Labour retained their dominance in Wales after the elections for the National Assembly for Wales on May 5th. Despite a plummet of eight per cent in their vote share, Labour will have 29 seats in the fifth Assembly, just 2 short of a majority.
Despite predictions Labour would face losses, especially in Cardiff, they held off the divided opposition. The Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham, Llanelli, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff West, Cardiff North and Cardiff Central were all seats where Labour narrowly kept their seats, to the disappointment of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives.
In Cardiff Central, it was widely expected that Eluned Parrott, of the Liberal Democrats, would gain the seat from Labour, but Jenny Rathbone increased her majority from 38 votes in 2011 to 917 votes. In anticipation of the close result in Cardiff Central, there was a sign of good news in terms of turnout, where it was up eight per cent on 2011, to 45 per cent. This election has seen efforts by Cardiff University Students’ Union and NUS Wales to get people to register to vote and to get students’ voice heard, and some of these efforts seem to have worked. NUS Wales have said they are glad to see turnout up in Cardiff Central, as well as over 50 percent turnout in constituencies where Bangor and Aberystwyth students’ unions have been campaigning.
In three horse races, Labour consistently come out on top, with the voting system playing massively to their benefit, with the UKIP factor also making it difficult for other parties to overtake Welsh Labour. After the election, Carwyn Jones said: “We will likely look to form a minority government in the coming days. The result is a clear mandate to govern, and we believe that is the best option for Wales right now.”
The one big shock of the night came from the Rhondda, where Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood catapulted herself in front of cabinet minister Leighton Andrews, with a majority of well over 3,000 votes to sweeten the deal. On her win, Wood said, A new dawn is about to break in Wales. People have voted for change. I make a commitment to serve all, whether they voted Plaid Cymru or not. People have voted for hope.”
Despite an election campaign that saw them confident they would be able to make gains across Wales, it was their second worse election, in terms of seats. Despite this breakthrough in the south Wales Labour heartlands, we must not forget that Plaid won the seat in 1999, to go on to lose it in the next election. Despite this, the party will be happy to know that this election saw them gain a seat, unlike losing ground as in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
It was also a bad night for the Welsh Conservatives, despite retaining their constituency seats, they did not manage to repeat the gains made in the general election last year, and even lost many of their regional seats to UKIP. Despite the disappointing result, and spreading gossip about their leader Andrew RT Davies facing a leadership contest, it seems this is now unlikely, as the party looks ahead to the european referendum next month.
If it was bad for the Conservatives, it was even worse for the Liberal Democrats, with a continuation of the losses from last year’s election. The party struggled all across Wales, and left with one AM, Kirsty Williams. Williams became the first female party leader in the Assembly in 2008, but stood down as leader after the election result was known. She said in a statement: “Despite our best efforts, and a positive campaign, it has not been enough. And for that, I must take responsibility.” She also went on to warn that the politics of resentment was catching on in Wales and therefore a liberal presence is needed, referring to the UKIP surge.
The UKIP surge continued in Wales, exceeding their own expectations and winning seven seats in the Assembly, bringing a new voice to Welsh politics. The party’s seats along with the Conservatives brings the right-wing number of AMs to 18, the most the Senedd has ever seen, and is sure to have a strong impact.
The legacy of this election will be one of continuity. Labour’s mandate has declined, but by only losing one seat, they continue to be far ahead of the field. The opposition is more divided than ever, with a five party Assembly for the first time. By the end of this Assembly term, Labour will have dominated Wales and Welsh politics for a century, and governed a devolved Assembly for 22 years, can they ensure they can deliver for Wales to keep that dominance going? We’ll see in May 2021.