It’s now squeaky bum time for Labour in the Senedd election
Ifan Morgan Jones
There are fewer than three weeks to go until the Senedd election and it’s fair to say that things aren’t going Labour’s way.
Unfortunately for Welsh Labour there is very little that they can do about this as part of their campaign for the Welsh Parliament as many of the problems are at a UK level.
A YouGov poll yesterday had the Conservatives surging to a 14 point lead over Labour across the UK.
Yes, this was just one poll – and could be an outlier – but they are all showing a similar pattern at the moment which is that Labour drew level in the New Year and then the Conservatives pulled ahead.
The scariest thing for Labour here is that their drop and the Conservatives’ gain isn’t showing any real sign of a plateau, and could well get worse by early May.
Westminster voting intention:
CON: 43.0% (+3.3)
LAB: 34.4% (-4.3)
LDEM: 7.1% (+0.7)
GRN: 5.3% (+0.8)
via @BritainElects poll tracker
Chgs. w/ end of Dec 2020
— Britain Elects (@BritainElects) April 16, 2021
This isn’t too big a problem for UK Labour. It’s three and a half years until the next election and these are very unusual circumstances.
The Conservatives are clearly enjoying something of a bounce thanks to the great unlocking and also the successful roll-out of the vaccine program.
But for Welsh Labour, it’s suddenly looking like a very bad time to be holding a Senedd election.
These figures don’t mean that the Tories will win the election on May 6 – they usually get around 14% less of the vote at the Welsh Parliament than their UK-wide support would suggest.
Meanwhile, Labour do about as well at the Senedd as the UK-wide polling suggests they will.
But even polling neck and neck going into the election on May 6 would spell carnage for Labour. They could be down as many as eight or nine constituency seats, only getting one more regional seat (in North Wales) in compensation.
What isn’t also always pointed out of appreciated in Labour’s case either is how many of their ‘best’ Senedd Members (i.e. their Cabinet members) are in quite marginal seats.
If they lose Cardiff North, Cardiff West, Gower, Llanelli, Wrexham, and Vale of Glamorgan, six of their Cabinet members could be swept out of office in one fell swoop.
A few others, like Hannah Blythyn in Delyn, Ken Skates in Clwyd South, and Jeremy Miles in Neath, could also be in for uncomfortably close nights.
My analysis of Labour’s Facebook spend suggested they were running a primarily defensive campaign, with a few target seats such as Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and Rhondda.
But this feels like a strategy cooked up when they were on level pegging with the Conservatives in the UK-wide polls in early February.
On present polling figures, they may want to abandon any thought of gaining ground and put more money into some of these Plaid Cymru and Conservative targets.
It is possible of course that Welsh Labour, as the party of government in Wales, will simply defy political gravity and massively outperform UK Labour’s polling.
There is a logical basis for thinking that – in the last year the pandemic has transformed the public’s understanding of who is in charge of health in Wales.
Perhaps it is Mark Drakeford’s government, rather than Boris Johnson’s, who will get the vaccine bounce in Wales and the plaudits for delivering Wales out of lockdown?
Such a result might suggest that Wales has finally come of age as its own polity and public sphere in which voters make decisions divorced from what is going on at Westminster.
More likely I think is that we see some impact from that element but not enough to mitigate 5-6 seat losses.
Those impressed with the fact that the Welsh Government took control of the pandemic were probably voting Plaid Cymru or Labour anyway.
Meanwhile, the kind of people who would switch Labour to Conservative since 2016, or Labour to UKIP to Conservatives since 2011, are probably the least likely to be in favour of Labour’s handling of the pandemic.
With three weeks to go, Labour need to hope their UK polling suddenly improves massively – and target their resources at avoiding losses in those seats that are likely to be close-run things on election day if the current polls are accurate.
It’s squeaky bum time for them.
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