Parties must not underestimate Wales’ electoral influence

(c) Steve Snodgrass

Anon

Wales has always been pivotal in deciding British rulers. In past years wars have decided the occupants of the royal throne, and voter preferences have decided the occupants of Number 10. The 2015 general election to the House of Commons will be no different.

Since Margaret (now Lady) Thatcher’s premiership, Scotland has shut itself off to Conservative MPs. In spite of a similar attitude, Wales has had many of their MPs over the last two decades. Interestingly, the 5.7% swing from Labour to the Tories suggests no bucking of the trend.

Here are the full results from the 2010 election in Wales:

Seats Net change Votes % Change in %
Labour 26 -4 531601 36.2 -6.5
Conservative 8 +5 382730 26.1 +4.7
Liberal Democrat 3 -1 295164 20.1 +1.7
Plaid Cymru 3 +1 165394 11.3 -1.3

It is interesting to see that, despite their 16-seat lead over the Conservatives, Labour suffered an 6.5-point decrease in voting percentage, with the Conservatives tallying over a quarter of the vote. With the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system, more votes mean disproportionately more seats. If the Alternative Vote (AV) system were in use then, we could be looking at a very different table.

If they manage to reclaim lost seats, Labour will have a major leg-up in the 2015 election. One suspects that, if the Liberal Democrats retain their negative credo, their predominately centre-left voters will opt for Labour. If the Conservatives lose their new five seats, Labour could potentially claw back eight seats in total – a small number not to be ignored.

The next issue is of the Welsh’s satisfaction with the current coalition government. The Welsh Assembly has ensured that students “usually living in Wales” can avoid the draconian increase in higher education tuition fees, but NHS and local council cuts have taken a strain on employment and on socio-economic factors. Tangible results remain to be seen.

It is also important too to remember the history of the Labour Party in Wales. Especially during the strikes of 1984-85, the mining industry and its eventual decline ensured a massive support for more socialist policies to favour policies for workers. The Labour Party of the time supported this, and were in favour of the miners’ strike action.

The Labour Party of today is an altogether different beast, but must take lessons from Welsh electoral history. In spite of widespread cuts in the public sector and the risk of more damaging socio-economic factors, Labour must not expect seats handed to them on a plate in 2015. They will profit from an overhaul of their front-bench team, and producing policy that will resonate strongly with Welsh voters.

On the other hand, if Plaid Cymru’s Assembly Members (AMs) continue to help counteract coalition policy in Wales, they could gain considerable votes in the north of the country from Labour and the Conservatives. From their current lack of popularity across the UK, it looks unlikely that Lib Dems in Wales will profit in any way.

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