Will a LibeDem/Green pact change politics? And is this the end for the UK?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 08 August 2019
This week Liberal Democrats across Britain have their tails up after winning a famous victory in the by-election at Brecon and Radnorshire on the Welsh border.
Their new MP overturned an 8,000 Conservative majority and their pact with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party in the seat clearly helped them to cut Boris Johnson's theoretical majority in the House of Commons to just one.
So should they be preparing to play a part in the next government? Will they get back to the heady days of 2010 with the support of the Greens and Plaid?
I'm not sure. In fact, I rather think this was a very small step towards establishing a slightly larger group of MPs rather than any kind of giant leap.
For a start the circumstances around this by-election were quite extraordinary. Why the Conservatives chose a convicted fraudster (whose recall had been the cause of the by-election in the first place) totally mystifies me. And yet he so nearly won.
The Brexit Party clearly took some votes off the Tories (in fact in Brecon they will have taken almost all their votes off the Tories because there is no Labour vote to talk of) which was enough to deny them victory.
And the Greens and Plaid stepping aside to create a "Remain Alliance" clearly helped. But can this be replicated elsewhere? Could this lead to Liberal Democrat (or Green) success in this part of the world?
It probably could deliver a few extra LibDem MPs. And I mean a few. I would be surprised if pacts like this could deliver more than five or six extra LibDems and one Green MP in the next parliament.
In this area, I know Julia Ewart in Suffolk Coastal is fighting a very energetic and enthusiastic campaign in a bid to unseat Therese Coffey.
I think she might have enough going for her to become an MP - but it's unlikely to be at the next general election, even if she does persuade the Greens to stand aside for her.
Winning rural seats from the Conservatives requires one heck of a lot of effort over years, if not decades. Ask Sir Norman Lamb in North Norfolk!
Suffolk's Liberal Democrats have been notoriously lackadaisical in fighting parliamentary seats in the past, waiting until the last minute to select candidates and then disappearing to campaign in Norfolk, Essex, or Cambridgeshire . . . and then wondering why they never get anywhere here.
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If Ms Ewart wants to win Suffolk Coastal, she needs to be prepared to fight, fight and fight again - with or without the support of other parties. And start the next fight the day after the election!
The only places in this part of the UK where deals between parties could have an effect are in Colchester (where Sir Bob Russell was MP for 18 years) and Norwich South (which had a LibDem MP between 2010 and 2015).
But in both of those seats the Greens have done well in recent council elections, and they will fancy their chances of doing well in a general election (especially in Norwich).
The Brexit Party will fancy their chances in Clacton and (possibly) in Waveney and Great Yarmouth - but I can't help feeling that a Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson will do enough to keep a lid on their ambition in a General Election.
Like UKIP in 2015 they might stack up the votes in a number of constituencies without actually making a breakthrough anywhere.
But I do think they'll be enough of a fly in the ointment to skew results in several constituencies across the country.
When the election comes, I suspect we'll end up with a few less Tory MPs. I think some of those in large cities, especially London, will come under pressure from remain-supporting voters. Don't forget that 30 years ago the Tories were the home of most pro-EEC voters.
I think we'll end up with a few less Labour MPs (mainly from Scotland where the nationalists are back in the ascendency), a few more LibDems (but no more than 20-25 MPs) and more Scottish Nationalists.
In Ulster I wouldn't be surprised to see fewer anti-EU DUP MPs emerge from a province where the majority of voters wanted to remain in Europe.
All of which means after the election we'll be left with an even more confused situation in parliament with the balance of power held by the Scottish Nationalists - no one will be able to form a government without them.
Their price for power will be a second referendum on their role in the United Kingdom or possibly a second EU referendum.
If that happens, and the DUP are a smaller voice then we really will be looking forward to the end of the United Kingdom.
As someone who supports English sports teams, and who does feel like I'm visiting a different country when I go to Scotland or Wales, I don't find that a particularly disturbing thought.
But I'm not convinced that the Conservative Party is really quite so keen on becoming the English Nationalists - whatever their members say in opinion polls!
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