Renewing Newport West: How to Fight a By-Election as a Brand-New Party
It may have rained in Wales last week, but the Renew parade was safe. In the Newport West by-election, we made a real statement of intent by securing 879 votes – 3.7% of the popular vote. For a party that was barely known in the city at the start of the campaign, this is no small feat.
So how did we do it? What did we learn? And where can we go from here?
Hard graft pays off
It may sound straightforward, but simply talking to people went down a treat. Out canvassing, I lost count of how many said they’d never had a political party knock on their door during any election campaign, let alone this one.
In total, we knocked on over 5000 doors and delivered letters to every voter in the constituency. Our candidate, June Davies, did an excellent job of nailing the crucial local issues, such as a sustainable plan for the M4 relief road, whilst presenting an ambitious programme of reform at the national level. She’s also a relatable individual with loads of experience outside the political arena, which in an age of disillusionment and distrust proves attractive.
If any other fledgling political movements were interested in finding shortcuts to the electorate’s heart, I’m afraid I have some bad news: nothing beats face-to-face canvassing and a convincing message. Achieving this is hard work, but great fun, and ultimately pays off at the ballot box.
The two-party system is crumbling
In 2017, the Labour and Conservative candidates together gained 91.6% of the vote share. On April 4th, they could only muster 70.9%. That’s a reduction of over 20%.
While the UKIP candidate Neil Hamilton came in third with 2,023 votes, there wasn’t exactly the hard-Brexit backlash that some had been predicting. Were you to add up all the votes for pro-European parties (not including Labour, naturally), you’d get a grand total of 4076; more than double the UKIP vote.
Either way, it was clear from the voting patterns and even clearer on the doors that many, many constituents of Newport West had abandoned hope in the Conservatives and Labour. Both were rightly blamed for failing to deal with the Brexit challenge, or, in the case of the former, bringing us into the mess in the first place. Jeremy Corbyn remains deeply unpopular; I spoke to a number of elderly folks, Labour voters all their lives, now politically homeless. They just couldn’t back Corbyn’s extreme platform and his nasty, Momentum-y backers. In Newport West, he remains a toxic figure, which perhaps explains the collapse in Labour’s vote share even at a time of grand Tory incompetence.
Meanwhile, it appears that Renew was able to corral hundreds of moderate voters abandoned by the two main parties, suggesting that enough people are happy to take a leap of faith this year.
People are ready to back something new
Ultimately, I was astonished at how many people in a Leave-voting constituency were prepared to support an open-minded, pragmatic and modern political start-up in 2019.
But then, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Newport is an up-and-coming city; you could see that from the amount of new builds on its outskirts. The constituency only voted to leave the EU by a fine margin, and there are plenty of exasperated, reasonable voters currently without a political home.
Renew’s two-pronged approach, which involved a charismatic candidate from outside politics and a commitment to pragmatic government that recognises the state’s abilities and limitations, was clearly refreshing for the 879. We will now take this approach to other seats around the country, inspiring the backbone of our nation to stand up and be counted.