Despite a poll surge, the Welsh Conservatives still don’t look like getting into government
Ifan Morgan Jones
On the face of it, the new YouGov poll is extremely good news for the Welsh Conservatives.
The party is projected to win 38% of the constituency vote and 37% of the regional vote, putting them on an estimated 26 out of 60 seats according to Cardiff University’s Roger Scully.
That is a historic high for them in the Senedd vote and would make them the largest party for the first time in the history of the Welsh parliament.
There’s a big *but* coming however and that’s the present circumstances in which we find ourselves.
This polling was conducted between the 3-7 April meaning that it was conducted during the handover from Jeremy Corbyn to Keir Starmer’s leadership.
It was also carried out at a time when governments around the world are enjoying a “rally around the flag” bump as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
A UK-wide YouGov poll earlier in the month had the Conservatives on 52% to Labour’s 28%, and this week the pollster reported that the British public had given the government a positive approval rating for the first time since May to October 2010.
This means that this poll is measuring what would in many ways be an impossible scenario – an election at a moment of national crisis when a nation-state pulls together to support the government, and at a time when the main opposition effectively had no leader.
Given the circumstances therefore the Welsh Conservatives not being able to win enough seats in the Senedd to be able to form a majority government could be seen as a disappointment for them.
Ultimately, they need to win over half the seats in the Senedd to have a realistic chance of forming a government as the three other main parties – Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats – are much more natural bedfellows.
Even if such a result as that projected by YouGov played out at next year’s Senedd elections, together the parties of the left and centre would have 34 seats between them to block a Conservative government.
Although some in the Labour Party like to suggest that a Conservative-Plaid Cymru coalition is feasible, the leadership of Plaid Cymru have already ruled it out and there’s zero appetite for one among the membership.
Furthermore, the present circumstances are very unlikely to last until May – as the ‘rally around the flag’ effect fades people will become more critical of the UK Government coronavirus response, particularly as it is now predicted that the UK could become Europe’s worst-hit country.
The Conservatives also have the potential speed-bump of Brexit to navigate. Either they go through with Brexit and face having to deal with two crises at once, or they instead face the prospect of the Brexit Party beginning to cannibalise their vote once more.
Furthermore, Labour now have a new leader. Keir Starmer begins his tenure with a +2% approval rating according to YouGov, an improvement on Jeremy Corbyn’s -44% – at least in the short-term.
I would be extremely surprised therefore if over the next year or so we did not see a gradual slide in the popularity of the Conservative Party, and some fracturing of their vote, with an upswing in the popularity of Labour, and perhaps Plaid Cymru.
The Conservative may well still be the largest party in the Senedd but unless they can ensure another large upswing in support the result is likely to be the same: another left-wing minority or coalition government between Labour and Plaid Cymru.
The only circumstances under which I could see the Conservatives entering power would be if the pandemic was still ongoing and the UK Government was made up of a Government of national unity which could then be replicated at the Senedd.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has already said that he would support such an arrangement at a Westminster level.
However, even if it happened it would be difficult seeing it lasting the entirely of the Senedd’s four- or five-year term.
Labour will lose their grip on the government of Wales at some point. They have been in charge there for 20 years, longer than almost any government in history.
Whatever your views on the merits of the different parties, an occasional turnover can only be a healthy thing for democracy.
But as things stand, it doesn’t look likely to happen in 2021. And the question for the Welsh Conservatives is, if not now – when?