Newport West result demonstrates why Labour must become the party of Remain

PUBLISHED: 08:44 05 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:09 05 April 2019

A rosette on the jacket of Welsh Labour candidate Ruth Jones as she awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

A rosette on the jacket of Welsh Labour candidate Ruth Jones as she awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Labour held on to Newport West in a by-election battle which saw turnout slump - with just a majority of 1,951 votes over the Tories.

Green party candidate Amelia Womack poses for a photograph as she awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.Green party candidate Amelia Womack poses for a photograph as she awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

The contest was triggered by the death of veteran MP Paul Flynn and came against the backdrop of Brexit battles at Westminster.

The city has long been a Labour stronghold and voted Leave by a margin of 56% to 44% in the 2016 EU referendum.

Labour’s candidate Ruth Jones, who campaigned for Remain in the lead-up to the EU referendum, said the country should not accept a “damaging Tory Brexit” or a no-deal outcome.

But what can we conclude from the results?

Labour’s vote share was down by 13 points in one of their political strongholds, with the Conservative vote share appearing much more solid.

The Tory vote share was down just eight points - despite nine years of government and preciding over the Brexit shambles - meaning there was a 2.4% swing from Labour to the Conservatives.

By contrast UKIP’s vote share was up seven points, and there was increased support for anti-Brexit candidates in the Plaid Cymru, the Renew Party, Green Party and the Liberal Democrats.

It now means Newport West, which was a safe seat for Jeremy Corbyn’s party, is a marginal.

Welsh Conservative candidate Matthew Evans poses for a photograph as he awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.Welsh Conservative candidate Matthew Evans poses for a photograph as he awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

This suggests that Labour’s attempts to hold on to both Leave and Remain voters is not working, with those strongly supportive of Brexit turning to the Tories and UKIP.

While Labour had a Remainer as a candidate, it is likely to have lost support because of the party’s overall messaging.

Barry Gardiner’s recent outburst that Labour “is not a Remain party” will not have helped.

Some may point to the poor weather and the significant drop in voter turnout at 37.1% - down from 67.5% in the 2017 general election - for Labour’s diminished support.

Welsh Labour candidate Ruth Jones (centre) awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.Welsh Labour candidate Ruth Jones (centre) awaits the results of the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

The opposition itself will be happy to have another MP in the House of Commons to help push through its Brexit agenda up against the Conservatives.

But this result should be treated as a warning for the party as the country heads to the polls next month for local elections.

UKIP candidate Neil Hamilton makes a speech after the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.UKIP candidate Neil Hamilton makes a speech after the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

Plaid Cymru candidate Jonathan Clark during the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.Plaid Cymru candidate Jonathan Clark during the Newport West by-election. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

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