10th May 2017
Now that the dust has settled and all the results are in from last week’s Local Government elections, it’s possible for us to take a neutral and dispassionate look at what took place, and what it means for the state of the major parties in Wales as we head into the increasingly choppy waters of the General Election, Brexit and the undiscovered country beyond.
It says a lot about the party’s outlook going into the elections that when they lost around a fifth of their seats senior figures proclaimed that the result was ‘not as bad as expected’. National polling showed that Labour were in for a bad night, and the expectation was that such a result would be compounded in Wales given that the last election, in 2012, saw them make massive gains in the wake of an unpopular UK Coalition Government.
In contrast to expectations, however, Labour managed to hold on to their majorities in Cardiff and Swansea; whilst losing many of their seats in key areas to independent candidates rather than the Conservatives or Plaid Cymru. This led to senior UK figures such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbot citing Wales as evidence that Labour can win under Jeremy Corbyn. Others were quick to point out Labour’s leader in Wales is Carwyn Jones rather than Jeremy Corbyn, and that perhaps this difference was part of the answer as to why Wales bucked the trend. Answers on a postcard please.
Just as Labour didn’t lose as much as expected, the Conservatives didn’t win as much as expected. Overall the Tories picked up 80 seats and regained overall control of Monmouthshire – their traditional heartland. Outside of that their gains were modest – becoming the opposition in Cardiff and going from joint fourth to a strong third in Bridgend. What they will likely be most happy with is becoming the largest party in the Vale of Glamorgan, a position which Labour have held for decades. Expectations are that they will be able agree terms with independents to share control. This situation is perhaps a good summation of their overall result: close, but not quite there. Given the wider political context of Theresa May’s popularity, it’s hard not to perceive the Welsh results as a bit of a let-down from their perspective.
A similar sentiment can be made about Plaid Cymru. Senior figures have been in overdrive since Friday morning to proclaim the night a great result, and evidence of momentum, citing the party achieving their third best local government results by winning a total of 202 seats. While this clearly isn’t a bad result, it’s true to say that Plaid failed to match the successes they were getting in the 1990s and, more recently, in 2008. When added to the fact that Plaid Cymru are in the same place now as the day Leanne Wood became leader in 2012, in terms of representation across our political institutions, it’s hard, from a neutral perspective, not to see the last few years as a period of stagnation in the face of unprecedented opportunities.
Nonetheless, they continue to hope that next month’s General Election will present enough open goals to regain old seats such as Ynys Môn – a seat which should be easy pickings for them given Jeremy Corbyn’s position on nuclear power. In short they don’t appear significantly closer to emulating the SNP and providing a large-scale challenge to Labour across Wales.
The Liberal Democrats were somewhat over looked in last week’s results. The night was a bit of a disaster for them, with the party managing to lose even further ground on how it performed in 2012. This will be ringing alarm bells within the party as they have presented themselves as the pro-Europe/Soft-Brexit party attempting to sweep up the 48% of UK voters who wanted to retain Britain’s standing on the world stage. Instead it seems that the voters are simply not that interested. Perhaps a new approach is needed?
UKIP have never really played a part in Welsh local government. Given this their performance was nothing if not consistent. Zero seats.
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