Nick Ramsay’s decision to stand as an independent in Monmouth could turn this election on its head
Ifan Morgan Jones
Nick Ramsay’s announcement on the eve of the Welsh Conservative conference that he will stand as an independent in Monmouth might just have turned the Senedd election on its head.
Relations between Ramsay and local party officials have broken down for months, with members voting to deselect him in December, and select a replacement candidate this month.
However, I don’t think anybody expected this most dramatic of twists – and timed to do maximum damage to the Conservatives just as the election campaign kicks off.
It’s easy to forget that Monmouth, which has been represented by a Conservative for the 20 years of devolution and is a rock-solid safe seat at Westminster, is actually one of Labour’s top Senedd target seats.
The Conservatives are defending a 5,147 majority there. Not huge but with Labour playing defence elsewhere it would have been considered quite safe until now.
But Nick Ramsay as the incumbent standing as an independent against the new Conservative candidate, Peter Fox, would split the Tory vote down the middle.
It makes Monmouth a realistic gain for Labour and if they can pull that off then it could completely change the narrative on election night.
The likely story of the 2021 election at this point had been Conservative gains across the north-east and in seats along the M4 such as the Vale of Glamorgan.
It would have been an election where, with a 9% poll bounce on 2016, Conservatives would not have had to worry much about defence and could focus on all-out attack.
They would no doubt have picked up a few of those seats and could have spun a narrative of a blue tide sweeping across Wales, just as they did in 2019.
But the possible loss of Monmouth will put them on the back foot and lead to a hastily rearranged targeting of resources.
And if they lose the seat on May 6, and perhaps don’t do as well as expected elsewhere, Welsh Labour will be able to spin the election result as something of a dogged triumph.
One just has to pause for a second to appreciate how lucky Welsh Labour seem to be in their enemies.
Plaid Cymru have had local difficulties in all of their top target seats, Llanelli, Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West, and the Conservatives have had high-profile issues in the Vale of Glamorgan.
The Conservatives have now managed to lose their party leader in the last few months and are now falling over their own shoelaces out of the starting blocks in Monmouth.
Perhaps the Labour electoral machine is a well-oiled one or perhaps it just hasn’t had to get out of second gear during the lifetime of devolution.
If we are going to see a change of government at the Senedd at some point, one of the opposition parties are going to have to get their act together and provide a serious challenge.