Jury still out on Welsh election result

John Osmond asks what kind of contest is going on

What can we say about the Welsh general election one week into the campaign? The first is to ask whether this is, indeed, a Welsh general election or, rather, a mid-term judgement on the performance of the UK government in London. Plaid Cymru wants it to be seen as a Welsh election, while Labour wants it to be framed in terms of opposition to Westminster cuts.

If the polls are anything to go by – see table below – Labour (shall we still call it Welsh Labour) is getting the better of this argument.  It was noteworthy, for instance that Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain (rather than First Minister Carwyn Jones) was prominent in the launch of Labour’s campaign in south Wales in Llanelli yesterday. His main message was to point to the “chasm” in policies such as student fees between the Labour-led government in Cardiff and the Conservative-led government in London.

Poll/date Labour Con Plaid Lib Dem Others
May 2007







ITV Yougov

Jan 2011






ITV Yougov

4-8 March






ITV Yougov

28-30 March






Western Mail Mmg:Clarity

4-5 April






Apart from this two other questions have emerged in the first week, the answers to which look destined to frame much of Welsh politics for the forthcoming five years. The first is whether Labour’s commanding lead in the polls can be sustained and whether it is sufficient to enable it to form a majority government. In the absence of solid evidence from the key marginal constituencies – such as Cardiff North and Aberconwy – there is no way of answering this question with any surety.

However, my gut instinct remains, as I suggested here , that Labour will still struggle to reach 29 or 30 seats, let alone a clear majority. The next Yougov poll, a week today, will be critical in telling us whether the campaign itself is having any impact at a national level.

I suspect it won’t. But that still leaves the ground war in the key marginals likely to remain influential, a factor that the polls simply don’t register. What is clear, however, is that Labour in Wales is benefiting from the state of UK politics. In Scotland, it is a different story. There the SNP has picked up since the New Year and is level pegging with Labour as the force that can most effectively act as a bulwark against a Tory government in Westminster. The SNP also have the crucial advantage of having Alex Salmond as the most effective leader in Scottish politics.

The issue over whether Labour will be able to form a majority government has dominated the headlines this week. My second question has not really surfaced, but the answer to it will be as important in determining the structural outline of the future of Welsh politics in the long run. What is happening to the Liberal Democrats? While, perhaps counter-intuitively, the Conservatives are holding up well in the polls, Liberal Democrat support has halved this year. Is this a temporary or long-term phenomenon and where are those votes going?

In Scotland, Liberal Democrat support has fallen by the same amount, if not more, depending on which poll you look at. There, however, the main beneficiary seems to be the SNP. In Wales it is Labour.

For Welsh Liberal Democrats the crucially important thing is not their overall percentage vote on 5 May, but the number of seats they hold on to. In this their main comfort is that they are very well dug in behind locally built ramparts in places like Cardiff Central. Of course, that doesn’t work so well on the regional list vote – especially as candidate names are no longer featured on the ballot paper.

If the Welsh Liberal Democrats can hold the line by, say, limiting their losses to two out of their current six Assembly members they’ll survive. They will still be players in coalition politics. However, if they slip below four members the question will arise about their longer term prospects in Welsh politics. Kirsty Williams must be ruing the moment she vetoed the Rainbow coalition in the wake of the 2007 election.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

One thought on “Jury still out on Welsh election result

  1. I think Plaid Cymru will also regret not forming a Rainbow Coalition. Had Ieuan Wyn Jones been First Minister he would be able to say ‘Plaid was a shield against London’. That is not the case as a junior partner.

    I think following the results, if Plaid fall behind the Tories. One has to question why it isn’t doing as well as the SNP – particularly if you look at the 1999 results. If Plaid continue to have similar policies to Labour, then really they’re irrelevant. So, depending on the result, Plaid will have serious questions to ask about what they really are all about. Because even I find it quite hard to distinguish them from Labour!

    On the whole it will be a good day for Labour and the Tories. However if there is a chance for a Rainbow coalition, in my humble opinion Plaid should bite the bullet and form it (providing they’re the senior partner). That will help the long term prospects of the party. And surely, we’ve now grown up enough as a nation, to stop banging on about the dirty tories and thatcher!?

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