What are we predicting will happen in Wales?
I’m back in the Land of My Fathers this weekend to watch the Wales v Ireland Six Nations decider, and to see my folks for Sunday Lunch on Mothers’ Day. As timing would have it, last week I made a vague promise to take a look at what might happen in Wales at the next General Election. Being London-based, I’m sure there is much news from the ground of which I’m simply not aware, so if my compatriots and others would add their own critiques and corrections, I’d be very grateful.
The easiest seats to call are the holds. Not all of these are mortal locks for the incumbant party, but if any of them changed hands, it would be newsworthy. One could imagine a People’s Voice style challenge against someone like Peter Hain (Neath) over the reasons behind his resignation making some headway, but unless the other parties stood aside, it is difficult to see these MPs falling at all. Very safe incumbants, and several Welsh Labour MPs would consider themselves as such, can sometimes be more vulnerable, in that they have never faced a significant challenge in their constituenies – that said, I would be surprised if the following saw a change of allegiance at the next election:
Labour likely holds (12): Rhondda, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhumney, Cynon Valley, Pontypridd, Ogmore, Islwyn, Aberavon, Torfaen, Neath, Swansea East, Wrexham, Caerphilly
Conservative likely holds (3): Preseli Pembrokeshire, Monmouth, Clwyd West
Lib Dem likely holds (2): Montgomeryshire, Cardiff Central
Plaid Cymru likely holds (3): Dwyfor Meirionnydd (formerly Meirionnydd Nant Conwy), Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, Arfon (formerly Caernarfon)â€¨
Independent likely holds (1): Blaenau Gwent
I don’t think there’s anything particularly controversial thus far. Similarly, the sorts of leads that we are seeing the Conservatives record nationally in the polls would make noticeable gains seems extremely likely. I’ve been reading through the PoliticsHome / YouGov poll of marginals (over 34,000 respondants in 238 marginal constituencies), and as much as I was initially suspicious of polling marginals as a subset, the methodology designed by Anthony Wells is reassuringly rigourous and offers the best evidence to date of the scale of changes we might see, though I would love to see an update given the new polling position since the Summer of last year.
The following gains are suggested by that poll, and I think represent a fairly realistic position of how a sizeable Conservative lead over Labour nationally might play out in Wales:
Conservative likely gains (8): Vale of Clwyd, Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South, Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff North, Newport West, AberConwy, Gower (all from Labour), and Brecon & Radnorshire (from Lib Dems)
Plaid Cymru likely gains (2): Ynys Mon (from Labour), Ceredigion (from Lib Dem)
Lab-Con Battleground Seats (7): The PoliticsHome / YouGov poll also suggests that Cardiff West, Delyn, Clwyd South and Bridgend would switch from Labour to Conservative, and that the national swing required for that would likely see Newport East, Cardiff South & Penarth, and Alyn & Deeside make the same journey. If correct, 14 seats would have moved from Red to Blue, giving Labour a total of 12 to the Tories’ 17. This isn’t impossible, but I think it represents the furthest extent that Wales would support David Cameron’s party.
The poll, of 34,464 responses, was conducted on 22nd July-4th August 2008, when national opinion polls by YouGov had the Conservatives leading Labour by between 19 and 22 points. That gap is somewhat narrower now, and might not quite be that large again at election. These 7 seats will be the true battleground for Labour and the Conservatives – with the latter needing 5 of the 7 to become the largest party in Wales.
Rough parity should perhaps be expected – the local elections in Wales last year saw a meltdown of support for Labour. They now control only 2 of the 22 councils in Wales (Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff), with the Conservatives also controlling 2 (Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan) – all remaining 18 councils have No Overall Majority, and Labour are no longer the largest group of Councillors in Wales.
Possible Labour losses (2): Beyond the 7 battleground seats between Labour and the Conservatives, there are two other seats that might change hands under the right circumstances. The Liberal Democrats are facing the prospect of losing perhaps 2 of their 4 Welsh seats. Their only prospect of a gain, in my opinion, is the chance that they might take Swansea West with the retirement of Father of the House, Alan Williams. Similarly, Plaid Cymru might be able to steal Llanelli from the Labour Party, although the PoliticsHome survey indicated that this would be a Labour-hold.
Boundary changes should not have a significant impact in Wales. Conwy’s changes to become Aberconwy will not change the fact that the Conservatives must surely win this seat if they are to make the gains suggested in Wales. I have included the other two new seats as Plaid Cymru holds – technically, Arfon would have been a notional Labour seat at the 2005 election, but it seems silly to describe Hywel Williams MP retaining his seat as a PC gain from Labour in a seat the latter never won.
In conclusion – Labour will do very well if they manage to stay as the largest party in Wales at the next election. The Conservatives are capable of pulling into a five seat lead if their margin of victory is great enough, and if PC and the LDs pick up their stretch-gains in Llanelli and Swansea West respectively. Plaid will be very satisfied with their progress, especially if they can double from 3 MPs to 6, whereas the Lib Dems should be concerned that they have only one absolutely safe seat in the whole of the Principality – Jenny Willots in Cardiff Central.
Barring any spanners being thrown amongst the pidgeons, Labour are facing losing their grip on their safest heartland. Expect the strains of Men of Harlech come election time, and the command to shoot upon seeing the whites of Tory eyes. Labour cannot afford to concede any more ground.