Welsh Labour will remain the largest party in Wales by a significant margin. They even have enough seats to sustain a minority government if they dare. Make no mistake, Welsh Labour are the big winners overnight, but that won’t be the headline news as the country wakes up this bright spring morning – at least I think it’s bright having been awake 27 hours.
That headline will be all about the Rhondda where Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood achieved her dream of ousting former Minister Leighton Andrews and earn the right to represent her home area as a Constituency Assembly Member for the first time.
This headline will likely mask the fact that Plaid Cymru’s gains across Wales were otherwise very modest. In fact it seems the Rhondda was their only significant gain. At the time of writing their vote share us up just 1.3% across the country – hardly the #plaidsurge or momentum their activists claimed. Don’t let the Rhondda hype blind you. Plaid Cymru did not deliver on their national ambitions. In saying this I am not attempting to undermine their fantastic result in the Rhondda. This will be remembered for decades in Welsh politics, however, I would simply note that there is thus far nothing in the wider picture which suggests this is anything other than an isolated result.
Returning to Welsh Labour, they are bound to feel that they got away with it. On the eve of polling day they were close to 15% down on their position going into the last election in 2011. Yet they barely lost any seats. While they don’t have a majority, they have enough not to need to form a coalition. If they do want to be safe Plaid looks to be their only viable option (there is no point joining with the Lib Dems unless it gets them over 30 – which it won’t. That would be just giving concessions for no real result). But they are savvy enough not to do a formal deal. Indeed, I would argue that the other parties are savvy enough not to accept one.
The Welsh Conservatives will be gutted with their performance. They have failed to convert any of their headline grabbing results of 2015 into the new Assembly. There is a mix of reasons for this. First, they had far less money to spend. Second, in general they fielded less experienced candidates in key seats such as the Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff North and Brecon & Radnorshire (Leader Andrew RT Davies’ decision to not stand in the Vale likely cost them the seat).
Finally, there is the obvious unpopularity of the Conservatives a year into their Westminster term. The best example of this is the ongoing Steel crisis where the UK Government’s decision to block European Union attempts to save the industry is seen as a key reason for Tata’s problems. Add RT’s decision to back Brexit into the mix and serious questions need to be asked about where the Welsh Conservatives go from here.
Speaking of Brexit, UKIP got their first seats on the regional list. This was expected, but a close study of the constituency results show their strength is far less than some polling suggested. Nonetheless, this is a good result for them and will surely ‘shake up the Senedd’. The test for the new Party Grouping will be who can lead it, will everyone engage, and what happens after 23rd June? Should they get their way and the UK begins the exit process, we’ll have several Assembly Members who will have lost their reason for being in a party with no objective. Time will tell.
In terms of the also rans, the Welsh Liberal Democrats got the result they expected and planned for. The strategy of the party for many years has appeared to be to protect Kirsty Williams at all costs. While she was delighted at her personal victory, the party now have the problem that they are left with the biggest supporter (from their former group) of the Coalition project which caused their downfall. This means they will either duck the problem for even longer or they will consider passing on the leadership baton on to another - as the Green’s did in Westminster - while Kirsty considers a run for Presiding Officer.
So in conclusion everything and nothing changed. Only one constituency changed hands, but the regional lists saw an end to the Welsh Liberal Democrat group and the birth of UKIP. In my view Labour’s best option is to go it alone and press ahead with the urgent projects, like Steel, the M4, energy policy, and the Metro which have been sitting on their desks for far too long.
But the world is now harder for them. Their ability to block a united opposition is at an end. Plaid Cymru are their only real option whenever they need to pass a budget. This means the official opposition (unless a deal is made) will hold a lot of the power. This is really interesting for us Public Affairs professionals who appreciate that, while it is the same again to an extent, everything will be far finer cut.