Election 2016 Report: Labour

(Title Image: Wales Online)


  • Largest majority : Ogmore (9,468)
  • Smallest majority : Llanelli (382)
  • Biggest increase in vote share : +7.8%, Arfon
  • Biggest decrease in vote share : -27.3%, Rhondda
  • Lost deposits : None (No change on 2011)

The only thing that marred the victory was the loss of Rhondda and Leighton Andrews following a very strong personality-based campaign from Leanne Wood. All marginal seats were held comfortably from the main opposition parties.

However, behind their unequivocal victory lies a few uncomfortable truths.

Labour suffered the biggest drop in vote share, with majorities slashed in a large number of otherwise safe seats. In 2011, Labour enjoyed a share of 50%+ of the vote in 16 seats. In 2016 that’s fallen to just 4 : Aberavon, Cynon Valley, Ogmore and Swansea East while those 4 barely hung on to that status.

Other seats like Caerphilly, Cardiff West, Blaenau Gwent, Wrexham, Vale of Clwyd, Gower and possibly Neath too could now be considered marginals, in addition to other traditionally marginal seats like Llanelli and Vale of Glamorgan. It won’t take too much for the dominoes to fall….if someone pushes them.

The Good News

King Carwyn – Only in Wales could a party leader oversee double-digit vote share declines in many constituencies, yet still be hailed as an electoral asset, retaining enough seats to run a government by themselves. Although opposition parties, particularly Plaid Cymru, will bang their heads against the wall at the following suggestion, the steel crisis came at exactly the right time for Labour. Ultimately it’s governments that make the impact during times like these. To have Carwyn in front of the cameras outside Number 10, visiting all corners of Wales during the campaign and leading the Assembly’s response to the steel crisis in the plenary debate will have enhanced his status as “The Leader”.

(Almost) Impregnable Defences – Labour took what would otherwise be considered a pounding last week, but due to the massive majorities built up in 2011, aside from Rhondda and a few scares elsewhere they didn’t really suffer. UKIP taking a big chunk of the opposition vote definitely helped, and probably cost the Conservatives and Plaid victory in some seats.

Even after these results they’re still in a good position to retain many of those small, red constituencies in the south and north east in future as – unless something dramatic happens – it’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of last Thursday. If the current electoral cycles in the Assembly for Labour – loss-gain-loss-gain-loss – are adhered to, then a gain should follow in 2021 unless the opposition really get their act together.

A fractured opposition provides breathing room to turn things around – The main reasons for the marked difference in fortunes between Welsh Labour and Scottish Labour over the last decade is the opposition. In Scotland, there was only ever one alternative that could easily turn Labour voters heads and that was the SNP, who could say with absolute certainty that they put Scottish interests first.

The Conservatives in Wales have a large voting block of 20-25% who would probably never vote for anyone else other than perhaps UKIP. There’s still an air of suspicion over Plaid Cymru as to whether they’re a credible governing party instead of a pressure group, while they too also have a large voting block of 20%. The Lib Dems are gone as a serious force at any level in Wales, while UKIP will, for the foreseeable future, hoover up anti-politics and protest votes that would’ve otherwise gone to the Lib Dems or Plaid.

The result is a one and a half party state led by a complacent Labour – except this time I think Labour realise they have to do something big in the next five years to keep things that way.

The Bad News

They kept seats, but the voting figures are poor by any standards  – If I were a Labour wonk going over some of the figures I would’ve had a stroke. Some of the drops in Labour support are breathtaking. 12 seats saw falls of over 10%, and as we all know Labour came within a whisker of losing otherwise safe seats like Cardiff West and Blaenau Gwent while actually losing Rhondda. Many more seats will be in play in 2021 than 2016 on top of the usual suspects like Llanelli. The Scottish-style decline is happening in Wales, just at a glacial pace and we could reaching a tipping point within the next decade (a combination of a dying off of the “donkey vote” and increasing protest) that will catch Labour unawares.

Rhondda – Everyone knew it would be close, but Leanne Wood’s victory could have much wider political consequences. Leighton Andrews might not have been particularly popular, but in terms of what he brought to the table he was only second to Carwyn in terms of leadership and direction as well as being one of the few genuine “thinkers” on Labour’s benches.

What will happen to local government reform now? A majority of AMs in the Assembly oppose the reforms (as they currently are on the table) and it needed a figure like Leighton to force them through.

Who will succeed Carwyn as First Minister in the future? Leighton was one of the few realistic candidates left. With the prospect of Carwyn being First Minister for 12 years the public might start to hanker for realchange, not a fake anti-politics change.

They lost votes based on what was happening in Wales – We’re seeing one of our last remaining bastions of heavy industry hang over a precipice, with a relatively unpopular Conservative government in London hit by scandal. In normal circumstances that should’ve meant a landslide for Labour, but it didn’t happen.

Perhaps for the first time in post-devolution Wales, attacks on the Tories didn’t entirely work for Labour. It probably helped in some areas, but Labour’s vote didn’t even hold up as a result. What could’ve happened was a sizable protest vote against both their governance of Wales and a few select personalities which went to UKIP in particular and Plaid in one or two seats. Luckily for Labour, that actually saved many of their seats. It’s a sign the small-n nationalist “blame Westminster” dog whistle no longer works and the Welsh electorate might be wising-up to what’s happening on their own doorstep.

What do they need to do?

Sort out the NHS – The steel crisis and EU referendum will be at the top of the (soon to be confirmed) First Minister’s in-tray, quite understandably, but their long-term poor management of the NHS is their own cancer. Labour were very lucky that events overshadowed the election because if this had been fought entirely on Labour’s domestic record, without a crisis or bad news story in the background, it’s probable that the result would’ve been different and Labour would be looking at a coalition. The major problems they need to face up to include : waiting times, centralisation of specialist services, postcode lotteries in treatment and the coming crisis in GP numbers.

Be humble and accept your failures – Yes, they’re still by far and away the largest party, but their era of total and absolute dominance in Welsh politics is coming to a bumpy end. As a share of the total vote this was a bad night; not a disaster by any means, but a clear verdict that a majority of people in Wales are disappointed with how Labour are running the country. They’re incredibly fortunate we still use first-past-the-post, because if this was a fully proportional election, they could’ve been down to 20 seats or below (more from Borthlas) – which would be a much more accurate figure for Labour’s support. How the opposition parties deal with that is up to them.

Dump the Donkeys – Labour needs fresh talent and have done for some time. A bit of good news is they have at at least three newly-elected AMs who are cabinet material : Huw Irranca-Davies, Eluned Morgan and Lee Waters (possibly a few of the “unknowns” too who don’t yet have a reputation).

Aside from that there’s now a massive level of legislative inexperience on Labour benches with a few remaining time-servers who should’ve been put out to pasture. That doesn’t bode well for standards of scrutiny in the short-term, so the party will have to introduce stricter candidate vetting and be harsher in pushing for retirements. No more Gwyn Price’s please.

The fact they made such a big deal of Carwyn’s leadership credentials – to the point of this almost being a presidential election – implied that Labour know they’re short of a full deck.

Streamline the cabinet and don’t over-promote mediocrity – Personally, I don’t see the point of the deputy ministers other than experience building; Labour can’t afford to have the equivalent of parliamentary under-secretaries on government pay whilst being a minority government. The new cabinet should be revealed this week, but it’s worth keeping it small – 8 or 9 members maximum. Backbenchers need room to breathe, and after some of the results I’d hope Labour realise why.