We now come to southern Wales, but first a quick catch-up on the news, with Carwyn Jones being elected leader of the Welsh Labour Party. The new broom is already at work, it seems, today sacking the Finance Minister by press release. It's hard to say what impact the change of leadership will have on Labour's general election prospects; negligible either way I'd guess.
This is a region where there are a number of safe seats not really worth discussing in depth. Cardiff Central is a nailed-on cert for the Lib Dems and, for reasons best known to themselves, the people of Monmouth will continue to elect David Davies. Also, despite Labour's current predicament, there are seats they will not lose in an election where turnout will be reasonable, they can motivate their core vote with the prospect of an impending Tory government, and opposition parties' resources will be focused elsewhere. While Plaid in particular, and in one or two cases the Lib Dems, will be building here with one eye on the 2011 Assembly elections, in the 'safe' category I'd place Swansea East, Neath, Aberavon, Cynon Valley, Ogmore, Rhondda, Merthyr, Pontypridd, Islwyn, Caerphilly and Torfaen. Despite some iffy local election results (notably in Torfaen and Caerphilly) they'll stay red this time barring a game-changing event; the sort of game changing event outlined by the BBC's Betsan Powys:
"An extremely switched on Labour man whispered in my ear the other night that three prominent valleys MPs are planning to stand down at the General Election but are yet to say so. The same little bird made the point that when they go, there 'ought to be' all women shortlists in their constituencies. The thought of the mayhem that would cause brought tears to his eyes. He was laughing - at least I think he was."
Hm, that would be interesting. And how about we start the rundown of the marginals with...
I haven't a clue what will happen here. People's Voice are by no means a formidable campaigning machine, but people might just have got into the habit of seeing them as the 'real Labour party', and the official lot show no signs of ending their internal feuding. Mind you, will the prospect of a Conservative government change the dynamics? I'll predict this as a Labour gain, just for fun, but that's based on no info whatsoever.
The constituency of Carwyn Jones. Labour have a 17% majority here, and recent polls have this as a Conservative gain. Also in the Tories' favour is the Lib Dems' recent problems (many of their councillors have left) so their 8,000 votes may be squeezable. I'm not convinced, though. There are boundary changes, which although small are entirely unhelpful to the Conservatives. Labour also rebounded quite well in the 08 council elections suggesting that short-term factors depressed their vote in 04-05. I think Labour will hold on.
The Conservatives have won this seat comfortably at every level since 2005. If Julie Morgan stands, Labour will lose. If she joins husband Rhodri in retirement, Labour will be hammered.
Cardiff South & Penarth
Demographic change, along with boundary changes which transfer Sully from the Vale of Glamorgan, make this seat vulnerable. Labour have the advantage that Alun Michael has high name-recognition, but they'll still be praying like crazy that the Lib Dems take this seat seriously (it is something of a long-term target for them) and take votes from the Tories. I have this one marked down, though, as somewhere which could swing by more than the average. A lot depends on whether Labour decide to invest in holding the marginals, or avoiding a rout and placing their 'Gustav Line' in seats like this. If they take resources out of places like Cardiff North and the Vale, they should hold Cardiff South. If they neglect it, watch out.
Ditto Cardiff West. Again there are minor boundary changes which hinder Labour. There are interesting 4-party dynamics. After investing heavily in 2007 for little reward, it's rumoured that the Lib Dems aren't really targetting Cardiff West any more. Plaid, however, have 7 councillors here due to demographic change and Focus-type campaigning. Labour will no doubt try to persuade Plaid supporters to vote tactically to keep out the Conservatives, while also motivating their white working-class vote in Canton and Ely. I have Labour holding on by their fingernails. They've been phone-canvassing quite heavily, so we know at least that they're taking the threat seriously.
I'm having difficulty getting my head around the notion of Gower as a Tory target. But the recent polls are pointing that way, and it's got all the ingredients: a candidate who's fought it before and done well at the Assembly election, a third party vote for the tories to squeeze as the Lib Dems concentrate on Swansea, Labour also fighting on a different front in neighbouring Llanelli, demographic change. This goes against every historical instinct in my body, but go on then. Conservative gain.
A seat the Lib Dems nearly took at the Assembly on a low turnout. They did come second (just) in '05, which is good bar-chart material, but I suspect it's too big an ask for them in this election. What could happen, though, is both the Lib Dem and Conservative vote increases, making this a 3-way marginal and an interesting betting opportunity. The Tories though will surely be targeting resources elsewhere, which brings us to...
Many Conservatives are quite excited about the prospect of overturning Paul Flynn's 15 % majority. Labour face the challenge of fighting on two fronts in Newport, but I think Flynn's back-bench maverick persona will be an asset in this election. It won't be comfortable, but for me this is a Labour hold.
I think this is a much better prospect for the Lib Dems. The Labour majority is only 12.9%, and father of the house Alan Williams is standing down to be replaced as candidate by former Croydon Central MP Geraint Davies. The Lib Dems face challenges - the tuition fees issue won't resonate as much this time around with Swansea's students, and the guy who wore the yellow rosette last time will be wearing a blue one in 2010. But the Lib Dems' local election results are good, and they'll be throwing the kitchen sink at it. Lib Dem gain.
Vale of Glamorgan
Labour held on by less than 100 in the Assembly elections and John Smith is retiring. In boundary changes, the loss of tory-leaning Sully to Cardiff South is compensated for by gaining St. Bride's and Ewenny from Bridgend. Conservative candidate Alun Cairns may have the air of an overly-keen office boy on his first day at a firm of solicitors, but he's a solid campaigner and has been an AM for ten years. Should be a comfortable Conservative gain.
To summarise the overall picture, therefore, and for people to mock me when I get it wrong, currently I have:
Likely Labour - Swansea East, Neath, Aberavon, Ogmore, Cynon Valley, Rhondda, Merthyr, Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Islwyn, Torfaen (11)
Leaning Labour - Alyn & Deeside, Bridgend, Wrexham, Newport East, Newport West, Cardiff West, Blaenau Gwent (7)
Likely Conservative - Clwyd West, Preseli, Monmouth, Cardiff North, Vale of Glamorgan, Vale of Clwyd, Carmarthen West & South Pembs (7)
Leaning Conservative - Gower, Delyn, Montgomery (3)
Likely Plaid - Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Carmarthen East, Arfon (3)
Leaning Plaid - Ceredigion, Ynys Mon (2)
Likely Lib Dem - Cardiff Central (1)
Leaning Lib Dem - Brecon & Radnor, Swansea West (2)
And there are 4 where I'm sitting on the fence and saying 'too close to call' - Cardiff South, Clwyd South, Aberconwy and Llanelli.