The Green Party trebled its vote share in Newport West following a by-election that saw Labour candidate Ruth Jones hold the seat with a reduced majority – though turnout dropped significantly from 2017.
Voters in Newport West went to the polls yesterday (4 April) to elect their new MP in the by-election triggered by the passing of long-serving Labour MP Paul Flynn. It appears the backdrop of the UK’s Brexit psychodrama has taken its toll on the electorate, with only 37.1 per cent turning out to vote compared to 67.5 per cent at the 2017 general election.
Labour’s Ruth Jones, a former president of the Wales Trades Union Congress (TUC), held the seat with 39.6 per cent of the vote. Jones accrued 9,308 votes in total – some 13,000 less than her predecessor Paul Flynn in 2017 – giving her a 1,951 majority over the Conservative candidate Matthew Evans, the leader of the opposition on Newport Council, who received 7,357 votes (31.3 per cent).
UKIP’s Neil Hamilton came in third place with 8.6 per cent of the vote (2,023 votes), followed by Jonathan Clark of Plaid Cymru, Ryan Jones of the Liberal Democrats, Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack and June Davies, candidate for the newly-founded Remain party, Renew.
Both main parties saw their vote share fall, with Labour’s vote falling by 12.7 per cent and the Conservatives’ falling by eight percent. On the surface, UKIP was the biggest single beneficiary of this, increasing its vote share by 6.1 per cent to 8.6 per cent on 2,023 votes.
However, the significant vote share for explicitly Remain-backing parties must be noted, with the Greens, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Renew sharing 17.2 per cent of the vote. The most notable vote increases came for Amelia Womack, who trebled the Green vote from 1.1 per cent in 2017 to 3.9 per cent, and Renew, which managed to gain 3.7 per cent of the vote at its first electoral outing in Wales.
Candidates were keen to steer clear of Brexit. Ruth Jones focused on Universal Credit and austerity, while the issue of the M4 relief road proved a bone of contention – despite it being a devolved issue to the Welsh Assembly and not the UK Parliament – with Jones and Matthew Evans supporting the road and the Green Party’s Amelia Womack campaigning against it.
However, in a constituency where 56 per cent of people voted to leave the EU, all candidates reported meeting anger and frustration on the doorstep from both sides of the Brexit debate. The split between pro-Brexit and pro-Remain parties – Labour’s position remains unclear, though its membership is overwhelmingly pro-Remain – reflects the national picture of a nation deeply divided by the question of the UK’s departure from the EU.
What the Newport West result does appear to show is the return of fragmentation in UK politics, with smaller parties making gains at the expense of Labour and the Conservatives.
As Amelia Womack told the Guardian: “There are some people that are angry but I would say most people feel lost. They no longer have political homes they feel comfortable in. They are looking for opportunities outside the two-party system. I think that feeling of not having a clear political home is one of the most interesting parts of this campaign.”