frustrate any attempt to prevent no-deal. In mid-June, such an attempt was defeated by 11 votes because, while ten Conservative MPs voted with Labour, eight Labour MPs voted with the Conservatives. Labour’s weak polling will make many MPs wary of risking a general election by obstructing Brexit.

Brecon & Radnorshire by-election: August 1

A by-election will occur in the Conservative-held seat of Brecon & Radnorshire on August 1, after more than 10% of constituents signed a petition recalling MP Chris Davies following his conviction for making false expenses claims. Despite this, Davies will again be the Conservative candidate.

From 1997 to 2015, Brecon & Radnorshire was a Lib Dem seat. When the Lib Dems collapsed in 2015, the Conservatives won it by a 41% to 28% margin, reversing a Lib Dem 2010 margin of 46% to 37%. The Conservatives retained this seat by a 49% to 29% margin in 2017, an election where the major parties were historically strong. With the collapse of the major party vote since 2017, this by-election is a big opportunity for the Lib Dems to gain from the Conservatives. This by-election will occur nine days into Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Right wins Greek election, left wins Turkish Istanbul mayoral re-election

I wrote on my personal website that the conservative New Democracy won the July 7 Greek election with 158 of the 300 parliamentary seats, ousting the far-left SYRIZA. In Turkey, the left won the June 23 Istanbul mayoral re-election by a much bigger margin than originally.

UK Conservative leadership: Johnson vs Hunt

Boris Johnson still very likely to be the next British Prime Minister, with Jeremy Hunt pipping Michael Gove for second among Conservative MPs. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

At the June 13 first round of voting, three of the ten Conservative leadership candidates were eliminated as they had less than the 17 votes required – Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey. The next day Matt Hancock also withdrew. Combined these four candidates had 50 first round votes.

At the June 18 second round, Boris Johnson won votes from 126 of the 313 Conservative MPs (up 12 from round one), Jeremy Hunt 46 (up three), Michael Gove 41 (up four), Rory Stewart 37 (up 18), Sajid Javid 33 (up ten) and Dominic Raab 30 (up three). As he finished last, hard Brexiteer Raab was eliminated, with Javid just scraping through the 33-vote threshold required to continue.

In subsequent rounds, there was no threshold, and the bottom candidate was eliminated. At the June 19 third round, Johnson won 143 votes (up 17 since round two), Hunt 54 (up eight), Gove 51 (up ten), Javid 38 (up five), and Stewart was eliminated with 27 votes (down ten). While there is speculation that Johnson people tactically voted for Stewart to eliminate Raab in the previous round, commentator Stephen Bush says it is more likely that Stewart’s drop reflected his poor performance in a BBC debate on June 18. Stewart was the candidate most opposed to both a no-deal Brexit and Johnson.

At the June 20 morning fourth round, Johnson won 157 votes (up 14 since round three), Gove 61 (up ten), Hunt 59 (up five) and Javid was eliminated with 34 votes (down four). Two ballot papers were spoilt. Johnson achieved a majority of MPs (157 of 313) with three other candidates still in.

At the June 20 afternoon final round, Johnson won 160 votes (up three), Hunt 77 (up 18) and Gove was eliminated with 75 votes (up 14). From the first round to final round, Johnson increased his total by 46 votes to reach 51% of Conservative MPs, Hunt increased by 34 votes to reach 25%, and Gove by 38 votes to reach 24%. Johnson or someone like him was likely to be one of the final two after 157 Conservative MPs voted in favour of a no-deal Brexit on March 27.

Johnson and Hunt, the current Foreign Secretary, will now proceed to a postal ballot of Conservative members that is expected to conclude by mid-July. Johnson is the heavy favourite to win this vote, and become Britain’s next PM. In a recent YouGov poll of Conservative members, 77% thought Johnson would be a good party leader, and just 19% thought he would be poor. For Hunt, these figures were 56% good, 37% poor. Gove and Stewart were perceived as worse than Hunt by Conservative members.

Bush says Conservative MPs voted for Johnson after their party lost over 1,300 councillors at local government elections in early May, and then finished fifth with just 9% of the national vote at EU elections in late May. Bush suggests that the 27 Stewart voters imply that many Conservative MPs are very unhappy with Johnson, and with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. A new election may be required soon if those Conservative MPs join Labour in voting no-confidence in their government if Johnson pursues a no-deal Brexit.

I wrote for The Conversation about the education divide explaining the Coalition’s upset victory in Australia, and also about Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election. Johnson is likely to appeal to the same types of voters that benefited the Coalition and Trump.

UK Conservative leadership first round results

Boris Johnson is very probably Britain’s next Prime Minister, and polling suggests he would be a winner for the Conservatives. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

In the June 13 first round of the UK Conservative leadership election, Boris Johnson won support from 114 of the 313 Conservative MPs (36.4%). He only needed 105 votes to ensure he reached the membership runoff, where he is strongly supported. In the field of ten candidates, Jeremy Hunt was second with 43 votes (14%) and Michael Gove third with 37 votes (12%). Three candidates – Mark Harper, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom – failed to win the 17 votes needed to pass the first round, and were eliminated.

In the second round, to be held on June 18, the threshold for continuing rises to 33 votes. In subsequent rounds the bottom candidate is eliminated until there are just two candidates left – these two go to the hard-Leave supporting Conservative membership. Johnson will gain further support from the elimination of hard Brexiteers McVey and Leadsom, who had 20 combined votes. Whichever of Hunt or Gove finishes second is likely to be thrashed by Johnson in the membership vote. Johnson is very probably Britain’s next PM.

On June 12, the Commons defeated a Labour motion that would have enabled Brexit to be debated on June 25, 309 votes to 298. Ten Conservative MPs voted with Labour, but eight Labour MPs sided with the Conservatives. Had the motion succeeded, legislation to potentially rule out a no-deal Brexit could have been moved on June 25. With the Commons failing to take action that would prevent a no-deal, and Johnson likely to be the next PM, a no-deal Brexit on October 31 is more likely.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have tanked in polls in the last month, with the Brexit party, Liberal Democrats and Greens surging. The latest poll, by ComRes, has Labour leading with 27%, followed by the Conservatives at 23%, Brexit party at 22% and Lib Dems at 17%. However, in a hypothetical question with Johnson as PM, the Conservatives surge to 37%, Labour drops to 22%, the Lib Dems are up to 20% and the Brexit party falls to 14%. Under first past the post, this would be a Conservative landslide.

Hypothetical polls like this are frowned on by many poll analysts as people are not good at predicting how they will react to an actual event. But given Donald Trump and Scott Morrison’s upset victories relied on appealing to those with a lower level of educational attainment, it would be folly for the UK left to dismiss this poll result. The only thing that is likely to break the hold of some right-wing politicians over the lower educated is what the UK left most fear: catastrophic economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

Labour holds Peterborough at by-election triggered by recall

At the June 2017 general election, Peterborough was a surprise Labour gain from the Conservatives, with Labour winning by 48.1% to 46.8%. However, on May 1 Labour member Fiona Onansanya was recalled after more than 10% of constituents signed a petition. Onansanya had been convicted of lying to avoid a speeding ticket. It is the first time a recall petition has succeeded. Under the 2015 Act, recalls can only be used for MPs convicted of crimes or serious parliamentary misdemeanours, not for MPs who change their party.

At the June 6 by-election, Labour won with 30.9% (down 17.2%), followed by the Brexit party at 28.9%, the Conservatives at 21.4% (down 25.5%), the Lib Dems at 12.3% (up 8.9%), the Greens at 3.1% (up 1.3%) and UKIP at 1.2%. This constituency voted Leave by over 60-40 at the Brexit referendum, so it was seen as a strong target for the Brexit party – bookies heavily favoured that party. Ironically, Labour owes its win to the 21% who stuck with the Conservatives rather than vote for the Brexit party.

Left wins Danish election, and other electoral events

I wrote on my personal website on June 6 about left-wing parties winning a total 99 of the 179 seats at the June 5 Danish election. Also covered: a new election in Israel is required after Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government, the German Greens have surged to a tie with the conservative CDU/CSU, and the left gained a Tasmanian upper house seat at May 4 periodical elections.

UK (and other countries) European Union election results

Conservatives and Labour both smashed in the UK’s European Union elections; Theresa May to resign on June 7. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

At the UK’s European Union elections held on May 23, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party won 29 of the 73 seats, the Liberal Democrats 16 seats (up 15 since the 2014 EU elections), Labour ten (down ten), the Greens seven (up four) and the Conservatives just four seats (down 15).  Scottish and Welsh nationalists won four seats (up one).  The UK Independence Party (UKIP) lost its 24 seats.

Vote shares were 31.6% Brexit party, 20.3% Lib Dems (up 13.4%), 14.1% Labour (down 11.3%), 12.1% Greens (up 4.2%), 9.1% Conservatives (down 14.9%), 4.6% for Scottish and Welsh nationalists (up 1.4%), 3.4% Change UK – the pro-Remain party formed from Labour and Conservative splitter MPs, and 3.3% UKIP (down 24.2%).

Counting Brexit party and UKIP as hard Brexit parties and the Lib Dems, Greens, nationalists and Change UK as Remain parties, pro-Remain parties won a total 40.4% and hard Brexit 34.9%.  The Conservatives and Labour, who were punished for their ambiguous positions on Brexit, won a combined 23.2%.

On May 24 – the day after the UK’s EU elections – Theresa May announced she would resign as Conservative leader on June 7.  She will not resign as PM until a new leader has been elected.  Nominations for leader close in the week beginning June 10, and Conservative MPs will winnow the field down to two candidates by the end of June.  The final two go to the hard Brexit-supporting Conservative membership, with the result due by mid-July.

There are a total of 313 Conservative MPs.  To be mathematically assured of making the final two, a candidate needs 105 votes – just over one-third.  On March 27, 157 Conservative MPs supported an amendment that would have forced a no-deal Brexit, so it seems virtually certain that a hard Brexiteer will be one of the final two.  If the membership vote is between a hard Brexiteer and a more moderate candidate, it is very likely that the hard Brexiteer will win.

The EU election results are likely to push Labour into a more pro-Remain position, while the Conservatives, under a new leader, become a hard Brexit party.  Theresa May preferred a long Brexit extension (to October 31) to a no-deal Brexit; parliament did not force her to accept the extension.  With a hard Brexiteer as PM, parliament will need to do something drastic to avoid a no-deal Brexit, such as a no-confidence vote or revocation of Brexit.  Parliament has shown no inclination for something like this.

Greens and Liberals perform well in overall EU results

According to Europe Elects, the centre-right European faction won 165 of the 751 EU parliament seats (down 56 from 2014), the centre-left won 141 (down 50), Liberals 115 (up 48), the far-right (including Brexit party) 103 (up 18), the Greens 75 (up 25), national conservatives 57 (down 13) and the far-left 42 (down 10).  The Romanian centre-left party (eight seats) and the Hungarian centre-right party (13 seats) are not being counted with their factions as they could be booted.  Hungary’s Fidesz under Viktor Orbán is a far-right party, not a centre-right party.

It takes 376 seats to win a majority in the European parliament.  The left parties plus the Liberals, including the Romanian centre left, add to 381 seats.  The respectable right parties plus the Liberals add to 337 seats.  If the Liberals were to join a right coalition, it would need to include far-right parties that the Liberals vehemently oppose.  So I think the left has won the 2019 European parliamentary elections.