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Clear red water works wonders in Wales

With Labour 15 points up in the latest YouGov poll on the Welsh Assembly elections, it’s worth remembering some home truths that might come easier from an English observer — the truth isn’t always helpful to party unity in the middle of an election campaign.  New Labour never played well in Wales – it alienated voters and members alike.  And though New Labour may have granted devolution to Wales, it did its best  not to grant it to Welsh Labour.

When Rhodri Morgan won the leadership of Welsh Labour which Blair had fought to prevent, he put clear red water between Welsh Labour and New Labour, and recovered much of the ground Labour had lost to Plaid. But when New Labour’s record at Westminster meant he lost ground in Cardiff, he preferred a Coalition with Plaid to one with the Lib-Dems (which had been the outcome of the first Assembly elections). Since the routing of the anti-nationalists within Welsh Labour (other than in the bars of Westminster), the contest between Plaid and the Lib-Dems matters almost as much within Labour as it does amongst non-Labour voters. And if Labour doesn’t quite pull off a majority in Cardiff, it could come to the fore again.

The YouGov poll shows the Lib Dems (down 7% in the constituency vote, 4% in the region vote) doing worse than Plaid (down 4% in theconstituency vote, 5% in the region vote), but the semi-proportional electoral system (FPTP in constituencies, plus regional top-up seats based on second party vote) means that the Lib Dems could lose fewer seats. Mike Smithson, Political Betting’s pundit, has the Lib Dems losing just one seat to Plaid’s six losses. His seat projection, based on the YouGov poll and giving Labour an overall majority of  6, is:

Con 13 (+1), Lab 33 (+ 7), Lib Dem 5 (-1), Plaid Cymru 9 (-6)

The issue is that if the Lib Dems lost either of the constituency seats that look relatively vulnerable, they would very likely pick up a regional seat to replace it. They will almost certainly lose their North Wales regional seat but may well hang onto the other two.

On the other hand, Labour cannot win any regional seats in four out of five regions. Labour regional votes are absolutely wasted, and yet the poll suggests 93% of Labour voters in the constituency elections will still use their regional vote for Labour. So what should they do, and what should Labour do if it just misses out on a majority?

Views amongst Labour candidates for the assembly vary and are rarely expressed. Many were very happy in coalition with Plaid; indeed, many would prefer to remain in Coalition with Plaid, even if they have a small majority. They have fewer policy differences with Plaid ministers than some of their fellow Labour AMs (and rather more of their Westminster colleagues). I suspect some of them will privately use their regional votes to back Plaid.

No-one would dare to argue in advance of the election for a coalition with the Lib Dems when at Westminster they’re in government with the Tories, but that would be what some prefer in the absence of a majority. And, of course, there are many diehard tribalists who’d rather try to govern as a minority than deal with anyone.

For anyone on the Left, however, there should be no doubt. The coalition with Plaid has delivered Left policies and that’s why Labour is riding high. In a semi-PR system, you must expect to govern in coalitions, and Plaid win hands down. If Labour was “a more pluralist party offering a more pluralist politics in tune with a more pluralist Britain” as Labour’s Shadow Welsh Secretary would like, we’d be urging all Labour voters who don’t live in Mid and West Wales to give their regional votes to Plaid. They certainly don’t deserve to lose more than the Lib Dems!

The full poll results are as follows:

[table id=8 /]

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