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Ynys Môn and Penyrheol

Two by-elections in Wales yesterday, and two very good results for Plaid Cymru.

First of all, the by-election for the National Assembly constituency seat of Ynys Môn, recently vacated by Plaid Cymru’s former leader Ieuan Wyn Jones. As has been pointed out, Ieuan had a highly impressive electoral record in Ynys Môn. Indeed, he was the only successful constituency candidate (for Westminster or the Assembly) that Plaid had ever had in Ynys Môn. The challenge that faced Plaid was to win without him, in a place where personal votes seem to count for a great deal.

The final result was (with % changes from the 2011 result in brackets):

Rhun ap Iorwerth (Plaid Cymru)

12,601

58.2%

(+16.8%)

Tal Michael (Labour)

3,435

15.9%

(-10.3%)

Nathan Gill (UKIP)

3,099

14.3%

(+14.3%)

Neil Fairlamb (Conservative)

1,843

8.5%

(-20.7%)

Kathrine Jones (Socialist Labour)

348

1.6%

(+1.6%)

Steve Churchman (LibDems)

309

1.4%

(-1.7%)

Turnout: 42.4% (-6.3%)

The first and most obvious thing to say is that this is clearly a very good result for Plaid Cymru. Of course, anything less than a victory would have been a great disappointment to them. They were the incumbent party; had encouraging recent local elections to build on; had a well-known and eloquent candidate with a strong Ynys Môn background; and they clearly put a lot of effort into a very energetic campaign. (I can’t think of a prominent Plaid member whose campaigning presence in Ynys Môn has not been announced to me via Facebook/Twitter at some point over the last few weeks!).

But even with these advantages it will be encouraging for Plaid, as were May’s local elections, that their local organisation in Ynys Môn appears sufficiently strong to support such a vigorous campaign. And it is similarly encouraging for them that the campaign won substantial electoral support, on what was, by by-election standards, a very respectable turnout. This result must place Plaid in a good position from which to challenge for the Westminster Ynys Môn seat in May 2015.

More generally, the result will be encouraging for Plaid regarding their future prospects. Since the 1999 ‘quiet earthquake’, the story of Plaid’s electoral performance has been one of almost unremitting disappointment. In a lecture last year I described it as ‘more than a decade of pretty abject electoral failure’. One good by-election does not turn that around. Plaid have a long way to go before they begin seriously challenging Labour’s hegemonic grip over Welsh electoral politics. But the Ynys Môn by-election is at least a decisive step in the right direction for them.

Labour’s Ynys Môn performance was disappointing. It was noticeable in the 2011 Assembly elections that the strong swings to Labour in south Wales were not quite replicated in the rest of the country. (To be precise, Labour’s average rise in constituency vote share between 2007-2011 was 15.6% in South Wales East [boosted, admittedly, by the special case of Blaenau Gwent], 13.8% in South Wales West, 10.8% in South Wales Central, 8.2% in North Wales, and 4.2% in Mid and West Wales). Labour can hardly be said to have done badly in north Wales in 2011, but its performance was not as consistently strong as in south Wales. But even taking that into account, Tal Michael’s result was below par. Still, as the recent YouGov poll showed, par for Labour in Wales is something quite different to that for any of the other parties.

Perhaps the most notable other feature about the result was UKIP finishing well ahead of the Conservatives, and indeed not far behind Labour. The Tories have a history of some electoral success on Ynys Môn: they held the Westminster seat until 1987, and finished second in the 2011 Assembly contest. In that context, to finish well behind UKIP is rather embarrassing. The result also lends some plausibility to the relatively strong UKIP showing reported in the recent YouGov Welsh poll. The less said about the Liberal Democrats’ showing, the better.

Projecting by-elections swings onto national elections is a very dubious exercise. Projecting Ynys Môn by-election swings onto national elections is probably even more dubious. However, because someone is bound to ask – and just, as Peter Snow used to say, as ‘a bit of fun’ (yes, I really should get out more) – I have worked out what would be the result of the 2016 National Assembly election ‘if these swings were repeated across the country’. (I’ve projected the by-election percentage swings onto both the 2011 constituency and list votes; parties that did not stand in the by-election, like the Greens, have been assumed to remain unchanged). This yields the following constituency and list vote shares:

PARTY

Constituency

List

Labour

32.0%

26.6%

Conservative

4.3%

1.8%

LibDems

8.9%

6.3%

Plaid Cymru

36.1%

34.7%

UKIP

14.3%

18.9%

Greens

3.4%

Soc. Lab.

1.6%

4.0%

This in turn yields the following projected seat outcomes:

PARTY

Constituency

List

TOTAL

Labour

23

1

24

Plaid Cymru

13

9

22

UKIP

0

10

10

LibDems

3

0

3

Conservative

1

0

1

This is not my prediction for what will happen in the 2016 Assembly election. And if anyone quotes me as saying that ‘Plaid Cymru are on course to win 22 seats in 2016’, or ‘UKIP will win 10 seats in the Welsh Assembly’ – well, may the curses of d’Hondt and (modified) Sainte-Lague be upon you.

The Penyrheol by-election result was also encouraging for Plaid Cymru. This ward within Caerphilly has been one of Plaid’s relative strongholds in south Wales for some years. The by-election, which followed the death of the local councillor Anne Collins, saw the following result:

Steve Skivens (Plaid Cymru) 929

Gareth Pratt (Labour) 554

Jamie Davies (Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts) 173

Cameron Muir-Jones (Conservative) 135

This is clearly also a very good result for Plaid (in a ward that returned three Plaid and one Labour councillors in 2012.) Nonetheless, it leaves wholly undisturbed Labour’s domination of the council following their sweeping 2012 gains.

Comments

  • Adam Ramsay

    Thanks for this. Interesting stuff.

    As a Green member, based in Oxford, but from Scotland originally, I’ve been interested for a year or so now in a trend in which people are switching to anyone who can claim to be independent of Westminster across the UK – George Galloway, George Ferguson (Bristol Mayor) the SNP, etc on the left/vague left, and UKIP on the right.

    Obviously this isn’t a complete trend, but one of the various things which seems to be happening in British politics. But Wales has always been interesting in that it has always seemed to be the exception. I was in the sports hall in Cardiff with the Greens for the 2011 count, and surprised to see how well Labour did vs Plaid (having been in a sports hall in Fife four years before watching the SNP votes pouring in).

    Obviously two by elections do not a trend make, but I’d be interested in your reaction to the following theory:

    Welsh Labour in the Assembly have tacked to the left for various reasons. This leaves less space for Plaid to do what the SNP have done, and means that Welsh Labour do well in Assembly general elections when everyone is thinking about the Assembly and the Welsh parties.

    In by elections, however, the media is more full of Westminster politics, and so, whether it’s a council by-election, or an Assembly one, they are more likely to vote on the performances of the Westminster parties. Ed Miliband fails to appeal to anyone in Wales in the same way as he fails to stand up to Alex Salmond at all. People are generally pissed off with Westminster parties, and so they vote for Plaid and UKIP.

    I’m not sure about this hypothesis, but would be interested in your reaction.

    thanks,

    Adam

  • Harry Hayfield

    Adam is quite correct. Since the general election of 2001, the number of votes cast for “non mainstream” parties (as the media might call them) has exploded. At Election 1997 in Britain (excluding Northern Ireland), the votes tallied by parties that were not Con, Lab or Lib Dem came to 8% (boosted by the Referendum Party), in 2001 that figure was 8% again, 2005 9% and in 2010 10%. It is also as if people are saying “Con government 1979 – 1997, failed, Labour government 1997 – 2010, failed, Coalition government 2010 – 2015, failing” and is likely to see a very large number of votes at the next election for parties that cannot win seats (so UKIP may not get their seat, but are almost certain to poll more than 5% of the national vote)

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