Analysis and Strategy - Westminster

This is the first of two posts in which I'll give my analysis of what the European results might mean for Plaid and, in particular, how this should shape the way we approach the next elections. This post will concentrate on the next general election, the second will focus on the Assembly election in 2011.

1. The seats Plaid already hold

The three seats we already hold are very secure. In Caernarfon we have more than four times the vote of any other party. In Meirionnydd Nant Conwy it is two-and-a-half times, and almost that much in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

2. Plaid's target seats

These comprise the four seats that, even before the political turmoils of the last month or so over expenses, we would have a reasonable expectation of either winning or being very close to winning.

In Ceredigion we are more than 3,000 ahead, and it seems almost certain that we will retake this seat.

In Ynys Môn we are just over 2,000 ahead of the Tories, and over 3,500 ahead of Labour who currently hold the seat. So this also looks secure.

In Llanelli we are just under 2,000 ahead of Labour. We must expect Labour's vote to recover over the next year, but perhaps by not all that much. That's because Labour now look likely to limp on at Westminster under the same old leadership. A new leader could have invigorated them, but the PLP has chosen to stick with what they've got. Therefore the general dissatisfaction with Labour is bound to continue. So Llanelli is very winnable.

Our fourth target is Aberconwy, which we hold at Assembly level with the new boundaries. This was a very close contest between Plaid and the Tories:

Plaid 4,236 ... Tories 4,228 ... Labour 2,453 ... LibDem 1,467 ... UKIP 1,951

On one level, it's easy to imagine that those who voted UKIP will vote for the Tories, which would make it easy for the Tories to win in a general election. But I think that's a false assumption. UKIP (if we leave aside the BNP) is essentially the only anti-EU party. There is a lot of anti-EU sentiment at large, which is shared every bit as much by people who vote for other parties on the usual domestic political issues: the economy, jobs, law and order and public services.

So Aberconwy is still winnable for Plaid, especially if we take steps to win over the 953 who voted Green. But it is the hardest of the four main target seats for us to win.

3. The new possibilities

Turning to other seats, I had not thought we stood much chance of gaining any seats at Westminster outside these seven. But thanks to Labour's demise and the expectation that anti-Labour feeling will only grow greater as they limp on for another year, I believe we stand an outside chance in Neath, the Rhondda and Caerffili.

In Neath Plaid were the second placed party in the last Westminster, Assembly and Euro elections. In each the margin has been getting closer. Up until now, the fact that Peter Hain was the highest profile MP representing a Welsh constituency counted very much in his favour. But that is now the very factor that is most likely to count against him.

Reactions to his return to the Cabinet have been mixed. Looked at from one direction, he's better than Paul Murphy ... but that's not saying much. The fact is that Peter Hain is tainted with financial irregularities on a scale much larger than most of those who have been exposed in the current expenses scandal. Not only that, but he appears to have his own starring role in the expenses scandal too.

However the thing that we should exploit to the fullest extent is that Peter Hain does not consider Neath to be where his main home is. The place he calls home is London. He was parachuted into Neath because it was a safe seat. In my view his Neath constituency should deselect him, but he has built up too much of a career to be moved now. Therefore he is a sitting target, an electoral liability.

The same is true of the Rhondda. It is another constituency where Plaid are clearly the only party that can challenge Labour. He is one of the batch of New Labour acolytes, parachuted into a safe seat with which he had no previous connexion. He is a blatant political opportunist who has and will change direction whenever it suits his political career. He started off by being a Tory, then was unashamedly Blairite, then put the knife into Blair when he thought he could get something better from Brown. He too thinks that London is his main home.

If his local Labour party had any sense they would deselect him, but they won't. Therefore the only choice left is for him to be voted out instead. I must however admit that I do very much admire him for his work with teenage pregnancy and teenage mothers. But he could do that work just as well as an MP for a constituency he had more connexion with ... or indeed if he were no longer an MP at all.

In Caerffili things are likely to centre around Ron Davies. When he was part of the Labour party he represented the face of Labour that was most receptive to devolution, and without him we might not have got the Assembly at all. But Labour have now moved on from there, even though the people of Caerffili have now elected Plaid in enough numbers in 1999 and 2008 for us to run the council.

I don't see Ron Davies being particularly inclined to return to Westminster, but I could imagine him in the Senedd. If some practical way could be found of combining the votes he received as an independent with Plaid's vote, Labour would be toast. The question is whether that partnership could be made in time for the Westminster election. If it could, the Westminster seat is there for the taking.

Some of my friends think that Ron Daves is very close to crossing over to Plaid. That maybe true, but I think that there might be more to be gained from him not joining Plaid. Our aim is independence, and Ron Davies probably isn't able to go that far. But that doesn't mean to say that he doesn't share our ambition for a Senedd not only with the primary lawmaking powers that we'll vote for in a referendum, but also for us to have responsibility over other matters such as taxation or the welfare and benefits system.

Therefore we have to see if there's a way of working with those who want (to use the Scottish expression) a "devolution max" constitutional settlement for Wales, coupled of course with the same day-to-day priorities of government for the economy, education, the NHS, transport and the environment. If there is, we can travel in the same direction for the ten years or so it will take us to get there ... and only then do we need to part company.

4. Conclusions

Things look very good for Plaid at the next election. You would put your mortgage on Plaid returning five MPs, and there is every indication that we will return six or seven.

We also have a slim chance in another three. And even if we don't win these for Westminster, we increase our chances of winning them at the next Assembly election in 2011.

In the meantime I don't want to be negative about any of the other seats in Wales. Unfortunately the first-past-the-post means that even if our level of support doubles in many other seats, it still won't make any difference to the outcome. Nonetheless there is important work to do; the spadework done now might make all the difference in the future, especially if constitutional reform at Westminster gives us some form of PR.

I'll write about the Assembly elections later. Surprisingly, my analysis is that things are not looking so good for Plaid in the Senedd, and therefore that we will need to do some serious work to improve on our fifteen seats there.

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Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

I am obviously not as au fait as you on the numbers individual seats, but I think Plaid have indulged in too much optimism. They run the most cash rich campaign now in Wales, and still couldn’t beat a Labour dying on it knees. They will be bitterly disappointed, primarily because they really needed that symbolic beating of Labour as a stepping stone. The fact is that they will be to all intents and purposes a bit part actor in the GE, which makes it difficult to see how they will ever face a Labour Party in more chaos than it is right now. By 2011, even its biggest enemies wouldn’t bet against a modicum of recovery in the Labour vote, particularly in opposition.

This is perhaps anecdotal, but do you foresee the fact that this General Election to be the most competitive since 1992 to have an adverse impact on smaller parties? In more electorally benign times, there perhaps was less of a concentration on voting for someone to get into power.

Be it Brown or someone else, this will be the first election in 17 years where there will be a full on toe to toe battle. Now I do not say for one minute that a vote for Plaid is a wasted one, but perhaps such conditions will focus people’s minds around who they want in Government – a straight decision between tory and Labour.

Interesting times, good post mate.

Anonymous said...

Marcus, please have a think about this.

Even if Labour recovers in Wales, it is very unlikely it will in England. Therefore wouldn't your energies be better served in fighting for a proper parliament for Wales with full law making and tax raising powers to protect our people from the policy experiments of an English based Conservative Party?

If that was the case your endorsement of Huw Lewis as the new Labour leader would be problematic as he is a devo skeptic.

Draig said...

Endorsing a potential Labour leader who is quietly supporting the "True Wales" campaign pretty much sums it up methinks...

Unknown said...

MH - Excellent analysis which closely matches my own thoughts - 6 Westminster seats looks to be a very realistic target, but I think that Aberconwy might be a seat too far and expect this to be won by the Conservatives at Westminster.
But the next three seats are all potentially winnable, and Plaid actually came second in 14 saets - I think that must be a record! There are a large number of disillusioned voters in the Valleys, many of whom have been prepared to vote Plaid in the past, but for whatever reasons have lost interest in the party. These missing Valleys voters represent Plaids best chance to break out of their Welsh-speaking heartlands, and a concerted focussed effort is needed here - one good push for the Westminster elections in 2010, but with the eye firmly on the next Senedd elections in 2011.

DaiTwp said...

I think the election result was very much a mixed bag for Plaid. Understandably they were pleased with with the greatest share of the votes in their 7 target seats, but as Marcus says above it will have been a big disappointment not gaining that symbolic "victory" over Labour, when Labour is at such a low ebb. It must be especially gauling for Plaid that having failed in this landmark themselves that the Tories succeeded.
All parties have been saying how difficult it is to draw conclusions for a GE from the Euro results - particuarly when turnout was so low (although this hasn't stopped the parties playing up their successes where it suits them). So it is hard to draw firm conclusions. It does look from the figures that a large portion of people who would usually vote Labour stayed at home. Whether these people vote and if so who for will be a major deciding factor in the next GE. But it must be a worry for Plaid that despite traditional Labour voters staying home they still couldn't win in places like Caerffili where they have a strong presence and run the council (in coalition). It makes me wonder if they can't win there as things are at the moment, when will they.

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

Draig - you are an idiot frankly for making such poor attempts at goading people. You have gone right down in my opinion, not that you care about that.

I support devolution that mirrors Scotland, you nats instead of considering whether people in other parties with such values should be worked with, decided to take shots at.

It shows the narrow nationalist mindset in all its nasty glory.

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

"All parties have been saying how difficult it is to draw conclusions for a GE from the Euro results - particuarly when turnout was so low (although this hasn't stopped the parties playing up their successes where it suits them)."

Exactly, imagine Draig, Colin Nosworthy (Plaid Press Officer/Guerilla Welsh Fare) and Morgan Lloyd's reaction if Plaid had beaten Labour. No mention of the Euro being 'low turnout' then.

Anonymous said...

God Marcus - this was an intelligent blog post about political possibilities. Then you turn up, obsessive crank you're becoming, and start ranting about Colins here and Colins there, and generally lowering the tne and intelligence level.
You're a test case of what too much time and a dose of monomania does for a once intelligent man.

MH said...

Sorry for the delay in replying to comments.

STH, I certainly think that Labour will recover thier position, but not by very much. Broadly speaking one in 4 voters, from all parties, who would normally have voted in a Euro election did not vote. But, in addition to that, one in four Labour voters switched their votes to another party. Labour will get back the one that stayed at home, but will not get back the one who switched their vote.

I think you also fall into the Peter Hain trap of seeing everything primarily in "Labour vs Tory" terms. That's fine for most of the UK, where there is no left-of-centre alternative to Labour. But it doesn't hold true in Wales. Whatever happens, Labour are going to lose the next Westminster election, and it will make no difference whether the opposition seat in Westminster is held by Labour or Plaid.


Anon, I wouldn't criticize STH (Marcus if he prefers) on further devolution for Wales. He himself, from what he said on the Politics Cymru interview, is all in favour of going beyond what we will get after the referendum. STH's problem is to convince the remainder of his party about it. I wish him every success in that.

Peter Hain (as in the Western Mail today) is still being two-faced about it. Inflating his own ego with "I am responsible for devolution" while at the same time saying "You should be grateful for what I've given you ... how dare you ask for more!" Of course that's a characature, but I think it's a characature that puts the spotlight on the essential nature of Hain's problem. It would simply be too humiliating for his 2006 Act to have lasted only a five years, rather than for a generation.


Penddu, as usual I agree with you. But on the subject of Aberconwy, I would point out that the Euro breakdown was on the old Conwy boundary, not the new Aberconwy constituency. This will make it less secure for Labour, and will stretch the constituency down the Conwy Valley into Plaid heartlands (judging by the local election results last year). So we have good reason to be confident.

Plaid's main fight will be with the Tories in the more Anglicized North East. Guto Bebb, their candidate was formerly in Plaid, and therefore is probably more in the "Welsh Conservatives" rather than "Conservatives in Wales" camp. That might be too much for the high numbers who have come to settle in the area from England. Also, as a turncoat he faces the same sort of problem as Alun Davies.

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

The problem with the people who have commented, is that they will not merely accept my view, but use it in the context of others. People I have never actually met beyond saying ‘Hiya’ to.

The initial comment, followed up by the bonkers nats, focused on that.

"Anon, I wouldn't criticize STH (Marcus if he prefers) on further devolution for Wales."

It should dont abuse me, make false accusations about me full stop.

Without Labour, devolution would not have occured. The nats are too pig headed to accept that.

I shall not amuse such people no longer.

The point still stands, the ‘low turnout’ excuse is used by all parties as a way to make hay. So the question I merely asked (without a real desire for people to take pot shots), is whether Plaid would have said that it was a ‘low turnout’ election had they won?

No one has dare to mention that Adam Price told us twice that they had finished first, then that they had beat Labour. Imagine if Peter Hain had done that?

Answers on a phlegm splattered post card please…

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