We’ve just had the first real Welsh election
An elder statesman once told me, “There’s no long-term popularity in politics. The best you’ll ever get is the benefit of the doubt”. Whilst I don’t personally subscribe to that view myself, his words nonetheless came back to me last Friday as the Senedd results came in. The language in the studio among the professional pundits was interesting. Apparently it was Labour “resilience” and good old “margins of error” that explained why earlier predictions of a meltdown after 22 years in power had been off the mark. So, there you go.
Among the rationalisations there was at least one comment that caused me to nod in agreement. This was that we’ve moved on from having Westminster politics set the tone and instead seen voters pass informed personal judgement on how a government and leadership in Cardiff Bay has performed.
Like many others, I’ve never quite grasped the arcane nature of the hybrid voting system but I’m told that Labour’s standing came from a combination of increased vote share and how it was distributed. Other interpretations are available, of course.
Whatever the truth of things, the overall outcome certainly reduced a glut of contesting fringe parties to single figure percentages and zero representation.
As such, a discernible chunk of support migrated back to the Conservatives, giving them their best ever tally of seats. They may not have made the constituency gains predicted in earlier polls but there was still plenty to smile about.
Meanwhile it was left to Plaid Cymru to yet again put a brave face on things.
Commentators questioned if the pro-independence surge had been overstated – as if they’ve had no hand in the matter – and whether coalition expectations had caused the Party of Wales to take its foot off the throttle. The finger-pointing had begun.
For me, their campaign was a mismatch of targets and resources. I live in a Labour stronghold, yet the Plaid candidate not only leafleted our house three times but knocked the door too. A laudable but misdirected effort. There’ll be plenty of time over the next five years for respective parties to reflect on how things went. As the Senedd gets down to business, at least it’s members can take a bit of solace from knowing they’ve been given more than just the benefit of the doubt – for now.
No wins for Labour with half measures
A simple rule of thumb in politics is that Conservative governments very seldom take seats in parliamentary by-elections. If they do then they certainly don’t achieve a 16% swing in places like Hartlepool.
Labour needs to assimilate the underlying reasons for this awful result or else continue to struggle for relevance outside London. Those aren’t my words but comments that appear on a well-regarded activist blog.
It goes on to declare that separatist Britain is a far more popular ethos than party strategists are willing to admit. Until this changes (or is properly addressed) then the decline will continue.
It’s not just that elections in England coincided with lockdown easing, the prospect of foreign holidays and French fishermen blockading a Jersey port. Labour’s problem is that it comes across as a party offering half-measures. Voters seeking certainty tend to react accordingly.
Keir Starmer’s reshuffle attempt didn’t just backfire but prompted inevitable references to deck chairs on the Titanic. A crueller observation made in the blog is that England is no longer a nation of two-party politics, but something less.
Clearly, things can only get better.