Ifan Morgan Jones
So, some quick thoughts on what happened on a historic night last night. The Brexit Party won two MEPs in Wales, and Labour came third for the first time in over 100 years, losing out to Plaid Cymru.
- Remain and Leave are still deadlocked in Wales
If yesterday’s election was a de facto second referendum on Wales’ membership of the EU then it brought us no closer to knowing what the will of the people of Wales actually is.
42.4% voted for solid Remain parties, and 42.3% voted for solid Leave parties, and 15.3% voted for Labour whose position is unclear.
Both sides of the divide will attempt to spin the result as a win for them, but Wales remains split right down the middle on this issue, and anyone who claims otherwise is talking out of their hat.
- The Brexit Party didn’t do that well
Unlike the Remain parties, Nigel Farage had the foresight to launch a single issue party to fight a single issue election. The Brexit Party got two seats in Wales because pretty much the entire Brexit vote coalesced around them, and the Remain parties were divided five ways.
Despite that, this was no big victory for them. Polls suggested a victory in the upper 30s, pushing 40%, but they only got 32% of the vote.
In reality, between them and the Conservative party, this was no big advance of Leave’s share of the vote in Wales in the 2014 European elections.
So while it’s impossible to say that Wales is a Remain nation, it’s also nonsense to claim that right-wing populism is gaining ground at a rate of knots, either.
- Mark Drakeford is going to come under pressure
There were always going to be questions about whether Mark Drakeford was of the same calibre as Welsh Labour leader as his predecessors, Carwyn Jones and Rhodri Morgan.
Labour have now come third in Wales in an election for the first time in 109 years, and second for only the second time in the last 100 years. And it was a poor third, too.
Former Cabinet member Alun Davies might have summed up the mood when he said last night:
“For us in Welsh Labour, we are facing the reality of poor leadership from London and no leadership in Wales.”
There were suggestions in the lead-up to the vote that Welsh Labour should have done more to differentiate themselves from Jeremy Corbyn’s UK party. They didn’t.
- Plaid will be happy but the result hides weaknesses
I’ve discussed some of the problems with Plaid Cymru’s campaign elsewhere. While it will be a big morale boost for them to beat Labour, the result does hide problems for them.
The first big problem is that while they did quite well all over much of Wales, if you look at individual counties they only came first in Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Ynys Môn.
And in many of the areas that will be target constituencies in the 2021 Assembly election – places like Caerphilly – they came third or even fourth.
If they can’t beat Labour in these valleys seats in circumstances like yesterday’s, when are they going to beat them?
There’s also the problem that when the Brexit Party vote does return to the other parties at Assembly and Westminster elections, very little of it will be going Plaid Cymru’s way.
So, while Plaid Cymru should take heart, they can’t be complacent. They face the fight of their lives to win in 2021 and it has to begin now.
- The Liberal Democrats are back but perhaps not in the areas they need
Last night the Liberal Democrats finally emerged, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their 2010 coalition with the Tories. The public, it seems, has finally forgiven them.
However, they remain without any MPs in Wales and their reinvention as a Remain party might actually harm their chances somewhat in the rural mid-Wales seats they used to pick up.
In Ceredigion, their main target seat at the next General Election, they got 3,915 votes to Plaid Cymru’s 8,908. They are in real danger of losing their footing there permanently.
Seats such as Cardiff Central may well come back into play for them, however.
And they will play a much bigger part in the next Senedd, as they will no doubt be rewarded with a decent number of regional Assembly Members.
If the result is close between Labour and Plaid Cymru, they could well be kingmakers.
6. Two party politics isn’t dead – it’s just resting
6.5% was a pitiful vote percentage for the Conservatives in Wales.
They really face an existential crisis, and could well simply be replaced by the Brexit Party if they do not show voters that they are able to solve the issue of Brexit.
Yesterday has shown that voters have little loyalty to them, and will happily jump ship if they believe another party can deliver the agenda that they want.
However, what goes down can quite quickly come back up again. It is only two years since a shock ITV poll suggested that the Conservatives could win a Westminster election in Wales for the first time.
If a new Prime Minister can kill off Brexit as an issue then those Brexit Party protest-vote voters could well come flooding back to the party.
And if you combine the Brexit Party, UKIP and Conservative vote they could easily leave Labour in the rear-view mirror, even in Wales.
Similarly, Labour could easily bounce back in the same way if they take a firm stance on Brexit, or the Conservatives solve the issue for them, one way or another.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, come the next Westminster Election, we’re back to a straight two-horse race for Downing Street.
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