Welsh Labour’s quiet victory

Welsh Labour entered the 2010 General Election with common expectation it would get a kicking. With 29 out of 40 seats in Wales held by Labour there was clearly only one place to go, and that was down. However, as the campaign wore on more and more Labour sources made it clear to me it wouldn’t be as bad as was being suggested. And they were right. Despite multiple vulnerabilities, Labour in Wales held on to 26 seats. Even more amazingly, Labour did it in Wales on 36% of the vote – a full 1.5% down on the calamity of the 1983 election result. 

One of the major things that saved Labour was the inability of the Conservatives to take medium range targets in Wales. Thus Labour held urban targets like Newport West and Bridgend with more comfort than had been speculated. There was certainly a swing against Labour, but the party machine was in much better fettle than it had been for several years. In the local elections of 2008 and the Euro election of 2009 Labour’s collapse was sharper in Wales than in other parts of the UK. That was not true in 2010 – Welsh Labour did leagues better than its English counterpart. 

Look no further than Blaenau Gwent to prove this point. In 2005 Labour lost its once safest seat in a bloody and brutal scrap with People’s Voice, formed when the late Peter Law broke with the Labour Party over all women shortlists. In the 2006 by-election cause by Peter’s death and in the Assembly election of 2007 Labour was soundly beaten; while in 2008 it lost control of the local authority for the first time ever. This year the rot wasn’t just stopped, it was reversed in stunning fashion. Incumbent People’s Voice MP Dai Davies got under 20% of the vote and Blaenau Gwent – the seat once held by Michael Foot and Nye Bevan – returned to Labour with a 10,000+ majority for Nick Smith MP and a bloody nose for his opponent. Last week People’s Voice announced it was being disbanded. Game, set and match to the red quarter. 

Blaenau Gwent may have been the most stunning illustration of Labour effectiveness, but it was also mirrored in holding the Liberal Democrats in bay in Swansea West and Newport East, keeping the Conservatives out of the Vale of Clwyd and Delyn, and stopping Plaid Cymru in their tracks in Llanelli and Aberconwy.  

Why did this happen? I’d suggest three factors played a role. One was Peter Hain. His persistent message of saving Wales from the Tories may have grated with the other parties, but it obviously worked with the electors from Gower to Cardiff West to Clwyd South. He repeated the mantra as a constant and his message was simple and, quite simply, plausible to the electorate.  

Secondly, Labour had used the previous six months to overhaul its operation and deploy its resources – and by damn they are more scarce than in the past – to best effect. A new communications team made a real impact. Assembly Members and MPs worked together more effectively than in the past, too, and there almost a sense of popular resistance to the trends the polls were showing. At its best the Welsh Labour machine is a tank regiment and, though the machinery has shown significant rust and decay, in the heat of battle it is still the mightiest political army in Wales. In May Welsh Labour found the form that in 2001 allowed it to lose 200,000 votes across Wales but shed no seats. 

The third reason? Labour is the luckiest party in Wales. End of. 

Daran Hill is an independent political consultant who runs Positif Politics. He is a Trustee of the Bevan Foundation and a co-editor of www.waleshome.org, the leading Welsh political website.

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3 Responses to “Welsh Labour’s quiet victory”

  1. paul barker says:

    So you feel no shame at taking 2/3rds of the seats on 1/3 of the vote ?

  2. AmberStar says:

    Inspiring! I am hoping that Labour do not take Scotland for granted at the 2011 Holyrood elections. With little money to spend, we must campaign effectively, & not expect to win without working for it.

    I would like to know Daran’s views on the slashing of the number of seats in Wales proposed as part of the electoral reform legislation. I’ll check out his own site – but I’d also like to see an Uncut article with his analysis of the likely consequences for Labour in Wales if this legislation passes. 😎

  3. Daran says:

    Paul, that’s the system at present. My point is that Labour works it best. They targeted resources and messages especially effectively in 2011.

    Amber, personally am relatively relaxed about the reduction in Welsh constituencies from a moral standpoint. It is bound to hit Labour but also, I would guess eliminate some Conservative seats too. Would happily write for this site on that theme when things become a bit clearer.

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