I predicted that Plaid would come third in the by-election with 12% of the vote; in the event, Plaid were edged into fourth place by the Lib Dems, polling 9.5%. What does history tell us about this result?
Since the seat’s formation in 1983, Plaid have mainly spent their time writing cheques for £500 (ok, £150 in 1983 for the pedants amongst you!). The Labour landslide of 1997 was the first election in which Plaid registered more than 1.6% of the vote. And since the start of this century, Plaid have hovered around 5% of the vote, sometimes keeping and sometimes losing their deposit. So the 9.5% vote gained in November 2012 must rank as a huge success, right?
I’m not so sure.
In terms of share of the vote, it’s a big improvement on their best-ever performances in 2001 and 2005 (both 5.5%). But let’s bear in mind the special circumstances of this election. Firstly it was held in the absence of a strong UK focus, which meant it was a more ‘Welsh’ vote than in UK general elections. That in itself would indicate that we would expect Plaid’s share of the vote to be closer to its Assembly results than Westminster. And if we look at the Assembly elections, Plaid has never registered less than 12.1% of the vote in this constituency. Secondly, Plaid was able to expend more effort (both in terms of election pamphlets and door-knocking effort) than we would ever reasonably expect during a general election. And thirdly, it was held in the context of a deeply unpopular Conservative-Lib Dem UK government and a Labour Party led by someone that is widely regarded as an electoral liability.
The fact that Plaid were unable to pip the Lib Dems to third place would I’m sure have been a disappointment to them. But perhaps most troubling for the Plaid leadership is the total number of votes cast: 1,854. One of Plaid’s advantages over most of the other parties is the fidelity of its core supporters. But looking at the election result in 2011 (1,851 votes), all of Plaid’s huffing and puffing in the run-up to the by-election persuaded a grand total of three more people to vote for them than had the previous year.
Perhaps it won’t come as a surprise to you to learn that this seat is number 22 (out of 35) on Plaid’s hit-list. Pretty low down by all accounts. But not low down enough. I’m going to be examining the seats that all parties must win in order to have an outright majority in Cardiff Bay in due course. But the bad news for Plaid is that Penarth and Cardiff South is one of them. And on the evidence from the by-election, we’ll be waiting a long, long time for a Plaid majority at the National Assembly for Wales.
The Lib Dems will be thanking their lucky stars the election was held a year ago. Following their abject performance in Ynys Môn, not to mention by-elections in England, this is a party for which any by-election is now a potential disaster area.
I’d predicted the Lib Dems would slip to fourth place with 9% of the vote. In the event, they retained third place with 10.8% of the vote, a reduction in share of the vote of 11.5%. Only in 1992 and 1997 have the Liberal Democrats fared worse.
So where does Penarth and Cardiff South sit in the Lib Dem ranking of target seats? By strange coincidence, it’s their 12th-most likely seat to win (the coincidence being that it’s also the 12th-most likely to fall to the Conservatives). That means that there are a whopping 27 seats that are less fruitful for the Lib Dems in Wales than this one. That sentence will probably make grim reading for all my Lib Dem readers. Because while winning this seat is a theoretical possibility for the Conservatives (being just 5.4% away from victory at one point in history), it doesn’t seem at all likely for the Lib Dems.
It’s a particular set-back for the party that used to control Cardiff Council with a hefty majority as recently as 2012, including holding the Butetown ward (beating a certain Vaughan Gething into second place), all three councillors in Grangetown, and one each of the three seats in Splott and in Trowbridge.
And what of the Lib Dem candidate, Bablin Molik? Well, I’m intrigued to read that she’s
the Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate in the up and coming Cardiff South & Penarth by-election.
Either the Lib Dems know something about Stephen Doughty that the rest of us don’t, or it’s taken them 10 months and counting to update their website. Mind you, this is a party for whom having an updated website is the least of their concerns…
I’ve always thought it peculiar that the Welsh language in Wales should be seen by so many people as a divisive issue. Surely this is one thing that just about everyone can be proud of, whether or not they command it themselves?
But I’m hopelessly naive, as ever. People frequently ask why money is wasted on translation, or supporting the Welsh language or the Eisteddfod etc. So something I saw on the Plaid Wrecsam blog a while back really got me thinking. To paraphrase their argument: the costs for translation of material from English to Welsh are costs specifically resulting from most people’s monolingualism. “If there are costs for translation, it’s a problem for people like Councillor Mark James who isn’t interested in learning the language, not bilinguals”.
Following the line of thought – which has an agreeable ring of logic to it – given that the costs of translating everything to English are the real costs (because everyone who speaks Welsh is bilingual), we should look to the 19% as having a cost-reductive benefit to society. That being the case, and recognising the political will (if not practical support) for a bilingual Wales, I’m proposing a language tax. A 1p additional tax on all people in Wales who aren’t bilingual (English/Welsh in this case).
Now, I’m skilled in the dark arts of communication. I recognise that increasing someone’s tax burden is somewhat unlikely to please them. So perhaps a better alternative would be to reduce bilinguals’ income tax by 1p in the pound. You want to dramatically increase the number of bilinguals? Hey presto – I just did it.
Is this fantasy? Happily it is. The European Court of Human Rights prohibits discrimination (including things like differential tax rates) based on race or language.
Because this proposal could go another way. Picture the scenario. A country where a small minority of people speak a monkey language, where there are plenty of swivel-eyed loons, fruitcakes, loonies and the like foaming at the mouth for ‘small government’, where austerity stalks the land. Why not introduce a tax on those who cling on to a language that just imposes costs on society?