Election 2016 Report: Conservatives

(Title Image: Wales Online)


  • Largest majority : Monmouth (5,147)
  • Smallest majority : Aberconwy (754)
  • Biggest increase in vote share : +3.7%, both Gower and Wrexham
  • Biggest decrease in vote share : -17.9%, Arfon
  • Lost deposits : 1 (£500; no change since 2011)

In terms of expectations matching outcomes, it’s safe to say the Conservatives have the most to be disappointed about of all the parties. They set their stall out from the start to make this an election about the NHS – a referendum even – which came at the same inconvenient time as an acrimonious junior doctor strike in the Tory-run English NHS.

The results maps make generally grim reading with a few bright spots that I’ll come back to later, but Wales is a decidedly lighter shade of blue than we were in 2015 or in 2011. Generally, what were once constituency and regional results in the mid to high 20’s (in terms of vote share) are now in the high teens.

For example, in Ynys Mônwhere with former Tory blogger, The Druid, once made a very strong push to take it from Ieuan Wyn Jones, their vote share plummeted 17.9%. Broadly speaking, however, they performed “better”than Labour – their vote share didn’t drop as dramatically, but it’s clear that the presence of two new right-wing unionist parties in the form of UKIP and Abolish the Assembly had a negative an impact on both constituency and regional results.

The Good News

The Incumbency Factor – Where the Tories already had incumbent AMs, they held their seats and often quite comfortably. The only wobble was with Janet Finch-Saunders in Aberconwy (where they actually managed a slight increase in vote share despite the close result). They still took a hit of course, but they remain relatively safe seats. Clearly Tory AMs maintain a level of popularity where they’re elected to represent constituencies and I know quite a few of them are regarded as hard workers – that’s a huge boost and makes Andrew Davies’ decision not to contest Vale of Glamorgan all the stranger.

They did reasonably well in some target seats – Again, looking at the results they achieved notable increases in vote share in some key target seats like Gower (+3.7%), Vale of Clwyd (+3.1%) and Wrexham (+3.7%). They also went agonisingly close in Vale of Glamorgan, reducing Jane Hutt’s majority to under 1,000 votes. The only disappointing result from a targets perspective would’ve been Cardiff North (-7.3%).

No big name losses
– With the exception of William Graham, everyone who went into the Senedd in 2011 is still there in 2016. How Mohammad Asghar’s still there is beyond me, but internal party politics isn’t my forte. As a result there’s no loss of talent and no “scalps”. Altaf Hussain gave the impression of struggling in the Assembly, while Janet Howarth showed some potential but didn’t really have enough time to make a mark for herself. Antoinette Sandbach – one of the more impressive newcomers in 2011 – really let the Tory Assembly group down in 2015 by running for Westminster. If she stayed she would probably now be in a position to run for leader.

The Bad News

“Labour are only one seat away from losing control of the Assembly”
– Events over the last few days show that perhaps this wasn’t as ridiculous as it first sounded, but it still baffles me that they decided to run with it. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of how the Assembly works knows that even if Labour lost 6 or 7 seats they would still be in a position to lead a government (albeit in coalition). They probably should’ve focused less on Labour losing control of the Assembly and stuck with the election being a “referendum on the NHS”, or even made more of an effort to address the steel crisis.

The performance on the regional lists – This is where the Tories suffered the most and while it’s certain UKIP’s strong performance is a factor, the Conservatives failed to mount a serious regional campaign. All the Conservative literature I received was about the Bridgend constituency (which was a long shot despite the ramping), and the only reference to South Wales West were a few photos of Suzy Davies. Plaid did the same thing it’s worth pointing out, but at the last minute they sent out region-specific leaflets.

Maybe they would’ve shored up their vote and wavering UKIP voters by reminding them that if they voted Tory on the list they still stood a good chance of getting Tory. Nevertheless, it’s very easy to lose seats on the lists, and the Conservatives got their second worst ever regional results in South Wales Central (18.3%) South Wales West (15%) and South Wales East (17.2%). Also, again you’ve got to question why some senior Tories didn’t opt for dual candidacy, particularly Andrew Davies in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Hurt by the UK Government’s steel crisis response? – Although it would be fair to say the UK Government have gradually got their act together over the last few weeks, during the height of the steel crisis they seemed either out of their depth or completely blasé to what was going on. Savid Javid should’ve flown back from Australia immediately, while I’m sure in many older people’s minds there were flashbacks to the Miner’s Strike and heavy industry disputes of the 1970s.

Andrew Davies : Persona non grata at Number 10? – Where was the support from Westminster? As far as I know the only major Tory personalities who visited Wales (conference aside) during the campaign were Liam Fox and Boris Johnson – both arch Brexiters. Coming out early in favour of a Brexit should’ve helped Andrew Davies by stopping any leaching of votes to UKIP, but it meant pissing off the Prime Minister and a sizable chunk of the UK Cabinet to do so. If he had pulled it off it would’ve been tactical genius, but when it fails….

What do they need to do?

Don’t rush into a leadership change – The Tory Assembly group has already reportedly backed Andrew Davies as leader, but that feels an awful lot like the dreaded “vote of confidence” given to football managers just before they’re sacked. He’s been in this sort of situation before of course and seen it out, but this time it’s different. His saving grace is that there’s no obvious successor. As Andrew has come out in favour of EU withdrawal, if the UK votes to remain that’ll probably be the time to step down if he’s seen to be out of step with public opinion, until then….

Try to stay united (in the Assembly) through the EU referendum campaign – The last thing the Welsh Conservatives need right know is a squabble over Europe. They’ll split into remain and leave camps over the next few weeks, but they can’t – under any circumstances – let that interfere with their work in the Assembly.

Don’t just oppose, propose – We often hear strident opposition to anything Labour put forward, sometimes very effectively, but when it comes down to it we haven’t heard much on what the Conservatives would do to change things; local government reform for example. They’ve suggested certain things consistently for years, like reversing free prescriptions, but with those messages completely failing to get through, they have to be a bit more radical and with the absence of a strong liberal voice in the Assembly for the foreseeable future, maybe they can adapt some Lib Dem ideas as their own to soften their image.

Resist the temptation to out-UKIP UKIP – Whenever the dominant party in each part of the political sphere suffers a poor election, the first reaction from members and supporters is always : “We weren’t socialist/serious/right-wing/eurosceptic/nationalist enough”. UKIP are, at heart, a cartoon version of Thatcherite Tories so the tempting response will be : “UKIP got lots of votes being a more extreme version of ourselves, therefore we have to adopt some extreme populist views too”.

Labour did the same thing in 2015 and the result was Jeremy Corbyn. Plaid did it by stabbing Dafydd Wigley in the back in an attempt to out-Labour Labour and they still haven’t fully recovered yet. Has it gotten either party anywhere? UKIP won votes from every other party because they’re UKIP – in the same way other protest parties have in the past – not because people are in love with their policies (other than hardcore eurosceptics and those with anti-immigration sentiments).