Tag Archives: Ed Miliband

Welsh Politics Changes – for Good

The news that Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party will participate in two of the three televised leaders’ debates has created a seismic shift in the power relationships of politics.

Plaid has faced problems of apparent legitimacy across swathes of Wales for decades. One memorable story is told of a young woman who, having been selected to stand for Plaid back in 2005, visited a relative in Newport to relay the good news. Her aunt was aghast, telling her “What on earth are you doing with those extremists!”

But that legitimacy has now been handed to Plaid on a silver platter. Because it’s very difficult for people in any corner of Wales to argue that Plaid isn’t relevant to the political discourse at a Wales or UK level when they’re on TV screens, beamed into 30 million homes from Islay to Islington.

One of the enduring myths of Welsh politics is that a vote for a particular party is a wasted vote; it’s one that it particularly commonly used by the Labour party to persuade people not to vote for Plaid. But as I’ve argued before:

…some parties will try to persuade you that your vote is wasted if you vote for so-and-so party in a UK election. That’s blatantly false, because it’s the one species of election where your vote is almost guaranteed to achieve nothing but send a message, regardless of the party you vote for.

This scenario couldn’t be a worse result for the ‘big UK’ parties. Instead of bickering amongst themselves to show who has the thickest fag paper to put between each others’ policies, they now face the prospect of policy humiliation by a determined, intelligent and telegenic trio of anti-austerity party leaders. The delightful schadenfreude is that it’s a result that’s been brought about by the parties themselves attempting to score cheap political points. David Cameron’s bluff has been called – he didn’t want to participate unless the Greens were also invited to the party (clearly he was unwilling to go into a contest where the only likely outcome would be his party bleeding votes to UKIP). But Ed Miliband can’t now refuse to participate, because of the extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons a few weeks back when he branded the Prime Minister ‘running scared’ for his stance and his Labour MPs ‘clucked like chickens‘. And with three left-wing parties in the fray, Ed Miliband now stands to lose the most.

In Wales, valleys seats that were formerly impregnable Labour fortresses will now start to drift into accessible territory for Plaid. The combination of new establishment-gifted legitimacy, the platform of the TV debates itself, and UKIP eroding Labour’s vote from the right mean that some veteran coasting MPs the like of Chris Bryant and Wayne David will have to start to work their constituencies.

It also signals the beginning of the end of the two-party system in the UK, and the one-party system in Wales. Although change happens relatively slowly under the first-past-the-post electoral system, the days of people sacrificing their principles to vote, with gritted teeth, for a candidate who is slightly less unappealing than the other candidate, are coming to a close. When people have a genuine choice over their options, they’ll give less of a fig about some fictitious formula where only X party stands a chance of being in government. The fact that every political pundit is saying this is the hardest election to predict for 100 years tells you that the field is wide open.

This 7-party debate, which I among many would have thought totally fanciful (although I participated dutifully in the social media to bring it about) has changed Welsh politics for Good.

Finally, it also vindicates the stance taken by Plaid of forming a bloc with the Greens and SNP. Some commentators (Simon Brooks, for example), have criticised Plaid for working with the Greens in the run-up to the UK election. However, it’s extremely unlikely that David Cameron would have used either Plaid or the SNP in the way he did the Greens in order to try to avoid the leadership debates, and which has ultimately led to this significant step forward for democracy in Wales.

 

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1 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Greens, Labour, Plaid Cymru, SNP, UKIP, Westminster

Penarth and Cardiff South: Plaid

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.

2 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Plaid Cymru, Westminster

Target Seats in Wales: Plaid

Plaid Cymru’s situation throws up a series of interesting findings. For the other parties, there was by and large a clear correlation: those seats where the party does well in share of the vote are those where it is relatively close to the incumbent party. For Plaid there are a slew of seats where they pick up a decent share of the vote (ten seats they don’t hold with 20% of the vote or more) but are way behind the victorious party. The reason is, of course, the Labour hegemony in south Wales.

So here are the stats for those keenest amongst us.

Plaid already hold: Arfon, Carmarthenshire East & Dinefwr, Ceredigion, Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ynys Môn.

And here’s the top 10, in order, of seats that Plaid will be eyeing up in 2015:

  • Llanelli
  • Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire
  • Caerphilly
  • Aberconwy
  • Clwyd West
  • Neath
  • Clwyd South
  • Cardiff West
  • Rhondda
  • Preseli Pembrokeshire

This gives us an indication of the scale of the challenge facing Leanne Wood in her decision to contest Rhondda in 2016. The reason it’s only the 9th-best prospect is because Plaid were a massive 34% behind the first-placed party in the last poll, despite recording nearly 30% of the vote themselves. It’s a mountain to climb. People talk in awe about Alex Salmond’s astounding capture of Gordon in 2007. That required an increase in the share of the vote of merely 19%. Leanne needs an increase of 35%. Such a result would be spectacular and – excepting Brent East (itself a special case) – unprecedented.

Should Labour be complacent? The stats tell us a bit more of the story. Leighton Andrews’ 12,650 votes were only 1,400 more than Wayne David’s in 1999 – and would not have been enough to deny Geraint Davies from taking Rhondda in 1999. In that first Assembly election turnout was 50.2%; turnout in the last Assembly election was just 38%. It seems to suggest that when there’s an interesting political contest, turnout is boosted. And history suggests that the boost in turnout benefits one party more than any other.

Enough of Rhondda. Because we need to take account of the fact that Plaid don’t hold the same constituencies in both Parliaments, Ceredigion and Ynys Môn arrive at the top of the list, pushing Rhondda to 11th spot. Our list now looks like:

  • Ynys Môn
  • Ceredigion
  • Llanelli
  • Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire
  • Caerphilly
  • Aberconwy
  • Clwyd West
  • Neath
  • Clwyd South
  • Cardiff West

It’s no surprise to see Ynys Môn at the top of the list. Following Plaid’s recent success in the local elections, and with Ieuan Wyn Jones announcing his resignation today, Plaid would be in pretty poor shape to lose the seat at the upcoming by-election. Expect lots of visits to the island from Peter Hain and other Labour big guns, and a non-stop discussion of Plaid’s uncomfortable position on nuclear. Following by-election success, Ynys Môn is clearly a major target for Plaid in 2015, with Albert Owen’s majority of under 2,500. Ieuan Wyn as the candidate, perhaps?!

Ceredigion has become a much more interesting contest with the selection of Mike Parker as candidate for Plaid. Mike is one of the most interesting candidates Plaid could have picked for this constituency. Erudite, English and engaging. Someone who can fire people’s imagination.

I said previously that Mark Williams would be “firmly in control of the seat for 2015”. Suddenly I’m not so sure. Let’s remember that Cynog Dafis pulled in an additional 8,200 votes to take Ceredigion for Plaid in 1992. And Mark’s majority? 8,300. Hold onto your hats!

Llanelli looks distinctly less achievable for Plaid in the UK election than at the Welsh election. Nia Griffith commands a 4,500 majority, and although that was reduced at the 2010 election, it was a poor election for Labour in general. And given that the totemic Ron Davies couldn’t take Caerphilly in an Assembly election that is always more benign for the Party of Wales, it’s not likely to fall in 2015. 

In the face of a Labour party expected to improve on its 2010 performance – although not spectacularly, given Ed Miliband’s struggling leadership – most of the rest of the top 10 look challenging. Add in the UK context under which UK elections are (unsurprisingly) fought, alongside the London-centric bias of the broadcast and print media, and the picture looks tough for gains of more than one seat. Holding onto Arfon will be enough to keep the troops busy between now and 2015.

10 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Westminster

Target Seats in Wales: Labour

We’ve already seen where the Conservatives will be focusing their efforts. Instead of hoping to stretch their influence in Wales, they’ll be desperately attempting to stem the tide. And even if UKIP aren’t going to make the same inroads in Wales as they’re likely to do in England, the influence of another right-wing party pulling votes from Conservatives is all the more reason to write off Conservative chances of any gains. So which of those Conservative seats will Labour be sniffing around and pouring resources into? It’s time to do the stats.

Labour already holds most of the constituencies in Wales at the National Assembly: Aberavon, Alyn & Deeside, Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff Central, Cardiff North, Penarth & Cardiff South, Cardiff West, Clwyd South, Cynon Valley, Delyn, Gower, Islwyn, Llanelli, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, Neath, Newport East, Newport West, Ogmore, Pontypridd, Rhondda, Swansea East, Swansea West, Vale of Clwyd, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham

That means that there are only two seats that don’t make it into the top 10 (for completeness see here). And those top 10 target seats in order of ‘best contender for a challenge’?:

  • Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire
  • Preseli Pembrokeshire
  • Carmarthen East & Dinefwr
  • Aberconwy
  • Clwyd West
  • Monmouth
  • Ynys Mon
  • Arfon
  • Brecon & Radnorshire
  • Montgomeryshire

My theoretical model has taken a slight hit. Ynys Môn (6th target in this analysis) is already held by Labour’s Albert Owen – and has been since 2001. And there are three seats currently held by Labour in the Assembly that they don’t hold at Westminster: Cardiff Central, Cardiff North and the Vale of Glamorgan. Clearly those three seats are going to insert themselves at the top of my list, and Ynys Mon is going to drop off. So let’s re-jig it a bit:

  • Vale of Glamorgan
  • Cardiff North
  • Cardiff Central
  • Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire
  • Preseli Pembrokeshire
  • Carmarthen East & Dinefwr
  • Aberconwy
  • Clwyd West
  • Monmouth
  • Arfon

It turns out that the Labour Party has done their own wish-list for 2015, and they’re gunning for 8 seats. How do they fit in with my assessment?

Well, they’ve plumped for numbers 1-7 and 10 in my version. Why they think that Clwyd West and Monmouth are impregnable is beyond me, particularly with the entertainment that UKIP is likely to throw into the mix, although Hywel Williams is probably up for a jumpy night in Arfon  despite coming in at number 10 in the Penarth a’r Byd listing. As for the others, the Vale of Glamorgan should be winnable if Labour can select a candidate more credible than their 2010 disaster, Jonathan Evans has taken the coward’s way out having already seen the writing on the wall in Cardiff North, and despite a sizeable majority Jenny Willott has got her work cut out over the next 2 years to cling on to Cardiff Central (BlogMenai thinks it’s certain to fall). Simon Hart in Carmarthen West/South Pembs is vulnerable. However even with the UKIP factor Aberconwy and Preseli Pembrokeshire are rather unlikely to turn red unless it’s a landslide, and with opinion polls saying that Ed Miliband has little credibility as potential Prime Minister I think we can rule out a huge victory for Labour. Jonathan Edwards is looking a safe bet to retain Carmarthen East/Dinefwr for Plaid.

Finally, let’s just remember that since Labour already hold 26 of the 40 Welsh seats at Westminster, some of the ‘top 10’ are likely to be much more challenging – all things being equal – than the ‘top 10’ of the other parties, because with seat number 10 you’re actually looking at the 5th least winnable seat.

10 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Labour, Westminster