Labour is fighting back in Wales – but the Conservatives are still on course for an historic triumph at the general election. These are the key messages to come out of the new Welsh Political Barometer poll, the very latest measure of where the parties stand in the election battle.
Following the shock of our previous poll, which gave the Conservatives an unprecedented ten-point lead in Wales, our new poll once again asked people how they would vote in a general election for the House of Commons. These are the voting intention figures that our poll produced (with changes on the last Barometer poll, conducted in late April, in brackets):
Conservatives: 41% (+1)
Labour: 35% (+5)
Plaid Cymru: 11% (-2)
Liberal Democrats: 7% (-1)
UKIP: 4% (-2)
Others: 2% (-1)
The big change on our previous poll is clearly the recovery in Labour support. After doing exceptionally badly in the last poll, they have now pulled back within two percentage points of their Welsh vote share in the last general election. Yet Labour have not been able to eat into Conservative support at all. Although barely changed since our last poll, the Tories’ 41 percent is a new high for them in any Welsh opinion poll, ever. At this early stage of the general election campaign, the two largest parties seem to be squeezing the smaller ones: Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP have all seen their support edge downwards since two weeks ago.
If we follow standard practice and project these results onto Wales using uniform national swings since the 2015 general election, then our latest poll implies the following overall result. (Projected changes from the 2015 result are in brackets):
Conservatives: 20 seats (+9)
Labour: 16 seats (-9)
Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (no change)
Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (no change)
As with our previous poll, Plaid and the Liberal Democrats are projected to hold the seats they currently have but make no gains. Despite the recovery in Labour support since our previous poll, the Conservatives are still projected to gain nine seats from Labour: Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Cardiff West, Clwyd South, Delyn, Newport East, Newport West, Wrexham, and Ynys Mon. Although this projection is one seat better for Labour than our last poll, such a result would nonetheless decisively break Labour’s record of coming first in both votes and seats in Wales at every general election from 1922 onwards.
So what can we make of these latest findings? After they showed considerable resilience in last week’s local elections, this poll provides further evidence that Labour – who have been the dominant party in Wales for nearly a century – are not quite ready to roll over and die. It is possible that our previous poll slightly over-stated the extent of Labour decline, and they clearly remain very much ‘in the game’ in a large number of seats in Wales.
The poll also shows that the early part of the election campaign has done no favour to the smaller parties, who have been squeezed by the media focus on May versus Corbyn. All the smaller parties will need to use effectively the opportunities provided by any Leaders’ Debates to try to make themselves appear relevant in this election contest.
Above all, what this new poll does is confirm that the Conservative challenge to Labour’s long-standing dominance in Wales is very real. I wrote after the last poll that “Wales has been Labour for longer than any voter taking part in these elections can possibly remember. We could be just over six weeks from that near-century of one-party dominance coming to an abrupt end.” The same is still true – except that now there are just over four weeks to go. The clock could be running out on Labour Wales.
The poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, had a sample of 1018 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov from 5-7 May 2017.