ANALYSIS: Brecon result makes general election more and less likely at the same time

Posted On: 
2nd August 2019

On the face of it, the conclusion to be drawn from the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election is pretty clear-cut.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson celebrated her party's victory with new Brecon and Radnorshire MP Jane Dodds.
PA Images

The Lib Dems seize control of former Tory seat, reducing Boris Johnson's Commons majority to just one.

Surely this means that a general election is right around the corner?

Blow for Boris Johnson as Lib Dems beat Tories in Brecon and Radnorshire by-election

ANALYSIS: Why the Brecon by-election could ruin Boris Johnson's plan for Brexit by 31 October

Convicted Tory MP Chris Davies booted from Brecon and Radnorshire seat after recall petition passes

Either the opposition parties, and possibly one or two Tory rebels, will gang up and bring the Government down in a confidence vote after Parliament returns in September, or the PM will decide to go to the country in pursuit of his own mandate.

For a start, the Government's majority is actually a bit bigger than it initially seems. The Tories now have 310 MPs, chuck in the DUP's 10 and Charlie Elphicke (currently independent but will vote with the Government) and you have 321.

The most the opposition parties can muster, once you take out the Speaker, his deputies and Sinn Fein, is 319.

So while a confidence vote could be decidedly dicey for the Government, it is by no means guaranteed that they would lose it.

One Labour MP says: "It seems to be getting lost that they still have 65 seats more than us.

"They have to rely on one party. We in contrast need the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid, Greens, CHUK, Independent Group, various unionist, ex-Labour and ex-Tory Independents."

Should Johnson decide to call an election himself, he would get the necessary support of at least two-thirds of MPs to trigger it. How could Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP turn down the chance to boot the Tories out.

But does he really want to take the risk of giving up the keys to Number 10 just weeks after being handed them? Despite the Brecon result, there is enough there to suggest it is a gamble that could pay off.

Considering they were up against a convicted fraudster who had only recently been booted out by his own voters, the Lib Dem majority of 1,425 was definitely on the slim side.

The 3,331 people who voted for the Brexit Party were obviously key. If some sort of non-aggression pact can be agreed with Nigel Farage's troops in a general election, a lot of marginal seats could suddenly turn blue.

On the Today programme this morning, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson sounded warm about the prospect of similar tie-ups between pro-Remain parties across the country should a general election take place.

That sounds all well and good in theory - and Brecon proved that it can, just about, work - but will voters really be happy that their own party is choosing to sit this one out in favour of an approved candidate standing for one of their rivals? I have my doubts.

As is often the case, there is something for just about every party to take from the Brecon result to keep them warm at night. Everyone except Labour, that is. The party's confused Brexit position left them also-rans again, taking 5% of the vote and coming fourth. They did manage to beat the Monster Raving Loony Party, I suppose.

So an autumn general election now looks fairly likely. And it also doesn't. Like so much in British politics these days, it's complicated.