It’s unlikely to have passed you by: it’s an election year!
With so many Welsh MPs standing down, the political landscape here will certainly change, but with the Conservatives polling so well and Plaid Cymru offering a real challenge to Labour in several seats, the landscape could well change beyond all recognition.
This blog is an overview of the whole country as we head into an election year like we’ve never seen before...
Gwynedd and Anglesey
Major Plaid target area. There are currently 4 seats covering Gwynedd and Anglesey – 2 of which are held by Labour and 2 by Plaid. Next time around there are only going to be 3 seats: Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Arfon and Ynys Mon. All 3 of the corresponding seats are held by Plaid in the Assembly. However, Ynys Mon is by no means a cert for Plaid. Albert Owen is popular on the island and has been very vocal on Anglesey Aluminium and Wylfa B. Llais Gwynedd might just throw a spanner in the works in the Gwynedd seats – they won’t win, but they could well take key Plaid votes in rural wards which could upset the nationalists in Dwyfor Meirionnydd (but whether it’d be enough to stop Elfyn Llwyd is unlikely).
North Wales Coast
Labour would dearly love to win back Clwyd West but the Conservative strongholds along the coast to the west of Rhyl are likely to come out strong. The new Aberconwy constituency will prove very interesting. Plaid are stronger in the southern parts like Betws y Coed, but the Conservatives are very strong in the most populated part which is Llandudno and Labour also have some support along the coast to the west. The corresponding seat’s held by Plaid in the Assembly but Labour hold the current Conwy seat which covers big parts of the new constituency (although incumbent Betty Williams won’t be standing again and boundary changes mean that Labour-strong Bangor isn’t in Aberconwy). It’s a seat all 3 parties want but both Labour and Plaid’s priorities are elsewhere while the Tories are very serious about it!
It’s all Labour right now and if they have a really bad night they could face losing Wrexham. The Liberal Democrats are targeting the seat and that party often prove popular in university towns but Wrexham politics aren’t quite that simple; for instance there are 5 separate independent groupings on the council. It was also the first Welsh Assembly constituency to elect an independent back in 2003 (incumbent John Marek). The Conservatives might fancy their chances in Vale of Clwyd and Clwyd South (the latter of which being Martyn Jones’ constituency and he’s one of those standing down at the next election). Prestatyn (one of the primary population centres in the Vale) is a Conservative area and if the Tories can get out their base here they could be in for a big win.
Both the Powys seats are held by the Liberal Democrats. They’re interesting electorally: the further west you get (Machynlleth for instance in Montgomeryshire) the more liberal it seems to be. The Conservatives, though, are strong in the most eastern parts of the constituencies (in the villages around Welshpool for instance). The colourful Lembit Opik is the sitting MP in Montgomeryshire and his main challenger is the Conservative Glyn Davies. Plaid are in the mix in the constituency as well; especially in those western areas and a strong showing by them is probably more likely to hurt Lembit. Roger Williams’ Brecon and Radnor seat will probably be seen as safer by the Lib Dems but a strong showing by Conservatives in the more southern and eastern areas could provide an upset.
A unique seat in that it’s the only Lib Dem/Plaid marginal. Most people will tell you Plaid are a shoe-in but the Lib Dems are confident of retaining the seat. Plaid’s base is the agriculture industry who have their favourite minister (Elin Jones) serving as the local AM, Plaid are also confident they’ll be able to get more student voters out next time in Aberystwyth. The seat will be won and lost in the southern towns – they’re more traditionally Conservative areas. The Lib Dems are banking on their “Tories can’t win here” strategy to win over these voters.
The Conservatives will be confident of retaining Preseli Pembrokeshire and gaining Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (they hold both seats in the Assembly and they don’t need a huge swing in Carms West). If you’ve been to Llanelli recently the Plaid stamp on the town in unmistakeable. It’s one of those seats they’d love to win and stand a strong chance of doing so (we’ve written a whole blog about Llanelli in the past and it’s certainly worth a read).
Swansea and around
A Labour stronghold if ever there was one! The Lib Dems will hope to replicate their 2005 success in Cardiff Central in Swansea West this time around. Alan Williams has been a very popular member in that seat for decades but even his majority was hit hard in 2005 and with him off, as well as his Assembly counterpart Andrew Davies, the Liberals could stand a real chance. The Conservatives will have half an eye on Bridgend and Gower. They saw quite tight Assembly races in 2007 but, truth be told, it’s a bit of a mountain for the Tories to climb.
Vale of Glamorgan is one of the seats the Tories really need. David Cameron’s been there on his Cameron Direct tour and experienced Assembly Member Alun Cairnes is the candidate. It’s a constituency which has (almost always) stuck with the party of government – this could be Wales’ best example of a bellwether constituency. At the end of last year, Kim Howells announced he’d be standing down in Pontypridd (as is Jane Davidson his Assembly counterpart) which might mean the Lib Dems could be in with a chance there – a slim one nonetheless.
The Central and West constituencies are likely to stay the same (in the hands of the Lib Dems and Labour respectively). But in the North and South (and Penarth) the Tories are looking to make gains. In Cardiff North it was a very close race between Julie Morgan and Jonathan Morgan last time around but the other Jonathan (Jonathan Evans that is) could well do the job for the Tories in 2010. Alun Michael has a healthy majority in Cardiff South and Penarth but that’s not deterring the Conservatives who are going on national issues to attack Labour here. The development of Cardiff Bay in the past decade has seen a fair few young professionals moving to this constituency giving it a higher proportion of middle-class voters. This could well be one of Labour’s “big upsets”.
No change? Newport and the Valleys are Labour strongholds and have been for years. They’re unlikely to see a change but Newport West might be worth watching, it’s one of those the Conservatives would like to win but don’t need to win. Monmouth and Blaenau Gwent are probably not going to go Labour anytime soon. Plaid would like to make a dent somewhere in this region (as they did in the early days of the Assembly) but they have bigger fish to fry in the north and west...
If I had to take an educated guess, I’d say Labour will come away with 21 seats out of 40 after the next election (they've currently got 29). I think the Lib Dems will also lose out, coming away with just 3 seats (down from 4). I’d give Plaid 5 (2 more than they have right now) and the Tories will be the big winners hitting double figures - I’d give them 10 (up from just 3).
It’s a tough call as there are so many interesting races here.
I have no idea how wide of the mark I’m going to be and it could all change before May – a week may be a long time, but a campaign is a lifetime in politics...
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