Daran Hill argues that the snap General Election is a fight for the survival of Labour
The well respected political academic John Curtice summed it up: “On a day of an election announcement, no opposition has been in this weak a position.”
36 hours later Labour’s position had weakened even further with the publication of a YouGov poll taken after the General Election was called in which the Conservatives were pegged at 48% (+4), Labour at 24% (+1), the Lib Dems at 12% (-1) and the UKIP at 7% (-3). Amazingly the Conservatives seem to be developing even more momentum, which isn’t the way these things normally go. During an election the incumbent government tends to lose ground and then rally a bit toward polling day even if, as in the case of Gordon Brown and John Major, they were destined to leave office anyway. The closest recent historical parallel is 1983, where Margaret Thatcher managed to increase the size of her lead throughout the campaign and went on to win a majority of 144 seats.
Not only that, the UK’s first female Prime Minister also managed to take the biggest number of constituencies in Wales ever for the Conservative Party. Newport West, Bridgend, Cardiff West, Delyn and Clwyd South were all turned blue. It was an election in which voting patterns and swings were pretty similar across Wales, England and Scotland (though as a bit of a curio Wales achieved the highest turnout in any of the home nations at 76.12%).
Nevertheless, the broad homogeneity was as striking then as it is lacking now. As I wrote for Click two years ago, “For Wales See England” when it came to the 2015 General Election result The biggest shock of the last General Election wasn’t that the Conservatives won (they were always on target to be the biggest party) but that the SNP achieved such a triumph in Scotland, gaining 56 of 59 seats. The biggest shock of the last General Election for Wales is that the results looked nothing like Scotland and one helluva lot like England.
Nothing that has happened since – especially with Wales and England both voting to leave the European Union and thereby confounding and upsetting the Welsh establishment in equal measure – has convinced me that this linking of Welsh and English voting patterns has been broken in any way. As with all General Elections, the real story is about who forms the UK Government but, with Labour so far adrift, there is a real possibility of Labour’s annihilation outside its heartiest heartlands. My conversations with many in Labour over recent days has just reinforced that view.
Therefore I think it is perfectly appropriate to look at this election as a fight for the very survival of Labour. That to me is the biggest and most interesting story. Yes, Leanne may run in the Rhondda. Yes, Plaid will throw the kitchen sink at Ynys Mon again. Yes, it will be worth watching to see if the SNP loses any ground. Yes, the Lib Dems will be looking to step back from the abyss and take back seats like Brecon & Radnorshire and Cardiff Central. Yes, UKIP will be mildly interesting in Clacton. Yes, the Greens will pretend some rubbish about a breakthrough again. But this is a General Election that will, above all, decide whether Labour continues as a national force in politics.
And you can interpret “national” for Wales as well as England if you’re not too precious about terminology. Wales is in no way immune from a Conservative onslaught. The Tories already hold 11 out of 40 Welsh seats at Westminster and could very conceivably win a series of others with uniform swings. As Roger Scully, the only accomplished Welsh psephologist, has pointed out there are eight seats in which Labour is very, very vulnerable. It would not take a total earthquake for Labour to meltdown. Indeed, it would just need UK polling trends to be broadly matched in Wales for Plaid to take Ynys Mon, the Lib Dems to regain Cardiff Central, and for the Conservatives to win six more seats in Wales – Delyn, Clwyd South, Wrexham, Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend and Newport West.
Just think about that scenario for a moment and two things become apparent. The first is that the Conservatives, provided they did not lose ground to Labour in Gower or Cardiff North, would be on 17 seats. This would be the dead equal of Labour in Wales. Stretch the imagination a little further and consider that Plaid could conceivably also do what it did to Labour at last year’s Assembly election and win Rhondda outright, which is not a fanciful thought with Leanne Wood as the candidate, and Labour ends up being on 16 seats to the Conservatives’ 17. The last time the Conservatives “won” a General Election in Wales was 1859…
The second consequence of such a meltdown for Labour is that, except Llanelli, Labour would not hold a single seat outside of Glamorganshire and Gwent. The entirety of rural and North East Wales would be in the hands of other parties. There would not be a single Labour MP north of Merthyr Tydfil. In such a scenario, despite Labour’s very credible performance in last year’s Assembly elections, it would struggle to portray itself as an all Wales party. Indeed, so big would the chasm be between what it achieved in 2016 and 2017 that I suspect those in Labour looking to found a separate Welsh party with its own identity and policies would receive a significant boost.
There will of course be those who dispute these possibilities and trends, and that’s what political analysis is all about. Politics isn’t the language of absolutes, and my view is that nothing is certain. If the last few years have taught us anything it’s that the conventional political rule book should be binned. But at the same time if, in these febrile times, we can seek out any sort of parallel between 2017 and another election then it must be 1983, the year in which Labour was crushed. Though there is of course a major difference between now and 1983: there isn’t a strong third force in UK politics. The undoing of Labour is down to arguably the cleverest manifestation of the Conservative Party ever and seemingly the most clumsy and inept incarnation of Labour. And that is before the Conservatives launch a campaign in which they will undoubtedly character assassinate Jeremy Corbyn to the nth degree. The Demon Eyes posters will have nothing on what is to be hurled in weeks to come. They will contend that on every level Corbyn is unfit to be Prime Minister and the public seems to agree.
The biggest challenge for Labour based on current polling isn’t to reach Downing Street, or even avoid being crushed, it’s to survive at all. The “existential crisis” described by Lord Kinnock last year is upon them. And in here in Wales as much as in England.
10 thoughts on “The Real Fight Starts Now”
An excellent and well argued analysis.
Although Mr.Hill is probably correct (as always) in his perspicaceous analysis, the main barrier for the Conservatives in Wales is the perception of the ‘personalities’ of the current leaders (in Wales). These two project chronic ‘old Tory’. Other Tory candidates are non-entities, horsey types or verging on the Vichy apologist. Therefore, unless the Tories come up with candidates that have or can reflect the current, ahem, ‘popularity’ of the Prime Minister then things will ‘stay the same’ – this is what I predict.
It won’t be a meltdown of Labour nor will Plaid Cymru gain (or lose) that much even if Rhondda is taken. As for the UK Irrellevance Party, Greens and Lib Dems; their day is done.
The council elections will see the growth in the number of ‘independents’ as people ‘vote the person not the party’ movement grows.
The dilemma for Labour is the question, on which their whole strategy appears to rest, do people vote for ‘policies’ anymore? The young might, the older no longer?
Events, dear boy, are happening with dizzying speed but people don’t change as quickly.
We’re having a general election not because Theresa May wanted one but because Labour wanted one. It was the votes of Labour MPs that got May her desire for an early election realised.
The result of the election, unless something truly remarkable happens will be a large Tory majority to see them through the Brexit process with Labour having, not so much little say as zero say regarding the outcome. Presumably Labour see this election and the disastrous results it brings for them as an opportunity to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as leader and it doesn’t matter who ends up paying for it.
We have the two main political parties in the UK both blatantly demonstrating that their party comes before anything else. Before the needs of the electorate and even before the needs of those who vote for them. If the Labour party does disintegrate then perhaps the silver lining might be that there’ll be one less self serving political party around for us to suffer.
Bellweather makes the point about the young voting for policies and the old not. Putting it slightly differently, when you’re young you vote for what you believe in, as you get older it becomes a damage limitation exercise. Anyone who doubts the damage done daily by Labour to itself need only listen to Eddy Mair’s interview with Dawn Butler MP on last night’s PM. Go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08m8z3b and it’s about nine minutes in. Just not electable.
Enjoyable as this is to read, we are still a long way way from writing Welsh Labour’s richly deserved obituary.
It is by no means impossible that the Conservatives might prove to be the most popular party in Wales, as determined by total votes, and yet make little or no net gain in Welsh MPs.
The media and the pollsters are overcompensating for their failures with ‘Brexit’ and Trump by exaggerating the strength of the Conservative position. In particular, they are ignoring the fact that this is not a single election but 650 separate elections.
Nationally the Conservatives may lose some seats to the Liberals over ‘Brexit,’ but hope to gain more from Labour, especially since UKIP seems to be over. There ate, however, two big problems with this. First, the Conservatives did so remarkably well last time that it is difficult to see how they can improve on it. Second, the remaining Labour seats tend to be places where there are deep cultural prejudices against voting ‘Tory’ even if most voters there are probably closer to Mrs May than to Mr Corbyn.
The Bellwether’s last four sentences may turn out to be very perceptive, but he is wrong about the Liberals. The irony of ‘Brexit’ is that it has brought the only explicitly anti-‘Brexit’ party back from the dead. They may be the wild card that makes this election far from the foregone conclusion the media and pollsters are assuming.
I hope and believe that the result will not be as bleak for Labour as Darren suggests it may but I agree that this election is an existential threat to the party as a realistic alternative government. Many if not most party members do not believe the polls; they have faith. Well perhaps their faith will be justified but if not, I hope they will reflect carefully on the implication of June`s result.
CapM is right when he says that Labour could have denied the PM the chance to call this snap election. However what message would that send and how could the leader of the opposition explain why he has long asserted he would be victorious yet marches his troupes away from the battle. 13 voted against; 9 Labour, 3 Independent and 1 SDLP
In UK terms, its the end of Tweedledum and Tweedledee duopoly politics. If you’re not for one party, it no longer means that you are automatically for the other. Labour has depended on that binary knee-jerk reaction for thirty years, and because it has come to an end, is now having to depend entirely on persuading voters of the benefits of its own vision. It has not succeeded in the past year and a half to do that effectively and is paying the price. Jeremy Corbyn has much to commend him and is closer to many people’s political outlook than the media (in particular) will give him credit for, but its unlikely to convert into votes.
In Wales, who knows how the voters will react – the electorate has been relatively right-leaning for a while (1979?) masked by the lack of political discourse – and the map of relative GDP that has been circulating recently (with Wales standing out as the only shining beacon of poverty in Western Europe) shows how dysfunctional has the political apparatus become – Westminster being the only game in town – for Labour, particularly. Really, we should start at our own feet and work outwards where the effort of a community brings material rewards not to ‘us’ as individuals but to ‘us’ as part of everyone.
If a Tory landslide reinvents Welsh politics then there may be something of a silver lining, but otherwise its looking very black indeed as we slither ever deeper into the mire. It won’t mean a thing to say ‘told you so’ in the fullness of time, because its going to be the ‘same old same old…’
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
I can still hardly believe that Labour MPs voted for their own destruction – Turkeys voting for Christmas. The latest polls just confirm that supporting Labour is a wasted vote. Only Plaid Cymru can fight the Tories now.
@ jon owen jones
When May proposed an early general election I can’t believe that any Labour MPs genuinely thought that Labour would come out of the election with more seats.
The message sent by not voting with the Tories would have been – we’re not delusionary about our prospects in an early general election and we’re not going to facilitate putting more Tory MPs into parliament and so make it easier for them to make decisions we don’t agree with and think would be bad for the people of the UK.
Labour is not only seen by the majority of the electorate as unfit for government but it acted in a way that indicates that it’s unfit to be the opposition to the government.
I’ll say its in for ‘fight’,even in its heartlands and even in our LEADER’s own patch,i.e.Bridgend. The Labour Party at UK level seems to have a death ‘rattle’ about it with a Leader who invokes ridicule over the most important matter of all,i.e defence of the country,whilst our local Leader seems to be immune to any major changes to public services,which results in his own constituency looking like a ‘tip’.The idea that Plaid Cymru can ‘defend’ Wales is surely a joke,and that’s the real tragedy as by its continual drive for separation of Wales from England,and obsession with welsh ‘culture’ it can only remain marginal to the huge majority of welsh people.If we can beat them, i.e (English free traders) them perhaps we need to join them. We can see in rugby (now only religion left) in wales that our regions are hopeless,and getting worse because they do not compete in English league with its wealth/support from BT etc etc.
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