By-election result “huge swing to Leave”

The result of the Richmond Park by-election is in. Sarah Olney has won 49% of the vote on an anti-Brexit ticket, beating Zac Goldsmith into a close second place.

Guy Verhofstadt, MEP and a Brexit negotiator for the EU, promptly congratulated the Liberal Democrats:

Meanwhile, a slew of articles in various papers trumpeted the result as a triumph for remainers. As one writer for the NewStatesman put it:

“The principle of blocking Brexit has been endorsed at the ballot box.”

“A huge swing to Leave”

Over at The Spectator, Ross Clark offered a more convincing analyse:

“If we interpret the result – as the LibDems have encouraged us to do – as a straight vote on Brexit, we should treat Sarah Olney’s vote as a proxy for Remain and Zac Goldsmith’s vote as a proxy for Leave. If you do that it came out as 49.7 per cent in favour of Remain and 45.1 per cent for Leave. Yet in the referendum in June the Richmond Park constituency voted 70 per cent to 27.7 per cent in favour of Remain. Yesterday’s by-election, in other words, could be interpreted as a huge swing to Leave.”

Logically, the Lib Dems should note a 20% drop in support for Remain since the referendum, with Remain now commanding the support of less than 50% of voters in the Remain heartlands. If we interpret the result as a straight vote on Brexit, we should consider it a success for Leave.