- Largest majority : None
- Smallest majority : None
- Biggest increase in vote share : +22.6, Torfaen
- Biggest decrease in vote share : N/A
- Lost deposits : 1 (£500; -4 since 2011)
UKIP were the undoubted big winners on the night, winning about 13% of both the constituency and regional list vote – better than the sorts of numbers the Lib Dems used to get at their peak. This has firmly established UKIP as the fourth biggest party in Wales with 7 new (but not entirely unfamiliar) faces in the Assembly.
They’re the only party who can say they had no loss in vote share in any part of Wales….mainly because they didn’t put up any constituency candidates in 2011. The only surprise is that they didn’t put up a candidate in Aberconwy which could’ve changed the result there. They achieved most of their best results in the traditional Labour strongholds of the south Wales valleys (particularly Gwent) and north east Wales.
The main question I suppose will be “Why did this happen?” There’ll be a few factors including :
- The lack of a single opposition party the public, particularly wavering Labour voters, can unite behind as an alternative government (unlike the SNP in Scotland).
- A growing anti-politics/post-politics feeling in many parts of Wales (the complete opposite to the democratic re-awakening in Scotland following the independence referendum).
- English residents in Wales (at least 14% of the population with higher proportions in some areas) voting for an outwardly Anglo-British nationalist party.
- Frustration with Labour’s performance in Wales when it comes to addressing issues faced by the white working class; a “protest vote”.
- A failure by UK parties to tackle issues like immigration.
- Genuine euroscepticism, with coverage of the EU referendum shoring-up their vote.
The Good News
After years of waiting, they’re there – They’re the first new party to break into the Assembly since 1999 and, objectively speaking, that’s a fantastic achievement considering 5 years ago they came nowhere. “Political earthquake” is thrown around as a descriptive term all too often in politics, but this was a genuine one which had an effect on all the other parties.
They might be able to compete for constituencies in 2021 – Until the electoral system changes, to have staying power in the Assembly UKIP will have to win constituencies. The lists are too volatile and, as the Lib Dems found out, even relatively minor changes to vote shares can cause big problems or even wipe you out. It’s clear the Gwent valleys have the potential to yield UKIP constituency seats if there were another swing towards them from Labour and the other parties : Torfaen (22.6%), Islwyn (22.2%), Caerphilly (22%).
A vote to remain in the referendum doesn’t necessarily mean an end to UKIP – The no vote in the Scottish independence referendum didn’t do the SNP any harm and there’s no reason a similar outcome in June will do the same for UKIP, particularly if the result is close. They would still have the best part of five years to set out a niche for themselves in the Assembly that goes beyond Europe and immigration, and if they can manage that then maybe they’ll gain some credibility into the bargain.
They’ll boost UK-wide coverage Welsh politics – It’s already happening. As the only sizable number of UKIP representatives anywhere in Great Britain – including two high-profile former MPs – I’m sure the London papers will be paying very close attention on what they say or do in the Assembly (or even outside the Assembly). The 7 UKIP AMs are ambassadors for their party and will help inform the rest of the UK what it would be like to have a large group of UKIP MPs (because nobody pays any attention to the European Parliament – which is particularly good news for UKIP). The knock-on result of that will be more coverage of the rest of the Assembly. AMs from other parties : Your wish will be granted! Isn’t that greatnews?
The Bad News
Their vote seems to have peaked – Believe it or not, but UKIP’s share of the vote in Wales in many seats is actually down when compared to 2015. In 2015 they averaged 13.8% in the 40 constituencies, this year that was down to 12.8%. Turnout was higher last year of course and we won’t know for sure until there’s another election or two, but it does suggest that UKIP – like all the opposition parties – has a ceiling in its support; in this case between 12-15% with variations either way in certain seats. It’s good news for them at the moment, but making further progress sounds difficult and was a problem for the Lib Dems too.
The splits and in-fighting have already started – I don’t really need to comment much further on this, but it was somewhat inevitable. There are clearly two camps : three pro-Farage AMs and four taken under the wing of Neil Hamilton. They managed to stay relatively united through the First Minister vote last week, but the chances of UKIP remaining a seven-member group through the entire course of the Fifth Assembly are looking pretty slim. Defections and resignations have happened in the EU Parliament on a regular basis.
If they don’t do their job properly they’ll handicap the Assembly – You would expect Nathan Gill, Mark Reckless and, yes, Neil Hamilton to be up to the job because they all have parliamentary experience and are used to things like committee sessions, standing orders etc. The other four I’m more concerned about, though I suspect one or two of them will surprise us. The same goes for new AMs in all parties I suppose – and they’ll all have a chance to settle in and get used to how it all works – but it’s clear many of the people who were elected weren’t the first choice. Two people who didn’t make it – Alexandra Phillips and Sam Gould – came across pretty well from what I’ve seen and wouldn’t have been out of place when compared to the likes of Gareth Bennett.
What do they need to do?
Use this success to boost their party infrastructure in Wales – They’re overly-reliant on “assistance” from the Farage bubble and simply don’t have the home-grown expertise and work horses who will build the party from the ground up. They’ve barged their way into the Assembly without having strong foundations and unless those foundations are shored up, the whole thing will collapse.
Stay united – At the current pace of developments in that bag of cats called the UKIP Assembly group, I’d be amazed if they last through to 2021 as they are. I’d expect the defections and resignations to start by the end of this year, particularly if there’s a remain vote in June; it’s a proud track record in any place where there are sizable number of UKIP members. If they can somehow stick together then maybe they’ll be able to make a proper contribution. Until then the signs are already looking ominous.
Take the Assembly seriously – It goes without saying. I suspect those without previous legislative experience are going to get a culture shock when they realise they actually have to put in the hours and that drafting laws and committee inquiries takes a lot of time and effort. They might write it off as Waleshire County Council, but it’s not held in as low esteem by the press and assorted hangers-on in Cardiff Bay. There’ll be two or three of their number who are certain to make fools of themselves occasionally – all parties with more than a half dozen members have stragglers – but I’ll give anyone a chance….until my patience is tested.
Once the EU referendum’s out of the way, shut up about Europe – As far as I’m concerned, until June 23rd they can go on about the EU in the Senedd chamber as much as they like; I’d expect everyone will be at it. Once the results are in, they’ll have to ditch it and focus on devolved issues – regardless of what the outcome is. That’s what they were elected to do.