What does Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Wales tell us about Labour’s election strategy?
Ifan Morgan Jones
Jeremy Corbyn has been spending the final weekend before the General Election on a campaign visit to Wales.
Coming to Wales makes complete sense as it is no longer a Labour fortress at Westminster elections but a key swing state, with both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru hoping to gain ground here at Labour’s expense.
However, the Labour leader’s choice of campaign stops strike me as odd to say the least. He has chosen to campaign in Swansea, Bangor, Barry and Conwy.
Perhaps Swansea makes sense as the seat of Gower, near Swansea, is one that Labour hold and could be in the balance.
However all the other campaign stops are in seats – Arfon, Aberconwy, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and the Vale of Glamorgan – that Labour would be looking to win if they were hoping to win a majority government.
However, there is nothing in the polls that tells us that Labour are in reach of forming a majority government. They are some 10% down in the polls on their 2017 share of the vote.
That suggests that their election strategy in Wales should be primarily a defensive one – attempting to hold on to what they have rather than gaining ground.
This is especially true in the north-east of Wales where Labour are predicted to take something of a hammering on Thursday.
A constituency poll by Survation of Wrexham, published this week, showed the Labour vote tanking hard there. It was down 20% to a full 15% behind the Conservatives.
It’s difficult to know how accurate constituency polls are but it chimes with what I’ve heard on the ground in Wrexham, which is that the Labour vote is evaporating there.
What should worry Labour though is not just Wrexham but the fact that a similar swing could lose them almost every single seat in north-east Wales.
On that swing, they would also very likely lose neighbouring Clwyd South, the Vale of Clwyd, Alyn and Deeside and Delyn. If Ynys Môn is also lost they will be left without a seat in north Wales.
However, Jeremy Corbyn will not be gracing any of these seats with his presence. Neither will be visiting Bridgend or Cardiff North, two other seats where the Conservatives are pushing hard for a win.
So what is the strategy here? There are three possibilities.
The first of course is that there’s isn’t a coherent strategy. Perhaps the tickets for these venues were booked long ago and Labour expected to be at level pegging in the polls by now.
Momentum’s campaign map is similarly bullish in its campaign strategy, advising Labour’s troops to target seats such as Ceredigion (!) rather than defend what they already have in the north-east.
These target seats in Wales haven’t been updated since the start of the campaign.
The second possibility is that Labour just don’t believe the polls. Perhaps they really believe that pollsters such as YouGov are biased against them, but perhaps their own internal polling is showing them neck and neck with the Conservatives.
If that’s the case then campaigning in Arfon, Aberconwy, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and the Vale of Glamorgan makes sense.
They aren’t the favourites to win any of these seats but if they benefit from an unexpected swing in their favour in the final week winning a few of them could be key to forming the next government.
The third possibility is that Labour now expect to lose the election and for the Conservatives to win a majority.
Under those circumstances, Jeremy Corbyn will be looking to secure his legacy within the Labour party and ensure it remains a party campaigning for socialism after he’s gone rather than the party returning to its centrist days under New Labour.
If that’s the case, then campaigning in seats with Momentum-backed candidates rather than the old guard of Labour MPs makes sense.
It makes it more likely that a socialist candidate will have the requisite support within the Parliamentary Labour Party to win the leadership election.
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