Wales’ battlegrounds: Cardiff North
Sam Coates asks whether the Morgan-effect could swing Cardiff North next Thursday…
The capital’s most affluent constituency has swung between Labour and Tories several times in my life (across both Parliaments). Labour won it from the Tories during Blair’s 1997 landslide, and it narrowly reverted back to the Tories in 2010.
So, is it the Nuneaton of Wales? In reality, the dynamics in play are more complicated.
Cardiff North is one of only a handful of seats (Ceredigion & Ynys Môn immediately spring to mind) where different parties regularly represent it in Westminster and Cardiff Bay. By the time of the 2007 Assembly election, new Labour very much was on the wane and the Tories snatched it comfortably.
So it was a big surprise to observers in 2010 when Julie Morgan only just lost the seat. Her personal vote (and perhaps Rhodri’s too) seemed to work against the national tide. By 2011, Labour’s fortunes had recovered and the area’s former MP made a comeback by taking the seat at the Assembly election.
However, Labour’s failure to retake the Westminster seat in 2015 shows how sophisticated the Welsh electorate now is. Did Cardiff North vote against Ed Miliband? Against an SNP coalition? Or was it simply the scale of resources Tory HQ ploughed in?
The area I grew up in is a place of contrasts. Leafy Whitchurch contains the least deprived area in Wales and the northern wards of Lisvane, Rhiwbina, and St Melons look exactly like what they are, old villages absorbed by the city.
The parks, woodland and sizeable homes mean you could easily forget you’re a couple of miles from the centre of the capital.
Heading south towards the centre, however, and you’re met with the council estates of Mynachdy and Gabalfa as well as more well-off urbanites. But most of the voters live in the leafy suburbs that we’re told still decide general elections.
Perhaps the area that most signifies which way this seat swings is Whitchurch. Probably the place where most residents go shopping, the Morgan family has spent a lot of years stomping around the main street known simply as ‘the village’.
The Corbyn effect – or the Morgan effect?
This ‘village’ is also where Jeremy Corbyn drew a crowd of 1,000 a few weeks ago. And an energetic alliance of his followers, who’ve never done party political campaigning before, are currently out in the constituency trying to unseat Conservative incumbent Craig Williams.
We don’t know yet what this new level of mobilisation for Labour campaigners will mean for polling day.
It is possible for Labour to win an election without Cardiff North, but it hasn’t happened recently and I doubt likely to happen again. Given the state of the polls at a UK level, my money wouldn’t be on the Tories losing the seat.
Some have speculated that Rhodri Morgan’s passing has contributed to the dramatic reversal of the polls in Wales last week.
We’ll find out next week whether Labour’s recovery was a blip – but Cardiff North residents are fond of their Assembly Member and their connection to the family could yet mean a surprise win for Labour next week.