Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Welsh Marginals - part 2

Today - mid and west Wales. This post might be considered a 'tamaid i aros pryd', a tasty morsel to keep us going before we tuck into the marginals of the south. But although there aren't many seats up for grabs here, there are some pretty interesting and unique ones.
As in the north, only a couple can be regarded as truly safe. Despite some unfortunate publicity over expenses, the Conservatives won't be too worried about Preseli Pembrokeshire. Likewise Plaid in East Carmarthenshire. Despite Adam Price's imminent sideways career move, the party has a 'deep bench' here. Those up for the nomination include a former party chairman in Marc Phillips and a future star in Jonathan Edwards. I know this seat has swung Labour against the trend once before (1979) but they have serious candidate problems and you'd be a brave punter to back them.

Brecon & Radnor
A large rural seat that's been marginal for over 20 years. The Lib Dems nearly lost it when Richard Livsey retired, but Roger Williams (despite his own party activists on Lib Dem Voice regularly voting him the party's lowest-profile frontbencher) has built up a decent majority. This seat represents a fairly obvious Conservative target, and they have a credible and experienced candidate in Suzy Davies. But the Lib Dems have decent electoral form here. Their Welsh leader, Kirsty Williams, always gets good majorities in assembly elections, they did pretty well in the last set of council elections, and although they lost here in the Euros the Lib Dems' percentage of the vote was way higher than in Montgomery or Ceredigion. A Tory tidal-wave may see this one fall, but on balance I think the Lib Dems will hold it.

Carmarthen West & South Pembs
The assembly election here was remarkably tight three-way split, resulting in a Conservative gain. In the context of a Westminster election, there's nothing to suggest that the Tories shouldn't be hot favourites, despite some concerns over the Countryside Alliance's influence over the local association. Carmarthen town may have a Tory MP for the first time since the 1860s, and Labour may struggle to hold off Plaid for second.

There's much I could write about the fascinating LD-Plaid marginal of Ceredigion, but seeing as I'm an activist here I'm sure you'll understand if I keep my thoughts to myself. Just to mention that if you reckon you know how us Cardis are going to vote, there are a wide range of bookmakers ready to offer odds.

Now here's a seat many people will be keeping their eye on. Back in the days of Jim Griffiths this was one of Labour's safest seats in the whole of Britain. Now, Plaid comfortably hold the assembly seat, Labour's local election results have been truly appalling, and they face a credible challenge from Dr. Myfanwy Davies, who many believe to be one of the brightest emerging stars in Welsh politics. So there are many factors pointing in Plaid's direction, but for Labour to lose Llanelli in a high-turnout election would be a big, big deal. The PolHome marginals poll had it - just - staying Labour. Too close to call.

Ah, the adopted home of publicity-shy Lembit Opik. Should a seat with a majority of 7000 really be considered marginal? I hear conflicting reports almost daily. Firstly, let's put one myth to bed. Montomeryshire folk are not the bible-bashing rural puritans that some commentators assume, and generally aren't morally appalled at Lembit. What you might find, though, is that some find his lifestyle rather cringe-inducing in an uncle-dancing-at-a-disco kind of a way. The Conservatives' choice of candidate is what makes this seat really interesting. Glyn Davies may have fought the seat before, but since then he's risen to prominence as an AM highly respected on all sides. Losing his list seat by accident in 2007 enabled him to refocus his energies on unseating Opik. As in many places, the Lib Dems borrow lots of tactical votes here, and it'll be much more difficult to persuade Plaid and Labour voters to back the Lib Dems if the 'Tory bogeyman' is a moderate, pro-devolution conservative like Glyn. Recent electoral form is interesting. In 2007, there were rumours that the Lib Dems were in trouble, but Mick Bates AM held on fairly comfortably. But on the regional list vote (in which Glyn Davies was a candidate) the Conservatives won. 2008 gave further good news for the Tories, with the only 2 council wards staying yellow and 6 new dashes of blue on the map - 3 in the rural north and, more significantly, 3 in Newtown. In 2009 the Lib Dems finished 3rd here in the Euros, although it's true that Euro elections are particularly poor predictors of Lib Dem strength. Last month's YouGov Welsh poll had the Lib Dems doing badly in mid Wales, but how much trust can you really place in those regional sub-samples?
I'm still not wholly convinced by the Conservative challenge here. Will Tory activists flock to support a candidate like Glyn? Will UKIP (who have a decent recent record here) harm Davies's chances? And of course, just the size of that majority. But having sat on the fence in Llanelli I suppose I'd better make a bold prediction here. Erm,, hum,, er,,,
Conservative gain?

By the way, for anyone interested in prospects for the Welsh Labour leadership or for a future referendum on increased assembly powers, there is some new polling data out, which is summarised by Betsan Powys. (it's wise to ignore the comments section on Betsan's blog; it's home to Welsh politics's weirdest wing-nuts)


wibbler said...

Thanks meurig, this is brilliant.

Gwynfa said...

Another very nice article.

It is conceivable that the only seat to change hands will be CW&PS -- Nick Ainger is surely doomed. But, I'd bet on at least one of Llanelli, Ceredigion, Montgomery or B&R changing hands as well. I just don't know which.

Do you know why the Boundary Commission created such a strange seat as CW & PS? In particular, why was Pembrokeshire split in a way that seems to run counter to the historical and linguistic boundaries?

Meurig said...

Gwynfa, looking at the Ladbrokes odds, you can get 2.0 (which I think is evens?) for B&R changing hands, 2.75 in Montgomery, 1.83 on a Plaid gain in Ceredigion, 2.5 for Llanelli.

Completely agree on CWPS - it's a monstrosity.

Thanks for commenting by the way, I'm starting to think I need to be controversial to get a response. Next article - Tories to win Blaenau Gwent. Plaid gain Monmouth!

Bob said...

Great article, thanks Meurig. Would love to see Lembit removed, I might go and do some leafletting there at some point.