The end of Part One

Daran Hill considers the implications of the interim local election results

First the small caveat: not all the results are in.

Next, the big caveat: local election results are not General Election results. There is significant variability, not least because different parties stand or don’t stand, there are large differences in motivation, voters often split votes between parties in a way they can’t in a General Election, and the turnout is radically different. But having said all that, what do the results today tell us about the strength of the political parties and are there any messages peeping through for 8th June? The answers aren’t crystal clear but nevertheless there are some clear messages for the different political parties.

Labour: It could have been worse. A lot worse. The bad bit for them was losing control in Bridgend and melting down in Wrexham; while they were clobbered in the heads of the valleys area of Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent and, to a lesser extent compared to last year, in Rhondda too. But consolidating their hold in Rhondda Cynon Taff and Flintshire with a few cheeky new wins would surely have been their biggest triumphs had they not held on so convincingly in the urban centres of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. Heartland Neath Port Talbot and Torfaen were never in doubt either. Overall Labour will be heartily pleased at outperforming every other party, and maybe including their own party in England too, showing the resilience of a brand that has been rather shaken in recent weeks and by recent polls. Yes, ground was lost to the Conservatives, but it wasn’t any sort of meltdown and it wasn’t as bad as 2008 so Labour is bruised but resilient. More to the point, it enters the short campaign of the General Election being able to argue convincingly it is the only party which has the reach and ability to tackle the UK Government.

Conservatives: The Tories had a highly credible if unspectacular night. Apart from some weaker than hoped council returns in places like Conwy and Newport, they had little to reproach themselves for. Outright control in Monmouthshire, 20 seats in Cardiff, official opposition status in both the capital and the second city for the first time, up from 9 to 19 seats in Powys and now the largest group, the biggest group on Denbighshire, and within a wafer thin strike of forming a majority in the Vale of Glamorgan. The Conservatives have asserted themselves clearly once again as the second party of Welsh politics. The real significance for the General Election is that they mainly did this in areas corresponding with seats they hold or hope to win next month.

Plaid Cymru: Well the number of seats has climbed and there is much to be pleased about in Carmarthenshire and also other authorities like Wrexham, Neath Port Talbot and Denbighshire where Plaid has strengthened its presence considerably. Less impressive was failing to win Ceredigion outright, losing its only seats in Torfaen, going backward in Caerphilly and just making a bit of ground in Rhondda Cynon Taff. Indeed, Rhondda should have been a romp forward for Plaid and they should have capitalised on the aforementioned weakness of Labour in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil too but at least trying there. And Plaid also failed to #GetItDone in any meaningful way in Cardiff, despite all the hype, and lost Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan to the Conservatives for the first time in decades. So Plaid may be spinning their extra 30 plus councillors as a positive but they know deep down that, with Labour in trouble, they should have been doing way, way better than they have done.

Liberal Democrats: The Lib Dem performance was a bit of a damp squib. A decade ago they were the urban alternative to Labour in Wales; today they are no longer the second party in Wrexham, Swansea or Cardiff and have yielded ground and oomph in county halls to the Conservatives. Even in their one realistic target seat of Cardiff Central they failed to cut it and lost councillors to other parties. There’s not a lot to smile about over the next month as the Second Part of the contest is one where they are going to find it even more difficult to make an impact.

UKIP: No councillors, no prospects, no momentum, no hope, no further comment.


Daran Hill is MD of Positif

5 thoughts on “The end of Part One

  1. Actually some of this, with hindsight, is wrong. I’ve over egged Plaid in Wrexham but under baked them nationally. They got 202 seats to Tories 184 and that’s quite an achievement considering the nature of the campaign. I still think they should have done way better in Cardiff and fought Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent properly but I also concede I’ve been unfair on them in this article.

  2. Pretty textbook analysis tbh.

    However, I would like to see the author’s justification of the following sentence:

    “The Conservatives have asserted themselves clearly once again as the second party of Welsh politics”

    In the last 366 days there has been three elections (including PCC’s) and Plaid have “clearly” beaten the Tories every time. As such, what is the evidence of the Tories being the “second party of Welsh politics”.

    Please don’t say Mark Reckless.

  3. David, I’ve revised that opinion based on the overall plaid tally, as per my previous comment.

  4. Last week simply confirmed what has been said before about Labour being hard to dig out where they are well dug in. It has to be said that they are expert in using the advantages of incumbency.

    That said, their survival here in Cardiff was a shock, given the total pig’s breakfast they made of running the Council. Perhaps the Corbyn line plays better in areas where there are tens of thousands of students with no long term interest in where they are staying. It must also be said that opposition groups are too polite here. In 2004, it took an aggressive independent campaign to draw attention to some of the things a previous discredited Labour administration had done, paving the way to a spectacular Liberal victory.

    The underperformance of the Liberals generally on Thursday is also a big surprise. One hears a lot of Tory ‘Remainers’ grumbling, but in the end, given the straight choice between May and Corbyn, will they actually vote Liberal? Meanwhile the Liberals’ leftist base have still not forgiven them for their cynical U-Turn over tuition fees.

    It is seems likely that the collapse of the UKIP vote to the Conservatives will be even more complete on 8 June, leaving the latter as the most popular party in Wales! However, looking at Professor Scully’s list, this is unlikely to translate into much in the way of new seats. Most of those places were never going to shift, and the local results confirm it. The Conservatives are winning votes but not necessarily in the right places. Ironically the ‘first past the post system’ works against them in Wales.

    It is the psychological change that may be most significant in the longer run. A lifelong Labour voter only has to vote Conservative once to cease to be a lifelong Labour voter.

  5. Labour will be pleased with the retention of overall majorities in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. Professor Scully still insists that this will not save them in the General Election next month. Discerning voting patterns between the three political institutions (local authorities, Cardiff Bay and Westminster) is an art in itself. I had thought that Plaid might have made a better showing in Blaenau Gwent where they came within 650 votes of winning in the election last year on a 28.8% swing. As it turned out, they managed only one council seat with the independent vote winning out. What the political complexion of those independent councillors is is a matter of speculation but it’s clear that different levels of government produce widely different results.

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