Dual Ban Boomerang

John Osmond says the ban on candidates standing in both constituency and List seats in Assembly elections could rebound

John Osmond

Will the ‘dual ban boomerang’ return to haunt Welsh Labour’s leadership election in the coming weeks? The ban, coined by Wales Governance Centre Director Richard Wyn Jones, refers to the edict in the 2006 Wales Act preventing candidates standing in both a constituency and on the List in Assembly elections.

The ban was introduced by Labour against the united opposition attack of all the other parties in the National Assembly. It arose because of Labour’s frustration that candidates they beat in first-past-the post elections could pop up as Assembly members elected on the List. The most widely quoted case was in the 2003 Assembly election in Clwyd West. Alun Pugh won the seat for Labour, but all three of his opponents also ended up in the Assembly via the List – Brynle Williams for the Conservatives, Janet Ryder for Plaid, and Eleanor Burnham for the Liberal Democrats.

Labour pointed to this result and declared it was absurd for “everybody to be elected”. Thus the ban on dual candidacy was introduced in the Wales Act 2006. However, this could now rebound on Labour itself. For what it means is that none of the three contenders for the leadership, all of whom represent first-past-the-post constituencies, can also put their names on the List as a fail safe back-up.

When Labour brought in the dual ban, only a few years ago, it could hardly have imagined that they would have any problems with seats like the Gower, Bridgend, and least of all, Merthyr – the constituencies of the three contenders for the leadership Edwina Hart, Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis. Yet in the wake of the 2007 Assembly election, this year’s European elections, and the current state of the polls, none of these seats look invulnerable.

Most marginal is Gower, followed by Bridgend and Merthyr. Indeed, on the basis of the polls, the Electoral Calculus website predicts that both Gower and Bridgend will fall to the Conservatives at next May’s Westminster election. In Gower it places the Conservatives on 34 per cent (25.5 per cent in 2005), and Labour on 32 per cent (42 per cent in 2005). In Bridgend it puts the Conservatives on 34 per cent (26 per cent in 2005) and Labour on 32 per cent (43 per cent in 2005).

Could Conservative victories in these constituencies in the Westminster election be followed up in the Assembly election in May 2011? Again it is Gower that is most vulnerable. In 2007 Edwina Hart polled 34 per cent (down 9.5 per cent on 2003) and the Conservative’s Byron Davies 30 per cent (up 10 per cent). That was close enough. Indeed, Labour probably only held on to the seat as a result of the UKIP candidate polling six per cent of the vote, which otherwise might have been expected to have gone to the Conservatives.

Carwyn Jones’s position in Bridgend looks a lot safer. In 2007 he polled 40 per cent of the vote (only 2 per cent down on 2003) compared with the Conservative’s 30 per cent. Even so in the volatile political situation we can anticipate in 2011, 10 per cent is not a comfortable margin.

Merthyr might be thought one of the safest seats imaginable, and for next year’s Westminster election it will remain so. However, the Assembly election looks more problematic. In 2007 Huw Lewis’s vote crashed by an extraordinary 23.5 per cent – down from 60.5 per cent in 2003 to 37 per cent, from 11,148 votes to 7,776. The main reason was the performance of an array of four Independent candidates who between them polled 15 per cent of the vote. This was a reflection of a dissatisfaction with Labour that is being exhibited across the Valleys, especially in Blaenau Gwent where Independents hold both Westminster and Assembly seats, and which could be accentuated in 2011.

So all three candidates for Labour’s leadership may have cause to look back ruefully at their party’s decision to ban dual candidacies. A boomerang may be down the track.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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