Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Welsh Marginals - part 1

As promised, following YouGov’s Welsh poll here’s the first stop in a tour of marginal constituencies west of Offa’s Dyke. First up, it’s the north – traditional marginal country combining rugged uplands, industrial Deeside and the ‘Costa Geriatrica’. Labour notionally hold 8 of the 10 constituencies here, but recent evidence (notably the Euro elections and, if you’re inclined to take these things seriously, the regional sub-samples of the Welsh poll) suggests that this is an area where their downward curve is particularly steep. There were 12 seats in Wales where the Westminster incumbent party polled less than 20% of the vote in the Euros – only one northern Labour seat escaped this distinction (and then only just).

There are only two seats in the region where a safe hold is in little doubt. The MP for one of them is sitting on a notional majority of 111, but in the current climate no-one expects Labour to retake Clwyd West from the Conservatives’ David Jones. Dwyfor-Meirionnydd is likewise safe for Plaid, its task made easier by boundary changes and by the decision of school-closure protest party Llais Gwynedd (which has gained council seats here) not to contest the Westminster election. All the rest are in play, which I’m afraid means a long post!


The retirement of Betty Williams, along with boundary changes which remove Bangor and replace it with the Conwy valley, leads one to the assumption that this is the kind of seat that Labour will already have written off. The Tories (in the unlikely shape of ex-nationalist Guto Bebb) are duly the favourites on the betting markets and are projected to take the seat in various polls. But the Assembly seat was won by Plaid, and the party also edged out the Tories in the Euro elections (counted, nonsensically, on the old boundaries). This is a really interesting seat, in an area where tactical voting is historically commonplace. As I see it the chances of the Conservatives being out-polled by Labour here in 2010 are minimal. Plaid are coming from some way back but have good recent form and a high-profile candidate in ex-policeman Phil Edwards. Punters have to assess whether Plaid can convince people that it’s a ‘two-horse race’ with Labour out of it.

Alyn & Deeside

Remarkably, the Conservatives outpolled Labour in this industrial seat at the Euro elections. With demographic change and Labour’s general under-performance in north Wales, I’m almost tempted to call this as somewhere which might fall to the Tories on a bigger-than-average swing. But I’d say Labour will hold a seat they’ve controlled since 1950, if only because the Tories have lower-hanging fruit to pick nearby.


With Bangor coming into the seat to replace the Llyn peninsula, this notionally becomes a Labour ultra-marginal. However, combine a sitting Plaid MP, poor results for Labour in 07 and 08, still no official word on a Labour candidate, and the general assumption that Plaid’s vote in Bangor was previously artificially depressed by tactical voting, and you can see why bookies have this priced at 1/10 Plaid.

Clwyd South

The seat where Boris Johnson cut his electoral teeth (“I fought Clwyd South, and it is fair to say that Clwyd South fought back”) is in danger of turning blue. Three parties have strong areas here; Plaid in the upper Dee valley from Corwen to Llangollen, Labour in the post-industrial villages west of Wrexham, and the Conservatives in ‘Maelor Saesneg’ along the border. Labour’s stronghold is much the more populous, and a minor boundary change also helps them in my view (which doesn’t accord with the official notional figures, but hey ho). Martyn Jones’s retirement makes this seat genuinely competitive. Then again, the Conservatives’ Euro results weren’t as strong here as in nearby seats. Tough to call, yet strangely I can’t find anyone offering odds.


This seat has less favourable boundaries than the one which was held by ‘colourful’ Conservative Keith Raffan (later a Lib Dem MSP) in the 80s. But there are demographic shifts, and Labour’s recent electoral form here is dire. So although the Marginals Poll had this staying Labour, the Conservatives might just squeeze the Lib Dems and get the 10% swing they need, so my prediction is that we’re going to have to get used to the idea of a 6-foot tall Welsh Tory MP named Antoinette.

Vale of Clwyd

An odd constituency which combines (reluctantly, one would think) the central Clwyd Valley around Denbigh with the Sodom and Gomorrah that are Rhyl and Prestatyn. Labour held on in the Assembly by just 92 votes. The Tories have trouble motivating their vote in Assembly elections in places like this, but have been polling very well in local elections here for some time. While both Plaid and the Lib Dems have lost their candidates in the past couple of months, the Tories have picked the same man who just missed out in 07. It’s looking bleak for Labour.


The Lib Dems’ only hope in a part of Wales which isn’t strong for them (they scored just 7.8% on the Assembly regional list in the north), and they’re the largest of an assortment of groups which control the local council. But the Lib Dems’ progress here can be characterised as steady rather than spectacular, they need a swing in excess of 11%, and they’re not far ahead of the Tories. So it’ll be a tough ask for them, and at the risk of committing the sin of predicting the last election (the Assembly poll, when Labour regained the seat from an independent with less than 30% of the vote and the Lib Dems came 4th) I’m expecting a hold for Ian Lucas against a divided opposition.

Ynys Mon

A true understanding of the island’s politics still eludes me. It’s often stated that incumbents never lose but statistical quirks have come to an end sometime. Although Labour gained seats here in the 08 council elections (mainly due to the end of an intra-party schism in Holyhead), a Labour hold in the current circumstances would be remarkable. Their majority over Plaid is just 1,242, and their vote in the Euros slumped to 12.9%. Anglesey being Anglesey, there are wildcards, in terms of local issues (nuclear power, closure of the aluminium plant, leisure centres etc.) and also in the person of ‘outspoken’ ex-Tory ex-AM Peter Rogers. He secured around 6,000 votes standing as an independent in 05 and 07, beating the official Tory each time, and the latest word is that he’ll probably stand again, although I don’t see any bookies quoting odds for him. If he does, he’ll scupper any slim chance the Conservatives have of coming through from third, and may cost Plaid some votes in the south-west of the island where he’s a councillor. But Plaid would still be heavy favourites.


It Will Come to Me said...

I received this via RSS and the print is so small I can hardly read it even with my glasses on. Sorry to post this here but I couldn't find an email address on the site.

David Roe said...

This is really good analysis which should be on the main site. I found myself nodding along with most of the comments. They chime with my thinking. I would suggest that an Ynys Mon contest with Peter Rogers having reached rapprochment with the Tories to be a likely Tory win. Other than that I have pretty much got the Tories to win most of these seats based on Labour's vote collapsing. Alyn and Deesside is the interesting one. I have been writing for 4 years about how astonishing it is that Labour have such a lead in this very Cheshire-like seat. I really think the Tory tide could swallow this seat and, if it does, it would really show the size of Labour's collapse. The only one of these seats I really think Labour will have is Wrexham.

Mark Senior said...

Nothing in your analysis and conclusions that I would disagree with except that , as in the rest of the UK , you are wrong to put any relevance on the Euro votes . Assembly votes Yes , the 2008 locals Yes but as in 2004/2005 the Euro results will bare no relationship to the GE result .

Gwynfa said...

Although it is often claimed that "incumbents have never lost" in Ynys Mon, it isn't strictly true.

Lady Megan Lloyd-George lost as the sitting MP in 1951.

And I expect Albert Owen will lose in 2009.

Meurig said...

I see where you're coming from, Mark, and you can point to some places in Wales where the 04 euro results were way off the 05 generals (although in most areas a comparison is impossible as they were counted by local authority in 04, by constituency in 09).
But I do find it interesting that Labour did significantly worse right across north Wales than they did in some other seats which Conservatives are getting excited about (e.g. Newport West).
The main reason I'm hedging a bit on Clwyd South isn't the Euros, but that I think the effect of the boundary changes are more helpful to Labour than might appear.
But if the polls don't improve, I think Labour might indeed be looking at holding just 1 or 2 seats in the north.