The balance of power in Parliament could be tipped by a by-election in a quiet corner of mid-Wales today.
In fact, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson seemingly heading towards a no-deal Brexit despite widespread opposition from ministers, the result of the vote in Brecon and Radnorshire could prove pivotal in British politics.
The constituency, in Powys, is now a “crucible for a much bigger fight – between Remainers and Leavers, and those seeking to further disrupt the Conservative Party’s mandate and those who need it shored up for battles to come”, says Wales Online.
Voting closes tonight at 10pm, with the result expected to be announced in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Why is the by-election taking place?
The by-election was triggered in June, when Chris Davies – who had held the seat for the Conservatives since the 2015 general election – became the second member of parliament to be unseated by his constituents under new rules introduced by the coalition government in 2015.
A recall petition was launched after Davies leaded guilty in March to two counts of making false expenses claims, the BBC said. He was fined £1,500 and ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.
Davies has decided to fight to regain his seat and is standing for the Conservatives again.
Why does the vote result matter?
It is Johnson’s “first electoral test”, says the London Evening Standard, noting that if the Tories fail to retain the seat it would be “increasingly difficult for the Government of the day to pass its will”.
The Tory working majority in the House of Commons was reduced to just two last week, when Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke had the whip withdrawn after it was announced he is to be prosecuted for three counts of alleged sexual assault relating to two women, The Times reports. Elphicke denies the allegations.
If the Conservatives lose Brecon and Radnorshire, they will be left with a working majority of just one – and at least two Tory MPs have pledged to vote against a no-deal Brexit, given the opportunity. In any case, the party’s control of Parliament depends on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
This electoral arithmetic has not gone unnoticed by Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru, or by the Greens in Wales. Both parties have decided not to contest the election, instead endorsing the Liberal Democrats, in a bid to help defeat the Conservatives.
The decision came after Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price called for all the pro-Remain Welsh parties to work together.
Who is standing?
The parties and candidates standing in Brecon and Radnorshire are:
- Chris Davies, Welsh Conservatives
- Tom Davies, Welsh Labour
- Jane Dodds, Welsh Liberal Democrats
- Des Parkinson, Brexit Party
- Liz Phillips, UKIP
- Lady Lily The Pink, Official Monster Raving Loony Party
Who is likely to win?
Jane Dodds of the Lib Dems has been the consistent favourite. Wales Online reported on Friday that the latest poll results from Number Cruncher Politics and Electoral Calculus still suggest she will take the seat from the Tories.
However, it is possible that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party could emerge victorious with its first MP. In the 2016 EU referendum, 52% of voters in Brecon and Radnorshire backed Leave, says The Guardian.
The newspaper notes that Dodds has avoided Brexit debates on the campaign trail, instead “restricting herself to discussing the perils of no deal and its effect on the constituency’s sheep farming and automotive workers”.
All the same, the Lib Dems are “outwardly confident of taking the seat”, The Guardian concludes.