Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

    The Welsh Local Elections

Wales is seeing all-out local elections on May 1st. There are twenty two Welsh Unitary Authorities with 1,264 seats coming up for election. There are several curious features about Welsh local politics. Firstly, Labour doesn’t enjoy anything like the dominance in Wales that it enjoys at Parliamentary level. Currently it holds just eight of the authorities and does not control either Cardiff, or Swansea, Wales’ largest cities. Secondly, ratepayers, independents, and other non-party candidates remain very powerful. They dominate some rural authorities, and remain numerous even in the South Wales valleys, that are (usually) Labour strongholds in Parliamentary elections. Unlike their counterparts in some rural English districts, however, they should not be regarded as Conservatives in disguise. There are some Condependents in places like Pembrokeshire, and Powys, but overall, plenty of independents are supporters of either Labour, the Liberal Democrats, or Plaid Cymru. Thirdly, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats leave many seats uncontested, particularly in the South Wales valleys, and rural Welsh-speaking areas. The Conservatives however, have striven this year to increase the number of seats they contest.

When the councils were last fought, in 2004, Labour won 31% of the vote, 479 seats, and eight councils. Independents and minor parties won 27%, 356 seats, and three councils. Plaid won 16% of the vote, 175 seats and one council. The Liberal Democrats won 14%, 146 seats, and no councils. The Conservatives 11%, 107 seats, and one council. Nine councils are under no overall control.

Given Labour’s current poor standing in opinion polls, and the big drop in their vote in the Welsh Assembly elections, the party is likely to sustain significant losses in Wales. Turning to the individual councils:-

Blaenau Gwent
should be lost by Labour to No Overall Control. They have lost the constituency three times in a row, and Peoples’ Voice are fielding a sufficiently large number of candidates to provide real opposition to Labour. Bridgend, governed by anti-Labour coalition, should remain under No Overall Control. Caerphilly provided a shock win for Plaid in 1999. Labour won it back narrowly in 2004, but a loss of just 4 seats would see it go to No Overall Control, which is likely.

Cardiff saw the Liberal Democrats fall just short in 2004, and on paper, they should gain the six seats they need to gain control. Yet, they finished a long way behind both Labour and the Conservatives, outside their Cardiff Central stronghold, in 2007, and another strong Conservative performance may just deny them overall control. They will certainly remain the largest party. Carmarthernshire, currently run by a joint Labour/Indpendent administration, will remain under No Overall Control, but expect to see Plaid advance. Ceredigion, presently under No Overall Control, is Plaid’s top target in this election.

I think they’ll take it, on the back of a strong Assembly vote, but Independents confuse the picture. Conwy will remain under No Overall Control, but should see the Conservatives advance. Denbighsire will remain under No Overall Control. Flintshire, with a Labour majority of just two seats, should pass to No Overall Control, although Labour will remain the largest party. Gwynedd will remain under Plaid’s control, although a new local party, Voice of Gwynedd, should gain a few seats. Merthyr Tydfil has a Labour majority of just one seat, with the opposition consisting of independents. In all likelihood, Labour will lose this to No Overall Control, with Plaid picking up a seat or two. Monmouthshire, the Conservatives’ only council, should remain easily under their control. Neath Port Talbot will be lost by Labour if they lose just four seats. However, they’ve managed to persuade two unopposed Ratepayers to join them so will probably just cling on. Typically for the South Wales valleys, this is a Conservative and Liberal Democrat-free zone. Newport currently has a Labour majority of twelve. Labour should just hold on, but they are threatened by the strong performances put in by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in West and East respectively, in the Assembly election.

Pembrokeshire currently has a comfortable Independent majority. For the first time, the council is being properly contested by the Conservatives, who are fielding twenty one candidates. Independents should hold their majority, but will lose a number of seats to the Conservatives in areas that vote Conservative at Parliamentary level. Similarly, Powys will remain under Independent control, but the Conservatives should pick up a handful of seats here. Rhondda Cynon Taff, a Labour citadel the late nineteenth century, produced another shock win for Plaid in 1999. Labour won it back in a landslide in 2004, and will hold it this time, but will probably lose some seats to Plaid. Swansea, currently under No Overall Control, will remain so, and Torfaen will remain under Labour control. Vale of Glamorgan, in theory, should be an easy Conservative gain from No Overall Control. Yet, the Conservatives have underperformed here in every round of elections since 1997, still failing to capture the seat in the Assembly last year. I think they’ll take overall control this time, but wouldn’t be surprised if they fail. Wrexham, currently under No Overall Control, offers Labour’s only real chance of a gain, following the disappearance of Forward Wales. However, it will probably remain under No Overall Control. Finally, Ynys Mon will remain Independent.

In summary then, I expect Labour to retain four councils, and lose perhaps 90 seats, but remain the largest party, overall. I would expect Plaid to win two councils, and maybe gain 30-40 seats. I would expect to see the Conservatives win two councils, and gain around 40 seats. I would expect to see Independents retain three councils, and the Liberal Democrats to just fall short in Cardiff, but gaining 20 or so seats between them. Eleven councils should be under No Overall Control.

Finally, I must thank the political activist “Meurig” for his invaluable comments on my predictions.

There were two by-elections last night.

Suffolk County Council, Stowmarket.
Conservative 834, Lib Dem 781, Green 231, Labour 190, UKIP 114. Conservative hold. Both Conservatives and Lib Dems pushed up their vote strongly, at the expense of Labour, compared to the last by-election here in 2007.

Eden District Council, Morland. Independent 198, Conservative 108, LibDem 74. Indpendent gain from Conservative.

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