Why the Remain Alliance was an over baked, oven ready Welsh fudge up
Daran Hill, Managing Director at Positif public affairs consultancy
The strongest Remain Alliance that worked in Wales on Thursday was the one Anna McMorrin built for herself in Cardiff North. It wasn’t tactically fashioned by Labour or any other party: it was crafted by the candidate herself and built on two and a half years of solid work to try and keep the UK within the EU. It had resonance, it had reach, and it had respectability.
Put simply, because Anna was such a clear, vocal and fervent Remainer she had the credibility to reach out. I know Conservative voters and Plaid voters who supported her on the basis of that unwavering credibility. She was so compelling she even got the Liberal Democrat candidate to all but endorse her. It gave her a seven thousand majority in a seat the Conservatives had held until 2017.
The same is also true in the neighbouring seat of Cardiff Central. Jo Stevens triumphed with a 17,000 majority. This is easily the biggest in Wales for the second General Election running. Jo had the same ardent Remainer credentials – she had even resigned from Labour’s front bench to vote against Article 50. That sort of credibility matters.
The fact the so-called Remain Alliance chose to target Jo Stevens says everything about the misguided nature of their efforts. The opportunist coalition between Plaid, the Lib Dems and the Greens in Wales wasn’t an alliance built on Remain principles, it was an alliance built on narrow party ambitions and selfishness branded as something bigger and nobler.
As I’ve previously argued on Twitter over many months, there was a clear place for a Remain Alliance in Wales. It was one which was focused in seats which were likely to return Brexit supporting MPs. That’s places like Aberconwy or Preseli Pembrokeshire or Clwyd West. It isn’t Cardiff cowing Central.
Ok, you can come back at me with the fact that the Remain Alliance did just that in the Powys seats and crashed, or point me to Remain Alliance’s Aled ap Dafydd (or should that be Aled ap Trydydd?) who failed for Plaid in Ynys Môn. But I’ll come straight back at you with one word: narrative.
You simply cannot create a political narrative built on a lie (unless you’re Boris Johnson of course). A narrative has to be believable, it has to be communicable, it has to be consistent. And carving up a list of Remain Alliance target seats not based on the targeting and challenging Leave candidates was always doomed to fail.
Pause for a moment and consider how the Remain Alliance actually got their target list. It was never going to include Ceredigion for obvious reasons (though based on the strength of the Conservative vote there it might next time lolz…) so for the Lib Dems it was based on Cardiff Central, Montgomeryshire and Brecon & Radnorshire. Which was based – you guessed it – solely on their existing target seats list.
The Plaid threw in Ynys Môn on the same basis, along with all their existing seats, and a few where they had a long term ambition to win – Caerphilly, Llanelli and Pontypridd. As the only one of those targets that moved even vaguely in the right direction was the last one, then that ambition looks even more long term than ever.
Pontypridd was nevertheless an interesting addition. Surely Rhondda, where former Plaid leader Leanne Wood is the sitting Assembly Member, would have made more sense? But there are other forces at work here. Because the Lib Dems were quite content to let Plaid have a bash at Pontypridd since it meant they didn’t have to field Mike Powell again. His face hasn’t fitted in the Lib Dems for quite some time, despite his track record of winning and holding a council seat. Publicly rejected, he stomped off. Some in the Lib Dems saw that as a gain.
Some elsewhere saw a parallel with a former Plaid AM and councillor. And here’s the other similarity. I have it from a number of sources that until the very last stages Plaid wanted the Remain Alliance to field a Liberal Democrat in Cardiff West. What could the rationale for that possibly have been? I’ve been watching Welsh politics for decades and I still can’t work it out… As it was Plaid ended up having to fight the seat without any High Hopes.
There is, of course, a delicious irony in another choice the Remain Alliance made. By letting the Greens take the lead in the Vale of Glamorgan against Alun Cairns, the most beleaguered Brexiteer in Wales, they ballsed that too. Both Plaid and the Lib Dems had a credible base in that constituency but ducked it. For a time in the campaign (on Twitter at least!) it seemed the Labour Party might have actually defeated Cairns and won the Vale. That would have produced the delicious irony that the only place where the Remain Alliance would actually have had an impact was the seat where their offering was so pisspoor that it boosted the Labour vote.
A major reason Alun Cairns hung on after weeks of bombardment was the most successful alliance in this election. It wasn’t Remain, it was Leave. The Brexit Party’s decision to stand down in seats with a Conservative MP in 2017 but to contest all the others gave the Conservatives the boost and focus they needed to Get Brexit Done. It also allowed the Brexit Party to draw Labour votes in leave areas, allowing the Conservatives to be boosted. I’m too well mannered to point to an article on this site that argued this was a major error by the Brexit Party. The results on Thursday totally prove it wasn’t.
Let me conclude with this observation: only Anna McMorrin, Jo Stevens, the Brexit Party and the Conservatives know how to make winning alliances in Wales. And the fact that I can lump all of them together in one sentence may seem obtuse. But hey, that’s the sort of slapdash targeting the Remain Alliance tried.