Polls showing a more competitive Senedd are good news for everyone – including Labour

Paul Davies. © Russell Hart/Alamy Live News. First Minister Mark Drakeford AM. Mark Hawkins / Alamy Stock Photo. Kirsty Williams AM. Picture by Welsh Lib Dems. Adam Price: Picture by Plaid Cymru (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

This morning Professor Roger Awan-Scully of Cardiff University published his latest Welsh YouGov poll, and it was as expected (given the state of the UK-wide polls) a very good one for the Conservatives.

The Westminster numbers were eye-catching but what really caught my attention was the prediction that the Conservatives would win more of the vote than Labour at the Senedd elections.

Now, it’s important of course to remember that these polls are projections of how the vote would go now, not predictions of how the vote will go in May of next year when Wales does go to the polls.

We should also keep in mind that Boris Johnson’s newly elected government is enjoying something of a honeymoon while Labour is at its lowest electoral ebb in some 80 years or so.

As it becomes apparent over the next few months that Brexit is far from ‘done’ and as Labour elect a new leader (probably Keir Starmer who in my opinion is likely to be far more palatable to the electorate than Corbyn) we will likely see Labour overtake the Conservatives once more.

We should also keep in mind that proportional representation means that the Senedd isn’t ‘winner takes all’ in the same way as Westminster.

Even if they did reach 32% of the vote in Wales the Conservatives would only hold 22 of the 60 seats at the Senedd, with the left-wing and centrist parties projected to take the other 38.

 

Interest

However, it does look as if the coming Senedd campaign leading up to the 2021 election is going to be much more competitive than it has been in the past with three parties who can realistically be said to be ‘in it to win it’.

If the result of this poll was replicated at a Senedd election it would place Labour on 24 seats, the Conservatives on 22 seats, and Plaid Cymru on 13 seats.

If you set aside your own preference for one party or another, this can only be a healthy thing for Welsh devolution. There are four main reasons for this.

Firstly, a truly competitive Senedd will be good for public interest in what will be by 2021 be a real Welsh parliament – something Welsh devolution has struggled to generate so far.

The lack of public knowledge about the Senedd isn’t just because of a lack of Welsh media, but also because 20 years of dominance by one party can be more than a little boring.

We may decry journalists’ focus on the ‘horse race’ rather than policies, but at the end of the day it is the conflict between parties and personalities which attracts the most public interest in politics. But if you can get the public interested in the daily soap opera of politics their interest in and knowledge of the key political issues debated at the Senedd will follow.

Secondly, a more competitive Senedd will encourage the parties themselves to pull their socks up.

The real prospect of overturning Labour at an election will energise not just the politicians in the opposition parties, but their supporters as well. You’re much more likely to engage with politics and invest time and effort in a campaign if there’s a real prospect of victory, or indeed a danger of imminent defeat.

Thirdly, after 10 years of the Labour party governing alone (with one Lib Dem) it would ensure that the sixth Senedd and Welsh Government gets a badly-needed injection of new blood and new ideas.

It would mean that at the very least a Labour government would have to work together with at least one of the other parties to get anything done.

Paradoxically, the biggest winners from a better Conservative performance are likely to be Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats – if they can regain some ground in Wales.

A ‘rainbow coalition’ seems unlikely but Labour would likely have to turn to one or the other in order to maintain a functioning government.

Not only would a closer result therefore mean a significant amount of churn in terms of those elected to the Senedd but also those in key posts within the government itself.

Incentive

Last but not least, it could also lead to better government. Over the last 20 years Labour have become, understandably, a very cautious administration.

In opposition at Westminster Labour has developed into a truly radical party, brimming with ideas (even if they’ve been bad at selling them to the electorate).

We have however seen little of that radicalism in Cardiff Bay, because there has been very little incentive to be radical when a steady as she goes approach has worked for over two decades.

A more competitive Senedd will be good for everyone – not least the current party of government. A little competition and more scrutiny will keep them on their toes. To stay in power they will have to shift into a higher gear than they have been cruising on so far.

The truth is that over the last 20 Welsh devolution has become politically stagnant. Anything that makes a few waves in Cardiff Bay’s still waters is ultimately likely to be a good thing.

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Andy WilliamsJonathan Gammondj humphrysSteve DugganAnwen Williams Recent comment authors
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Jonesy
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Jonesy

God help us

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Pelagius would tell us to help ourselves. We must get off our knees.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Scotland to keep flying the EU flag.
SNP on 50% for Westminster.
Many more settlers, and you won’t have a Senedd.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

30.1.2020. With tears, hugs and Auld Lang Syne and most of the EU parliament joining hands in the traditional Celtic way, the Scottish members stole the show from brexiteers yesterday.
Cameras from France 24 and DW followed the Scots, who had a farewell party, western reeling and the scent of whisky almost coming out of the TV speakers!
This will give the Europeans a terrific impression of Scotland! Not goodbye, merely Au Revoir.
* Unforgetable stuff, Scotland!! *

Gruff Williams
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Gruff Williams

We all know what is going to happen. Plaid will back up Labour again. Leanne, Bethan, with Deryn in the background, will continue pontificating about minority issues while the Welsh nation is absorbed into greater England. Many thought Adam would stamp on this and make a real bid to lead a Welsh govt, underground voices have suggested that he has been blackmailed and thus has done nothing about these issue idiots who have seen to it that we lose McEvoy and most of Llanelli. The tragedy is, the Senedd will become increasingly irrelevant and, indeed, alien to most Welsh people.… Read more »

Anwen Williams
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Anwen Williams

Interesting reading thank you, the development of a competitive field should lead to more creative thinking. The Westminster Government will make every effort to spin post EU withdrawal negotiations in positive terms and a forensic rebuttal on the part of the Labour Westminster Opposition would be valuable but there are additional considerations for the Senedd. As Cummings ploughs on with his attempt to neuter the civil service there will be implications for us if he’s even partly successful as it won’t be difficult to frame the Cardiff and Llandudno Junction civil service as tired and in cahoots with the long… Read more »

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Yes, a more competitive Senedd would be welcome but not if there’s any chance of the Conservatives either having more influence or God forbid winning the most seats! The Tories care little for Wales and devolution, it would put back the route to independence back years if not decades. Personally I can’t see the Tories making any real headway in Wales once Brexit has crippled the country.

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

Parties in “permanent” opposition get complacent too. They swing from carping from the sidelines, preaching from the moral high ground, excelling in hindsight and dreaming ideologically pure visions where the boring practicalities take a back seat. We should all hopefully benefit from more cognitive diversity down in the bay.

Andy Williams
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I have never felt so desponded about Welsh national prospects, if Scotland goes, Wales will be just another English region. The Welsh people, will fight everybody’s else’s battles, as for our own, forget it.