Brexit Party struggling in by-elections

Nigel Farage – new party, same old problems

The Liberal Democrats have won yesterday’s parliamentary by-election in the rural Welsh constituency Brecon & Radnorshire, further worsening the parliamentary arithmetic for new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, making it less likely that he can achieve Brexit without a general election.

Brecon & Radnorshire was also bad news for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, whose candidate was a distant third with 10.5%. A crumb of comfort for Farage was UKIP’s embarrassment at finishing bottom of the poll with 0.7%, behind even the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’!

Regular H&D readers will be very familiar with our long-running analyses of UKIP’s poor performance in local by-elections, which indicated a long time ago that the party was in big trouble.

Now of course UKIP is dead, and is widely seen to have been superseded by the Brexit Party, founded earlier this year by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

The Brexit Party achieved extraordinarily good results at this year’s European Parliamentary elections: 30.5% of the nationwide vote, electing 29 MEPs – easily the largest UK party at that election.

The jury is still out as to whether the election of self-proclaimed Hard Brexiteer Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and (for the time being at least) Prime Minister will end Farage’s adventure.

What does seem clear is that (like UKIP before it) the Brexit Party is struggling to turn its potential support into actual votes in local or Westminster (as opposed to European) elections.

Last week in Gloucester the Brexit Party contested two city council elections for the first time. The good news for Farage is that his party finished way ahead of UKIP. The bad news is that they finished a poor third in one and fourth in the other.

In Podsmead ward – exactly the sort of White working-class estate where the Brexit Party ought to be threatening Labour (according to many pundits) they were fourth with 16.4% (UKIP polled just 1.6%). Labour did indeed lose the seat – but to the very pro-EU Liberal Democrats, not to Farage.

In a very different part of Gloucester, Barnwood ward – equally White but far more affluent – the Brexit Party finished third with 10.5% (UKIP managed a microscopic 0.4%). Again the Liberal Democrats gained the seat, this time from the Tories.

And tonight the Brexit Party has finished a distant third in its second attempt at a parliamentary by-election. The Liberal Democrats are again the winners, but perhaps the more important story is that the Tory candidate – despite having been convicted of a criminal offence, causing this by-election in the first place – finished well ahead of the Brexit Party candidate.

It’s too early to talk about a crisis for Farage, but just a couple of months after his great Euro-election triumph, the Brexit Party is badly in need of a good result somewhere. As things stand, Boris Johnson must be tempted to call a general election – at which Farage could be sunk without trace.

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