The Election in Wales: Some Initial Thoughts

Even in this extraordinary general election, the result in Wales almost defies belief. Recall that the first Welsh two polls of the campaign put the Conservatives on historically high levels of support, and apparently on course to transform electoral politics in Wales by capturing a long list of seats from Labour. Subsequent polls had shown Welsh Labour fighting back very strongly, and our final pre-election Welsh Political Barometer had suggested that Labour might even re-capture the two seats they had lost to the Welsh Tories in 2015. But few anticipated a Labour performance as strong as the one we actually got.

 

Let us put some historical perspective on this. Yes, Labour have long dominated elections in Wales – this was the 26th successive general election where they have won the most votes and seats. But given the difficult start to the election who could ever have expected that Welsh Labour would gain their highest vote share since the very high watermark of the first Blair landslide in 1997? Or that the party would not only regain the two seats narrowly lost in 2015 but also add to this Cardiff North?

 

Quite how this Labour success is interpreted might be crucial to the future of the party in Wales. Was this down to Welsh Labour – a campaign focussed around First Minister Carwyn Jones with Jeremy Corbyn was largely excised from party campaigning materials? Or is this interpreted simply as part of a much better result for Labour across Britain than almost everyone had anticipated – and for which Jeremy Corbyn’s active and increasingly impressive campaigning must surely be given plenty of credit?

 

For the Welsh Conservatives, this has been a desperately disappointing election. Far from producing an historic breakthrough for them, election 2017 has seen the party fall back to its 2010 level of eight seats. We should note that the Conservative vote share in Wales is its highest since 1935/before World War I: the problem has not been falling Conservative support so much as the extraordinary campaigning resilience of Labour. But the Welsh Tories have hardly helped themselves. Assembly leader Andrew RT Davies produced a performance in the first Welsh Leaders’ debate that attracted open derision from the audience, while the second such debate saw a farcical dispute about who should even represent the party.

 

Plaid Cymru made one gain in this election. The party’s young rising star, Ben Lake, finally extinguished the long Welsh Liberal tradition by gaining Ceredigion. Plaid also held their existing three seats – though only very narrowly in the case of Arfon. But elsewhere their performances were mostly dreadful. Plaid won their lowest vote share since 1997, lost by embarrassingly wide margins in some seats – Like Rhondda and Blaenau Gwent – where they had talked up their chances, and the future of party leader Leanne Wood must now be in serious question.

 

This election challenges many of the things that psephologists have long held to be true. Plentiful evidence across many electoral contexts has documented that election campaigns rarely produce much aggregate change in voting intentions. But that was hardly true in 2017. Scholars have also believed strongly, with good reason, that divided parties rarely prosper. Yet despite their UK party leader being openly rejected by a very large proportion of his own MPs, and in the face of enormous hostility from much of the press, Labour have produced an election result that appeared impossible only a month before polling day. And in Wales that result has been the most impressive of all.

Comments

  • Elfed

    I totally agree with you, Mr Scully, that this was an excellent result for Labour. But I have to disagree with you that this was a bad night for Plaid. In most places we were squeezed between the two larger parties as were all other smaller parties but to come out of this election having increased the seat numbers should be seen as a success. At the end of the day it is the number of seats that count, in our present electoral system as demonstrated by the Tories failure to keep the seats they won in the last election plus loosing Cardiff North even though their percentage of the share was up.

  • K. Vivian

    Although I am unable to empathise with her policies – Theresa May is no less self-seeking than the now ermine wearing Kinnock or billionaire Blaire – one cannot but feel sorry for her self-inflicted tragedy of almost Greek proportions. Fortunately Leanne Wood will never experience the appalling realisation of being usurped by a lesser person.

  • Graham Davies

    “the future of party leader Leanne Wood must now be in serious question.”

    Are you joking? She has increased her party’s seats in three successive elections – Assembly, council and Westminster – and her position is under threat? You’re off your rocker!

  • Welshguy

    Something that seems obvious to me, but I’ve hardly seen it mentioned, is that Corbyn’s leftwing appral has clawed back many voters who had switched to Plaid Cymru over the last twenty years or so. In that context it’s not surprising that Plaid Cymru would do badly. The question is what is the way forward for the party now. I don’t think Wood needs to be worried about her job for now – Plaid have alays flattered to deceive in the Valleys – but she should step down unless significant inroads are made at the next Assembly election.

  • Richard

    The facts are simple about Plaid.

    1. They have four seats in an interestingly close Westminster set up.

    2. Their vote was NOT squeezed too badly with Labour MPs targeting their voters and NOT attacking them in print in swing seats.

    3. They have finished off the Liberals in rural councils and Assembly plus Westminster seats.

    4. Their long game of influencing devolution and changing labour in Wales to Welsh Labour seems to be working.

  • Geraint

    Twelve Tories and the DUP
    Interesting to see the way the 12 Tories and their leader north of the border are being treated. As soon as the DUP come into the frame the Scottish leader who is not an MP is given assurances about social policy as soon as she demanded them. Former senior civil servants when interviewd about hung parliaments and BREXIT noted that the party in Scotland will be looking at BREXIT differently and London will have to take this into account. The party in Scotland is making moves to be seen to be more independent as it was in the 1960s.
    We then have the Conservatives “friends” in the DUP with 10 MPs. Their concerns about the border will be central to BREXIT negotiations from now on.
    That leaves our 8 Welsh Tories. What influence will they or do they want to have on the situation? Nothing from them on the border event though we know that two of the major points of entry from Ireland to the UK run through Wales with a huge impact on jobs in Pembrokeshire and Ynys Mon. Heard virtually nothing about the needs of manufacturing (Cardiff & Swansea export in the region of 60% of their manufacturing output to the Single market area) and the needs of the agricultural sector. Eight MPs inside the tent working together could be highly significant in shaping our future. I wonder if Super Mac ever said “influence dear boys influence”.

  • Ddirpytnop

    The incredible revival in the Labour Party’s fortunes has obscured what was actually a remarkable increase in the Conservative share of the vote. One in three Welsh voters voted Tory, which completely discredits any remaining notion that Wales is a uniformally left leaning nation. Interestingly though, some Welsh Tories seem to be casting envious glances at the amount of autonomy given to Welsh Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland. I wonder whether we might be about to witness a struggle within the Welsh party to try Welshify it? As for Plaid, it will never make any electoral progress until it replaces Wood with someone with greater electoral appeal. A minority party with only limited opportunities to get across its messages needs a charismatic leader if it is to make headway. Leanne might be likeable but there is nothing in the slightest bit inspirational about her.

  • Angharad

    Plaid should regard this election as a success. In an election where the voters appear to have either voted Tory, or whoever they perceived as the most likely to defeat or keep out the Tory, other parties were squeezed like never before. Even in seats not held by either Labour or Tory, the nature of the UK-national campaign persuaded people to vote for one or the other, “to keep [the other] out”. An illogical decision maybe, but I heard this on the doorstep.
    So for Plaid to hang on to all three of their seats, and add one, in such circumstances is quite remarkable.

  • Sian Caiach

    Across the UK the race seemed to be polarising increasingly between 2 parties, whether Labour/Conservative, SNP/Conservative,or DUP/SF.
    Is this just an impression or is it factual?

    • Angharad

      I don’t think it is just an impression; I think it is real.
      My guess is that it at least partly has something to do with psychology. When something extreme happens (like, for example, Brexit, threat of neo-fascist takeover, open racism in tabloid press, child running out a little distance in front of your car) the evasive action you take is disproportionate to what is actually required (emergency brake rather than stop in a controlled manner, just before the child).
      It’s also partly about personalities, thanks to the appetites of our media. More extreme personalities make better news.
      The path back towards the centre might be a long one. Unless a Macron-like figure emerges.

  • J.Jones

    The trouble with “bigging up” Leanne’s Assembly victory in Rhondda is that it neglects to consider the reality of that particular election.
    Leighton Andrews is a character most often referred to as “abrasive” and he had largely dominated the headlines for pushing the highly unpopular, but necessary, measures taken to improve Education and reorganise Local Authorities.
    In Rhondda, at the time, there was widespread unhappiness that whatever Labour had done hadn’t worked for THEM and Plaid, as Plaid does, niggled away at that sense of dissatisfaction.
    With the re-awakening of the 18-25 vote I expect that Plaid will enter the Assembly elections pledging to…give students free University tuition within Wales and I expect that stance to be a vote winner.
    In this election Ceredigion was an unexpected bonus. Even there the Plaid vote only increased marginally while the Labour vote increased considerably. Arfon nearly went Labour and will at the next election. Plaid still hasn’t cracked Ynys Mon.
    What Plaid aren’t is the “Party of Wales”. They remain, as they always have been, the party of the Welsh speaking educated middle class.

  • K. Vivian

    Lord (ugh) Kinnock posited hatred for the peerage gravy train whilst serving as a humble MP; now he wears the ermine. The latest addition to his dynasty, Stephen Kinnock, who recently described Corbyn as a disaster, now proclaims that he will be pleased to ‘serve’ in the shadow cabinet. Who says that ALL Welsh Labour voters cannot be fooled ALL of the time?

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