- Largest majority : Brecon & Radnor (8,170)
- Smallest majority : Brecon & Radnor (8,170)
- Biggest increase in vote share : +9.4%, Brecon & Radnor
- Biggest decrease in vote share : -11.8%, Newport East
- Lost deposits : 28 (£14,000; +11 since 2011)
“They had a bad night”. Not wanting to rub salt into what are already very sore wounds but it was a miserable, miserable experience for the Welsh Lib Dems. Although the Lib Dems were never in a particularly strong position to begin with – having managed to cling on to five seats in 2011 by the skin of their teeth – they’re in an even worse position now.
Many of the seats where the Lib Dems once enjoyed a double-digit share of the vote slipped into the pale yellow as other parties, particularly UKIP, took the staple “I want to vote but feel no strong attachment to any party” votes the Lib Dems once relied upon. The cruel irony is their overall share of the vote didn’t fall all that much, just -2.7% across constituencies and regions. However, because the Lib Dems didn’t have a particularly strong vote in the first place, their position dropped further and the number of lost deposits speaks for itself.
The Good News
They still remain competitive in key target seats – The Lib Dems command sizable shares of the vote in their Cardiff Central (35.3%) and central Wales heartlands : Brecon & Radnor (52.4%), Ceredigion (32.6%), Montgomeryshire (27.7%). A good series of campaigns could bring them back into play again if they’ve been lost, or put them in a strong position to be held. It’s not as if the Lib Dems have been completely wiped-out nor that they couldn’t make a recovery on the lists in future elections.
The worst of it might be over– I’m sure many people said this last year when comparing notes to the previous election, but this seemed to be a continuation of 2015. It suggests this is what a floor to the Lib Dem vote looks like and, compared to last year’s constituency results, the Lib Dem share of the vote is actually up by just under 1%, so there’s been a “mini- fightback”of sorts. Although it’s inevitable they’re going to lose council seats next year, I don’t see it getting a lot worse than this. 2011 let the Lib Dems off the hook a little bit – particularly on the lists – and prolonged the inevitable. The false hope generated then has probably made these results seems worse than they actually were.
Kirsty’s still there – Her impressive result in Brecon & Radnor is testament to the esteem she’s held in, and even on an off day she’s worth 5 Labour backbenchers by herself. Those who would like to see the world burn might not have agreed with her choice of First Minister last week, but behind the scenes her cool head will have been welcomed by both Leanne Wood and Carwyn Jones – though if someone had abstained unexpectedly she should’ve tied the vote (and I think she would’ve too). Under those circumstances all the criticism she’s been getting from Plaid, Tories and UKIP would’ve turned into glowing praise.
The Bad News
Confined to the sidelines – A party of one isn’t much of a party at all. It’s not even an ensemble. Although they’ll still have presence in the Senedd chamber, they’ll now have minimal presence in the Assembly’s committees and they’ve lost one of their most experienced AMs in Peter Black. That’s terrible whichever way you look at it. How Kirsty Williams and her staff deal with that is a difficult one to answer, though she’ll have to pick what committees she decides to put herself forward for very carefully and should perhaps aim to chair one of them.
An irrelevance in north and south Wales (Cardiff aside) – The Lib Dems were once influential in a number of local authorities – whether that continues after next May remains to be seen. These include Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff, with sizable complements in Newport and Bridgend as well. Swansea and parts of Cardiff aside, they’ve been reduced to a mid Wales rump and the number of candidates who got under 1,000 votes in places where they used to get 15-20% was really quite astonishing.
A loss of staff, money, talent and publicity – There’s a clear political loss as outlined earlier, but there’s also a serious material loss too. It’s not just the AMs who were made unemployed last week, but their support staff. Meanwhile, the Lib Dem “central office”will be unable to appoint as many staff to work behind the scenes. The Lib Dems do appear to be putting a brave face on things and have become somewhat used to adversity down the years, but you’ve got to question what the results will have done to morale and the party’s attractiveness to prospective members.
What would’ve happened with the Plaid-Lib Dem-Green electoral pact? – As the “lead party” the Lib Dems could’ve won Cardiff Central and also won Montgomeryshire by 3 (yes three) votes.
What do they need to do?
Stay calm – I’ll say it if other won’t: they didn’t deserve this. Their UK counterparts certainly felt the heat of public anger in 2015 (rightly or wrongly), but the Welsh Lib Dems had very little to do with it. Party members have every right to feel upset considering the effort they put in, but if they channel that properly and give Kirsty the right support – as well as work their socks off next May – the recovery will start sooner than they think. In the immediate aftermath, they simply need to reflect on what’s happened and figure out how to remain as effective a force in the Assembly with just 1 AM.
Kirsty shouldn’t be afraid to act as an independent – She demonstrated that last week. Kirsty could draw big concessions by herself in tight votes. She has absolutely nothing to lose and doesn’t have to consider party unity or any other distractions. That could result in her becoming some sort of political renaissance woman with fingers in every pie. Party executives should consider giving her a free rein in the Assembly (if she doesn’t have one already).
Pick targets more carefully in 2021 (and next year) – I don’t see any reason for the Lib Dems to keep putting up paper candidates in no-hope seats anymore (more of this from Cen Phillips). A campaign with 5-6 core “winnable seats”and a full complement on the regional lists ought to be enough until the party’s infrastructure can adapt to its present situation as – I’m not being cruel, just honest – the “largest minor party”. They shouldn’t be too proud to accept a future electoral pact with Plaid Cymru either.