A victory for Welsh Labour — but what about the others?
The sad irony for Plaid Cymru is that they got exactly the campaign they wanted. They wanted this to be about leadership — and to make it a Presidential run off between Adam Price and Mark Drakeford, leaving the all-too quiet Paul Davies (the Conservative leader they thought would be in the mix) in the shadows. But, whilst Adam inched forwards in terms of recognition, the new First Minister surfed past him on a tidal wave of pandemic-powered popularity. Ask most Yes Cymru members who they’d like to be President of an independent Wales, and I reckon they’d choose Mark Drakeford. Added to this, the much noisier Andrew RT Davies jumped back into the mix as Tory leader, and did all the opposing when it came to the handling of the pandemic. Could Plaid have done anything to switch tactics as it became clear this wasn’t working? Yes, for sure, but it probably wouldn’t have been enough to save the Rhondda.
Things are not going to change for Plaid until they accept an unpalatable truth about the last twenty years. Welsh Labour don’t keep getting lucky — they keep making the right choices. Plaid Cymru don’t keep having bad luck — they keep making the wrong choices and talking about the wrong things. They simply don’t reflect back to the nation a version of Wales that most Welsh people recognise. Ambition and aspiration are great qualities, but they need to be anchored in the daily reality of Welsh life. A first bold step to show they get it would be to adopt Angus Robertson’s recommendation to rename themselves the New Wales Party. The post-election statements so far have not been promising.
It wasn’t a bad set of results for the Tories, but it wasn’t great either. Their decent share of the vote underlines once again that Wales is not the anti-Conservative monolith it is often considered — and that should be reflected more in the way we all talk about politics in this country. But, the fact that they stopped talking up Cardiff North and Vale of Glamorgan with some days to go showed they were going to struggle to build on the 2019 UK General Election result.
I think they will long lament losing gifted politicians (and the supporters they attracted) like Suzy Davies, Angela Burns and David Melding in the race to shore up the Abolish/UKIP vote. In the final analysis it seems that vote did not rush to them in numbers enough to make a transformative difference, or make that sacrifice worthwhile. They now face five long years where they (and we) will feel the absence of that skill, experience and intellect in the Senedd. That said the addition of Peter Fox, the long-time Monmouth leader, is a boon for them. He’s a pragmatic politician interested in getting things done. The new younger intake will give some freshness to the group — and the election of Natasha Asghar as the first woman of colour in the Senedd is an historic moment worthy of celebration across the country.
Welsh Liberal Democrats
I don’t know who would have been smiling more at the election of Jane Dodds — the Welsh Liberal Democrats, or those forming the next Welsh Labour Government. The importance of that single Lib Dem in how the next five years plays out cannot be overstated. Not because anyone in Welsh Labour will be taking Jane Dodds’ support for budgets and legislation for granted — far from it. I can tell you we never did that with Kirsty Williams and she was part of the Government! But, what it gives the biggest party in future negotiations is choice and leverage. Plaid Cymru are not the only game in town and that’s important.
This will all be second order stuff at the moment for the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader. Her priority in setting up her office and setting out her stall, will be to utilise this foothold to bring her party back from the brink. This result was one bright spot in an otherwise torrid election which saw previous strongholds swamped by the Tories. The Liberals really need to consider if they’ve got the reach and resource to be a truly national party for the foreseeable future — a policy platform and organisational rethink that digs back into the cities, ward by ward, might be their best bet.