Monday, 8 June 2009

Wales Euro Results: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly*

So there we have it - the first time since 1918 that Labour has failed to win the popular vote here in Wales. The Welsh result from last night’s Euro elections have been compared by lots of different people to an earthquake – but an earthquake that will help shake Gordon Brown from Number 10? We wait with baited breath to see. The 29 Welsh Labour MPs will now surely be having nightmares at the prospect of joining the after dinner speeches circuit sooner than desired.

But what is the real story in Wales? There are so many to choose from – the Tories winning in Labour heartland, so staggering an outcome that this morning David Cameron chose Cardiff to hail his party's overall results. Is it UKIP winning the fourth seat and catapulting themselves onto the Welsh political scene? Could it be Plaid Cymru failing to beat Labour despite all their campaign hyperbole? Or is it the Welsh Liberal Democrats' utter failure to make the slightest mark on the outcome of the result, even losing the votes in Montgomeryshire, and Brecon and Radnorshire?

It probably depends on your own sensibilities as to which of the above you think is the most surprising but whichever of them tickles your fancy there's a bucket-load of lessons to be learnt that can inform us about the future prospects of Wales electorally.

Turnout was low – around 30.4% (not quite as bad as the Dewis predicted) – and so will have had a massive impact on the outcome: Labour’s percentage of the vote fell by 12%. Put these two facts together and it tells you that Labour voters stayed in and watched Coronation Street on Thursday rather than going to the polling booths. It also tells you that we have yet to learn who these voters will defect to, if anyone, when the general election rolls around. The other three main parties will be a little upset that they didn’t pick them up this time...

Despite Plaid’s disappointment last night (a picture sometimes paints a thousand words - just look at their supporters' faces when the results were read out), they topped the polls in places like Ynys Mon and Llanelli – 2 key target seats for them in the next general election. In fact if these results were repeated then they could return up to seven MPs next time out. However does their inability to beat Labour show a lack of killer instinct and an unwillingness for people to turn from Labour to Plaid?

The Liberal Democrats really thought they could do it this time – but once again in a European election they find themselves out of the top four (pardon the football analogy). It will be interesting to hear Kirsty Williams’s opinion on these results given that they lost in her Assembly constituency and in Montgomeryshire (Lembit Opik’s patch) and made only minimal gains in Ceredigion. Given Nick Clegg’s reputation is at an all time high does last night show that the Lib Dems just won’t be able to crack the Welsh nut?

Will Wales go Conservative at a general election? Unthinkable until recently but on last night results they stand a chance of returning 12 Welsh conservative MPs. It may be that last night has shown that Wales has moved on from the politics of class and is ready to give the Conservatives a go. Nick Bourne, who has had his fair share of doubters recently, will no doubt be walking a little taller today.

Of course it could be that we are reading too much into these results – European elections never impact on generals (just ask Neil Kinnock). The expenses saga changed voting patterns – that will return to form soon – and turnout was so low that we just can’t tell what the people of Wales really think.

Whether these results teach us anything or not, they at least make for very interesting reading and promise an interesting few days for the Labour party.

Dewi Un

*you decide which party's which.


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