The Final Countdown

This has been an interesting few weeks. When Gordon Brown finally called the election nobody could have imagined it would be quite so eventful. I think it's time to look back, and of course make a few predictions about the outcome now rather than leave it until Friday morning and claim that's what I thought would happen all along.


For Labour nothing has changed. A deeply unpopular party was always going to lose this election, and it has only ever been a question of how many seats they could cling on to. I'm not aware of the situation in the whole of the UK in enough detail to be sure, but the only seat that I can think they might gain would be Glasgow East. That would be a shame because I have a lot of respect for John Mason of the SNP, but that's what often happens after a spectacular by-election win.

Labour will certainly gain nothing in Wales. Yet sadly, no matter how much they slump in terms of their share of the vote, Westminster's unfair electoral system will give them more seats than they deserve. Even with 35% of the Welsh vote, they will get about 50% of Welsh seats. No wonder they are so resistant to any form of fair electoral system.


A few months ago, this election was going to be a shoo-in for the Tories. What has amazed me is how weak the Tory leadership has been in seizing the advantage from an exhausted Labour party. I don't think it has anything much to do with Nick Clegg's rise, he just filled the vacuum that the Tories failed to fill.

Yet, for so many constituencies, the ground Labour loses can only realistically be filled by the other big party. Buggin's Turn has been the principle on which Westminster has operated for as long as I can remember. So the Tories stand in line to gain seats from Labour in Wales, as well as holding the three they already have.

The obvious gains are Cardiff North and the Vale of Glamorgan (despite my friend Ian Johnson's efforts ... but just wait for the Assembly elections next year) however their next targets are more problematic. Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire is expected to go to them, even though I still hope for a surprise. Simon Hart seems to be a single issue pro-hunting candidate which means that the normal Labour to Tory swing won't operate. Previous Labour supporters—almost by definition in favour of retaining the hunting ban—will turn to Plaid instead, or perhaps to the LibDems. Yet it's still hard to see the Tory candidate not scraping in.

Earlier this year, the Tories were talking in terms of getting more than ten seats in Wales. That looks like a very wild claim now, mostly because the seats they might once have hoped to gain from the LibDems look more secure as a result of the Clegg surge. Aberconwy, the fourth possibility, defies description because of boundary changes, and I'll talk about it below.

Liberal Democrats

Some of us knew all along that including Nick Clegg in the leaders debates could only give his party a boost at the expense of the parties that weren't included. But I don't think anyone expected him to get quite so much of a boost.

I'm sure the LibDems will claim that it's all down to how attractive their policies are, but I doubt whether many LibDem supporters were aware of what those policies were going to be. Up until then, their main selling point was that Vince Cable was held in greater esteem than either Alistair Darling or George Osborne, though that isn't saying much. But the TV debates allowed Nick Clegg to shine. The Tories didn't think they needed to explain or convince the public about their policies, they thought it was sufficient to simply be different from a discredited Labour government and rely on people being eager for change. Well of course people wanted a change, but the Tories never expected so many of them to opt for the one with the yellow silk tie rather than the blue one.

Before the debates, the LibDems were set to lose Ceredigion to Plaid, Montgomery to the Tories because of Lembit Öpik, and to be fighting desperately for Brecon and Radnor. But they expected to win Swansea West as a consolation prize, and hold Cardiff Central comfortably. Now they look much more likely to hold on to everything they have, to gain not only Swansea West but Newport East as well, and to be in with a good shout in Wrexham. That could give them seven seats, three of them at the expense of Labour. That's good for those of us who want to see real electoral reform.

Plaid Cymru

For Plaid the aim has always been to hold the three seats we have (complicated a little by boundary changes) and to target four more: Ynys Môn, Llanelli, Ceredigion and Aberconwy. Gaining one would be OK, two good, three very good and all four wonderful. What was interesting is that Ynys Môn and Llanelli would be won from Labour, Ceredigion from the LibDems, and Aberconwy—though nominally designated as Labour—was in reality only ever going to be a Plaid/Tory battle. If the overall party situation swung one way we would win one or two; and if it swung the other way we might lose those but instead win one or two of the others.

As I look at things now, the seat I'm most confident about is Ynys Môn. Labour will lose votes and Plaid were only behind by 3.5% in 2005. The other parties are simply too far behind to have any hope of catching up, even if they pick up a few votes from ex-Labour supporters.

The same principles will apply in Llanelli. The only difference is that Myfanwy Davies has a 20.5% margin to close ... which is a much bigger ask. Can she do it? Yes. That the Labour vote will slump is not in any doubt, and it's easy to see it slump by 10% with Plaid as the obvious main beneficiary. But it's much too close for comfort. That's one reason why I've urged existing or potential new LibDem supporters to vote tactically for Plaid in this seat.

Ceredigion is the one seat Plaid most want to win back. If it hadn't been for the LibDem surge following the TV debates I am sure we would have done it comfortably. But now it's harder, and if we lose it, it will be the most concrete example of how unfair the decision to exclude Plaid from any involvement in the TV debates has been.

But it's not lost yet; and even though we've undoubtedly lost the battle of the airwaves, we certainly haven't lost the battle on the ground. Cardis are a law unto themselves and I think we can persuade them ... but it's term time and the large number of students in Aber and Llambed will make it harder. The anecdote I like most (thanks Ian) is that most of them start as LibDems because they know only the three party system, and it takes a year or two before they switch to Plaid. Let's hope the current student intake is a little quicker on the uptake than they were five years ago ;-)

That leaves Aberconwy. I became convinced a year or two ago that this was one seat that the political pollsters would call wrongly because it did not fit into the usual mould. Most pundits still class it as a nominally Labour seat, which it could never be without Bangor. In geographical terms the majority of the seat is solid Plaid, with the only coastal strip east of Conwy being Tory ... although in terms of numbers that would give them a majority. The problem for the Tories is that they have picked a candidate that a large number of local Tories simply cannot trust. Guto Bebb is not the sort of person who engenders confidence. In contrast, Phil Edwards of Plaid is exactly the solid, salt-of-the-earth type of person that most Tories can instinctively trust to do what is right for the constituency. Having been in the police helps enormously. So local community values will triumph over political ideology. I'll stick my neck out and chalk this one for Plaid.

So my optimistic prediction is:

Labour ... 20
Conservative ... 6
LibDem ... 7
Plaid ... 6
Independent ... 1

But it might be a less satisfactory:

Labour ... 22
Conservative ... 7
LibDem ... 5
Plaid ... 5
Independent ... 1

At a UK level I think the Tories won't get enough seats to form even a minority government. They will do a deal with the LibDems having conceded to a binding referendum on electoral reform, which will include STV as an option. The Tories will allow this because they'll be confident that the referendum will result in a No vote, not least because Labour will not back full STV.

The LibDems won't do a deal with Labour (even though between them they would have the numbers to form a government) because they won't want to be poisoned by association with a party that has been rejected by the electorate, and because Labour will only offer them a referendum on the Alternative Vote without any element of proportionality.

Now let's see what happens.

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Unknown said...

MH - I broadly agree with you about Plaid's chances but am a little more optimistic about Ceredigion, simply because the LDs have already squeezed out their maximum vote. I am also very optimitsic about Llanelli and expect 6 seats tonight (Aberconwy probably won by Guto).

But it is the second places that we need to watch for signs of progress in Senedd next year. Need to watch Neath, Cynon & Caerffili in particular.

I expect good performance in Montgomeryshire, Cardiff West and South - but not future targets just yet.

Unknown said...

Plaid will get 4 seas, wouldve been 5 before the TV debates stitch up (no point mincing words). It's ok and still an advance (much like 2009) but not a surge.

The real tragedy is that I honesty think the Lib Dems will not deliver any kind of protection for Wales should they wield influence. Because Wales does not present a nationalist threat, it's people and communities will be savaged by a government that won't even have mandate here.

Not much hope of "change" it'll be business as usual and Greek scenes within twelve months.

Hogyn o Rachub said...

I expect 5 for Plaid - unfortunately I don't think Ceredigion is coming back to the fold, which will be almost as heartbreaking for a nationalist than losing it last time. Aberconwy should go blue, but I wouldn't bet on it!

Montgomeryshire, Neath and Caerphilly are certainly ones to be watched with interest.

Anonymous said...

It's not totally black and white, but Ceredigion is essentially an etnic vote with the English congretating around the least Welsh party the LibDems. Having a LibDem MP who doesn't speak Welsh is a political message which tells people, 'don't worry, I won't allow the Welshies to get to cocky'. Policies are pretty well irrelevant as a large part of the LD vote there are what should be traditional tories.

The sad part about Ceredition is that it's a head count for the Welsh language. The Libd will keep it as the county has become more anglicised ... and that's the way the LD voters want it to be.

Anonymous said...

Tories will do much better than your prediction. It will be a bad night for Plaid. Separatism just ain't cool.

Robert Tyler said...

Tragically, what Anon says appears to hold some water. Consider the Devolution referendum in 97; 59% voted yes and with the census of 2001 showing 59% of the population in Cardiganshire born in Wales. (52% Welsh speaking). Of course it would be foolish to see this as black and white as that, but equally foolish to ignore the correlation. As Ceredigion becomes even more anglicised the harder it will be for Plaid to win the seat and, more importantly, for a majority to be achieved for further devolution. This applies equally to other seats in the Fro Gymraeg, most notably Ynys Mon.
Robert Tyler

MH said...

Yes, Pen. The subtext is to for Plaid to increase the underlying vote in order to pick up seats in 2011. Lots of good candidates have put in a lot of hard work in seats they know it would take a miracle to win. The detailed results from Neath, Cynon, Caerffili ... and a few more like Montgomery, HoR ... will be looked at with great interest.

WR, my only reason for being optimistic about the LibDems is because of the promise of STV. And their opposition to nuclear power, too ... which could be critical in fighting off the threat of Wylfa B. I don't expect they will offer Wales anything special, or fight for it. Their focus will be the UK, and their promise of giving every basic rate taxpayer a tax cut of £700 is worthy of the Tories. That's why I think it's far more likely that they'll do a deal with the Tories to form a government.

As for the other comments, I can only laugh at the misconceptions you have about Wales. People who speak Welsh vote for many different political parties, and lots of people who vote Plaid are immigrants to Wales.

Lyndon said...

Looks like a crap night for Plaid then.

Oh well, roll on 2011.....

Robert Tyler said...

"I can only laugh at the misconceptions you have about Wales." MH, I really resent this comment. As I tried to indicate, it would be the height of absurdity to suggest clear political distinctions between local Welsh speakers and English people who have moved into Ceredigion. There are, of course, many Plaid activists from England and many, many more local born Welsh people who are negative to say the least towards any sort of political expression of Welsh national identity. As Plaid supporters, however, we have to, when appealing to voters from beyond our borders, take their unfamiliarity with the Welsh situation into account when appealing for their electoral support. This is a vital and challenging task. To simply "laugh at" any expression of concern regarding the demographic developments in Ceredigion and west Wales in general merely serves to lessen our ability to make our political message of an independent, inclusive Wales all the more difficult to convey. Recognising the political and demographic realities of our situation is vital in successfully getting our message across. I might also add that I absolutely abhor sectarianism in any form and have lived abroad for many years (I'm in the USA at present).

MH said...

Robert, first let me say that my laughter was directed at three comments rather than yours in particular, but yours was included for agreeing with the first of them.

I would not laugh at "any expression of concern" but I will laugh at anyone who thinks that people vote LibDem rather than Plaid because of an ethnic divide. It is ridiculous to make out that the LibDems are a "less Welsh" party and (taken with other comments made recently on this blog) if someone starts suggesting that people who vote for a mainstream, moderate party like the LibDems are motivated to vote as they did on grounds of race or being anti-Welsh, I think I have good reason to be suspicious of their agenda. It completely misrepresents the LibDems and their supporters who—even though they are political opponents—do not deserve have such unwarranted accusations levelled at them.

Robert Tyler said...

Race has nothing to do with this issue. I will not waste my time or yours listing my anti-racist activities over the years. Suffice to say, having lived, worked and canvased extensively in Ceredigion on and off for over 10 years over 2 decades the arrival of large numbers of people from England has DEFINATELY had an impact on the linguistic complexion of communities in this constituency. Politically things are far less apparent. It would be fair to say, however, that canvassing new arrivals to support Plaid has provided new challenges. Without face to face contact with Plaid activists many new arrivals will vote as they always have done; within a British context that obviously does not include Plaid. It is, therefore, our responsibility to take our progressive position to all the residents of Ceredigion and show the relevance of that position to all no matter what their background. To acknowledge the challenge posed by demographic change is, in my case at least, in no way xenophobic. Again I resent your statement.
Robert Tyler
Fulbright year, USA
Back next week and looking forward to rejoining the struggle

MH said...

I'm bemused, Robert. I agree with everything you said in that last comment, so I'm not quite sure what you resent.

One of the main points I have been trying to make in response to recent comments is that some people are failing to make a clear distinction between race and culture.

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