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The night when nothing much happened

May 10, 2016

 

As the ballot boxes were stacked away into storage last Friday morning, it became apparent that the biggest smiles in Wales belonged to the pollsters.

 

After all, the nature of elections these days means that it’s not just political reputations on the line but also that of the people who make the predictions.

 

As things turned out, everyone stuck to the suggested script, more or less.

 

If anything, an overall lack of surprises left headline writers scrambling a little. Eventually they settled on Carwyn Jones failing to win an overall majority - even though he was never actually projected to get one.

 

The advent of five-party politics spurred efforts to snatch winnable Labour seats. It was an eminently sound strategy but, with the outstanding exception of Rhondda, it proved a fruitless one.

 

Plaid Cymru are delighted to be the new official opposition. Equally, they know that a single constituency gain is nothing like the breakthrough they were promising themselves and their supporters. In fact, the Party of Wales actually lost one regional seat although they managed to re-take another.

 

 

Welsh Conservatives finally mislaid the knack of making steady gains. Despite a massive phone campaign, tory voters proved to be not just shy but downright reclusive.

 

Just like Plaid, they saw their campaign messages subverted by external events.

 

If it was public disenchantment with the Cameron government’s erratic performance that dented Conservative hopes, few voters turned to Labour instead. Their vote share went down.

 

That worrying aspect seemed to be lost on the largest party who couldn’t help from pinching themselves over a much better result than expected.

 

Media commentators state the reason for the virtually unscathed outcome was a crisp, efficient campaign aided by a steel crisis.

 

On the other hand, they added, UKIP had wreaked confusion among Labour’s enemies.

 

They took votes from everyone, securing a proliferation of second and third constituency places.

 

At a regional level, the euro-sceptics poached their seven new seats from Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

 

They tapped into the frustrations of people happy to describe themselves as working class but who hold different priorities and community loyalties from previous generations.

 

What’s more, they have little time for politicians who dodge the issue of immigration on the doorstep because it’s not something for which the Welsh Assembly has a responsibility.

 

Kirsty Williams emerged as sole survivor from wreckage that had once been the Welsh Liberal Democrat band-wagon. Yet, anyone with centre-left sympathies who feels inclined to smile at the demise of veterans like Peter Black should do so with caution.

 

For pundits and political observers, it was a night when not much happened.

 

As one tired-looking broadcast journalist sagely observed while standing in a now deserted leisure centre –“Wales doesn’t do earthquakes”.

 

Maybe not, but the reality nonetheless is that the political landscape shifted significantly and undeniably to the right last Thursday – even if only a few in the media actually felt it happen.

 

I suspect we’ll be experiencing after-shocks for a while longer yet.

 

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A question of leadership

 

Leadership understandably emerged as an issue in this election. It will remain one for a day or two as possible changes are considered.

 

Labour consciously portrayed Carwyn Jones as the right man to have in a crisis and events seem to have borne out that message (so far). He looks safe.

 

Whatever curry houses plots may have been on the menu this time around, a constituency victory will be sufficient clout for Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood to see off any potential challenge.

 

Command abilities seem less relevant in UKIP. Nathan Gill frequently appears like he’s having trouble keeping up with events. His semi-detached style could be his undoing today [Tuesday] when his group meets to select a leader.

 

The big question mark at the moment is whether Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies has a future. At the time of writing, several AMs are saying loyal things. The silence elsewhere in the party is significant.

 

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Hoping for a better Assembly

 

With AMs already sworn in, the Senedd will be getting back down to business tomorrow. [Wednesday].

 

Labour have let it be known that they aren’t looking for a cheap date to form a coalition.

 

That’s just as well since Plaid Cymru sound very keen to re-immerse themselves in the role of official opposition.

 

There are a number of tough issues facing the Assembly. Not least will be negotiations over powers to be made available in the Wales Bill, which is now to be delivered by new Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns – himself a former AM.

 

I think we can expect a few hiccups. Over a third of Assembly members are newbies with definite views on quite a few matters. It also remains to be seen how UKIP settle in as new kids with a bloc vote.

 

The fifth National Assembly for Wales will be an interesting one. Whether it’s a productive one is another matter.

 

 

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