A poll published this week by ITV Wales showed something quite astonishing: Labour in Wales are going to lose the General Election, and the Conservatives are going to win the most seats. In Wales!
This is something quite seismic, because the Conservatives haven’t won the most seats in a General Election in Wales since 1859 when they romped home, well before the days of universal suffrage, with 2,767 votes. I suppose these days that would be called a slim majority.
Back to 2017: this Poll was conducted for ITV Wales by the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University and overseen by Professor Roger Scully, a highly respected psephologist. The results were originally published at their website. Although one poll gives us only a snapshot of opinion at a specific point in time, and anything could happen over the next five or six weeks, it’s astonishing.
The notion that the Conservatives could beat Labour in Wales would previously have been unthinkable. As recently as 2001, the Conservatives had no Westminster Parliamentary seats in Wales at all. At the last General Election in 2015, UKIP got 14% of the vote in Wales, a stellar performance that was replicated last year by gaining seats in the National Assembly for Wales for the first time. The Tories on the other hand got 27% in the 2015 General Election, and 11 of the 40 Welsh seats. It was their best performance since 1983, the height of Mrs Thatcher’s post Falklands popularity, and Labour’s longest suicide note in history. Until now, perhaps.
This current poll shows the Tories gaining a further ten seats, taking them to 21 in total. This far exceeds the 14 seats they won in the 1983 election, so if the poll is true, and we have no reason to believe otherwise, how exactly has this Lazarus like turnaround come about?
Let’s remember, firstly, that Wales voted to leave the European Union. Only five out of 22 counties voted to remain. Bridgend, the Assembly constituency of Carwyn Jones, Labour’s First Minister of Wales, voted to leave. If the poll is to be believed, the Bridgend Westminster seat is going to turn blue. Rhondda, the Assembly seat of Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid, also voted to leave. It’s certainly not a seat predicted to go to the Conservatives. Until Wood won it for Plaid in the last Assembly election, it was safe Labour. The point is that people in that seat voted against the establishment when they voted Labour out last year and when they voted to back BREXIT.
A chap in the local pub once told me “I’ll always vote Labour. If they put a frozen chicken up for election so long as it was wearing a red rosette I’d vote for it”. It’s a frustration that many Kippers will have encountered, those people who will vote a certain way because they don’t want to buck the trend, or perhaps they’re just voting the way their parents and grandparents did. These are the people who maybe are disillusioned with politics, for whom voting is frankly a chore.
Something though must have changed because, as we have seen, the Conservatives are quite possibly on the verge of pulling off the unthinkable in Wales. So why is this? I think that in voting to leave the EU, people have had a taster of what it’s like to be radical, and to vote against the establishment. Of course, this is not something that is new to Kippers, but the Conservative rhetoric seems to have changed since last June. Many ardent Tory remoaners have had a Damascus-like conversion, although some of course have not. A number of the manifesto ideas they seem to be touting will be extremely familiar to readers of UKIP Daily. Put simply, they’re nicking our policies as well as our voters.
I suspect it’s also a case of not what the Tories have done, but what the opposition hasn’t done. In Jeremy Corbyn Labour have a “leader” as effective as a chocolate teapot. A modest man with much to be modest about, Corbyn has spent the last year or so essentially pottering about in the allotment while all around him, utter chaos ensues.
In Wales, the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, is actually pretty effective, but his boss isn’t doing him any favours. Much time in the National Assembly for Wales in recent months has been taken up with debates about BREXIT, not even a devolved issue. Outside the Cardiff Bay bubble, nobody in Wales really cares about what happens in the Senedd. What people do see on the TV news is a few clips of Labour Ministers worrying about jobs and the economy post BREXIT, and Leanne Wood and her Plaid cronies promising us all that the end of the world is nigh. Well, UKIP have news for Labour and Plaid. You’re out of touch with your constituents and with your country. They should get back on the bus, because that’s what the Tories seem to have done and remember, they claim they’re going to make BREXIT a success.
Whatever happens in this General Election will be written and spoken about for years to come, I should imagine, and to be fair not a single vote has yet been cast. The fact however that the Tories seem on for a majority in Wales is both bizarre and bewildering. Notwithstanding the challenges of FPTP, with Labour, Plaid and the Liberal Democrats still not moving on from last June, it’s only UKIP who can provide a sensible voice of opposition and will hold the UK Government’s feet to the fire on BREXIT. The current polling for UKIP on a national level though, suggests we have a very long way to go in this Election campaign, and it’s going to be an uphill battle to stop what seems to be an incredible surge in the Conservative projected vote share.
If we thought last year was a turbulent year in Welsh and UK politics, I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet.