Election 2016: Ten Key Seats

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

We’re now at the business end of the 2016 election though, unlike previous elections, I’m not going to make any predictions as they just serve as a opportunity to make an arse of myself. Instead, I’m going to focus on those seats which might provide some excitement on election night : today the first-past-the-post seats, tomorrow I’ll cover the regional lists.

All candidates are listed in alphabetical order by party. Incumbent AMs are in italics ; incumbent candidates who were elected to represent another Assembly constituency or region in 2011 have a + next to their name.

There are detailed interactive constituency profilesprovided by the Assembly Research Service – which will be useful for the anoraks out there.

Aberconwy

Candidates :

  • Janet Finch-Saunders (Con)
  • Petra Haig (Green)
  • Cllr. Mike Priestley (Lab)
  • Sarah Lesiter-Burgess (Lib Dem)
  • Trystan Lewis (Plaid)


What was once a three-way fight between Con-Lab-Plaid gradually shifted into a two way fight between Labour and Conservatives, with Plaid posing a significantly more distant threat than they had in the past. If the (dodgy) interpretation of recent polls is correct then it appears to have shifted back to a three-way race again. Amazingly, there’s no UKIP candidate; I would’ve though this seat would’ve been meat and drink for them – perhaps a sign they’re not as strong as they claim to be.

The Conservatives will probably be marginal favourites here. They’ve gradually strengthened their grip on the seat over the years in both Assembly and Westminster elections. However, they face genuinely difficult challenges from Trystan Lewis and Mike Priestley, the latter defected from the Lib Dems about two years ago, has a relatively high local profile and performed well when he’s stood in the seat in previous years.

The seat was held by Plaid between 2007-2011 (and its previous incarnation between 1999-2003) so it’s not as if they don’t have pedigree here with (dodgy) calculations used on the most recent poll showing it to be very, very close. I suspect their relative decline has been down to a demographic shift away from being a strong Welsh-speaking area (which is now a preserve of the more rural and sparsely-populated southern part of the constituency). This time it sounds as though they’ll be competitive.

Caerphilly


Candidates :

  • Jane Pratt (Con)
  • Andrew Creak (Green)
  • Cllr. Hefin David (Lab)
  • Aladdin Ayesh (Lib Dem)
  • Cllr. Lindsay Whittle+ (Plaid)
  • Sam Gould (UKIP)


You would think Labour have Caerphilly sewn-up, but it’s not quite that simple.

Hefin David is highly-qualified as an academic, but as academics and local councillors have found time and time again to their cost in the Senedd, you can have all the local government experience, bits of paper and letters after your name that you want – it has absolutely no bearing on performance. Nevertheless, with a Labour machine behind him he’s going to be clear favourite.

Plaid’s Lindsay Whittle has put his seat on the line by abandoning the South Wales East list to put all his chips on Caerphilly. He has a trump card in possessing both local and Assembly experience, and didn’t do too badly in his first term either. He’s definitely going to be competitive, but Plaid have often promised to do something big in Caerphilly then fall short and I suspect that’ll happen again this time around.

The interesting thing here is going to UKIP’s performance. Sam Gould is considered to be one of UKIP’s few homegrown stars in Wales, while Mark Reckless set up a base in the area to justify his inclusion on the South Wales East list. I suspect this will be one of the few FPTP seats UKIP can seriously challenge in. They’ll probably get one of their stronger performances here, possibly even a good second place.

Cardiff Central

Candidates :

  • Joel Williams (Con)
  • Amelia Womack (Green)
  • Jane Croad (Ind)
  • Jenny Rathbone (Lab)
  • Eluned Parrott+ (Lib Dem)
  • Glyn Wise (Plaid)
  • Mohammed-Sarul Islam (UKIP)


Jenny was amongst the weaker members of the new intake in 2011, and until her opposition to the M4 Newport bypass failed to set the Assembly alight. In contrast, Eluned Parrott has easily been one of best AMs of the Fourth Assembly and exactly the sort of person we want in there.

Being seen as a “rebel” hasn’t hurt the reputations of many politicians in the past, so Jenny’s principled stand could work to her advantage, particularly in an urban area with lots of socially-conscious, pashmina-wearing students like central Cardiff.

If it were down to a choice between the two on previous performance it would be a no contest in Eluned’s favour. Elections aren’t decided like that though. Nevertheless, it’s the best chance for the Lib Dems to get some joy on May 5th. A Lib Dem win would probably give Plaid or the Conservatives a better chance of winning a second regional seat too.

You would expect the Greens to do well here – as they usually do in university constituencies – and they’ve put one of their more promising candidates forward in Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the EnglandandWales party and also standing on the South Wales Central list. Win? Nah. Possibly a third place.

The joker in the pack is ex-Plaid Cymru councillor and perennial candidate, Mohammed Islam, who defected to UKIP last year. Why the sudden switch between nationalisms is for him to answer I suppose, but if he has a strong personal vote, then UKIP could do better than expected – but nothing major.

Cardiff North

Candidates :

  • Cllr. Jayne Cowan (Con)
  • Chris von Ruhland (Green)
  • Fiona Burt (Ind)
  • Julie Morgan (Lab)
  • John Dixon (Lib Dem)
  • Elin Walker Jones (Plaid)
  • Haydn Rushworth (UKIP)


If you want more detail on this, then I highly recommend the sterling work being done over at innovative hyperlocal website, My Cardiff North.

Julie Morgan didn’t do all that badly in her first Assembly term and is one of the more well-spoken Labour backbenchers without really jumping out and grabbing your attention. Nobody can argue that she hasn’t stood up for constituents’ interests in the Assembly, but that’s been at an expense of policy critique (smacking ban aside).

She has a fight on her hands, with former Independent councillor, Jayne Cowan, seeking to build upon the success of her Westminster Conservative colleague last year in retaking the Assembly seat. They’re the only two real contenders and, in light of Labour’s occasionally calamitous running of Cardiff Council, this is a contest that’s going to be keenly fought and could go either way – though current projections suggest Julie will retain the seat.

Cardiff West

Candidates :

  • Sean Driscoll (Con)
  • Hannah Pudner (Green)
  • Eliot Freedman (Ind)
  • Mark Drakeford (Lab)
  • Cadan ap Tomos (Lib Dem)
  • Cllr. Neil McEvoy (Plaid)
  • Gareth Bennett (UKIP)
  • Lee Woolls (Vapers/Freedom to Choose)


Mark Drakeford has been touted as a potential successor to Carwyn Jones as Labour leader in Wales, but I doubt his so-so performance as Health Minister will do him any favours. He enjoys a comfortable majority, but as a representative of some of Cardiff’s more blue collar areas, he might seem a little detached and bit too much of an egghead.

He’s facing a strong challenge from Plaid Cymru’s highest profile councillor, Neil McEvoy, whose populism and grassroot rabble-rousing approach is something no other Plaid candidate can presently match. That can, and will, be a weakness too. Neil could start a fight in an empty room, finding it all to easy to get into arguments when he doesn’t really need to – but there’s often no such thing as bad publicity.

Cardiff West has also been used as a test bed for new campaigning methods by Plaid, including – most notably – a members/social club. It’s gradually borne success too.

I still think Mark Drakeford will end up coming out on top, though I can only see Plaid getting stronger over the years, particularly if they do well in western Cardiff in the next local elections. The irony is a victory for Mark Drakeford would save Leanne Wood’s regional list seat if she falls short in Rhondda.

Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire

Candidates :

  • Angela Burns (Con)
  • Val Bradley (Green)
  • Chris Overton (Ind)
  • Mark Tierney (Lab)
  • Alistair Cameron (Lib Dem)
  • Simon Thomas+ (Plaid)
  • Allan Brookes (UKIP)


A interesting three-way contest between Conservatives, Labour and Plaid Cymru.

The seat’s been held by Shadow Education Minister, Angela Burns, since it was wrestled from Labour in 2007, but for several elections the gap between the top three places has been wafer thin – we’re talking hundreds rather than thousands of votes. That looks set to happen again due to a complicated mix local factors that could each lend votes to different parties.

With Plaid putting up an established party figure in Simon Thomas, this is probably their best chance of taking it for a long time, though Angela Burns might prove difficult to shift with the seat becoming increasingly Tory in Westminster elections.

Those dodgy poll interpretations I’ve mentioned are showing Simon Thomas ahead in the race. The eventual winner might only need as little as 30% of the vote to take the seat, which means it’s all up for grabs and presently very difficult to call.

Gower

Candidates :

  • Lyndon Jones (Con)
  • Abigail Cherry-Hamer (Green)
  • Rebecca Evans+ (Lab)
  • Sheila Kingston-Jones (Lib Dem)
  • Harri Roberts (Plaid)
  • Colin Beckett (UKIP)


Following Byron Davies’ surprise win last May, and with Edwina Hart standing down, this one is likely to be heavily-targeted by the Conservatives for a repeat. Whether they win Gower or not will probably determine what sort of night the Tories will have.

Labour have held Gower in the Assembly with sizable majorities since 1999, though the Conservatives have been on the ascendancy for some time. Labour have put forward Rebecca Evans, who served as a Deputy Minister in the Fourth Assembly and was previously a regional list member for Mid & West Wales.

This is a big opportunity for the Tories to deliver a blow to Labour as it’s highly likely Rebecca Evans will be a cabinet shoo-in should Labour form the next Welsh Government. The irony there being that I once suggested in jest that Rebecca was a clone of Edwina Hart. *Drops mic*

Llanelli

Candidates :

  • Stefan Ryszewski (Con)
  • Guy Smith (Green)
  • Lee Waters (Lab)
  • Gemma Bowker (Lib Dem)
  • Cllr. Sian Caiach (People First)
  • Helen Mary Jones (Plaid)
  • Kenneth Denver-Rees (UKIP)


This is amongst the most intense campaigns of the election, and another straight fight between Labour and Plaid Cymru. It even reads like the 2013 Ynys Môn by-election with the roles reversed.

Lee Waters is the local boy former journalist-turned-politician in a politically-sensitive public role – he’s the southern Rhun ap Iorwerth and they’re so similar you would think they were brothers. Meanwhile, Helen Mary Jones is a member of Plaid’s aristocracy with a mixed electoral record taking on the incumbent party – very much like Tal Michael, but significantly more successful.

I don’t deny that Lee Waters could make a good AM but, even if his Labour affiliation was well-known, he’s slightly tarnished his reputation – and that of the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) – by pinning a red rosette on himself whilst still being director (even if he stepped aside). I do respect him for putting his money where his mouth is and standing  following his own criticism of the standard of AMs.

If he were running as an Independent many people (outside Plaid anyway) would’ve offered him an endorsement and he wouldn’t have compromised his position. If he wins he’ll have to resign from the IWA anyway, but there’ll be question marks over his role if he misses out too – friends and members of the establishment party can rarely be seen as “critical friends”.

Meanwhile, Helen Mary Jones’ time has perhaps been and gone and it would’ve been better if Plaid picked a new face to run. Nonetheless, Plaid are Plaid and they’ve been running an intensive campaign backed an enthusiastic and youthful team.

Another familiar face is Cllr. Sian Caiach, who’s running again after accusations of being a “spoiling” candidate in 2011, supposedly costing Helen the seat after obtaining 2,000 votes. Will Sian have a similar effect this time around? It remains to be seen, but there’s no reason why she couldn’t repeat the result.

Helen will be favourite, but with Plaid no longer the opposition in the Democratic People’s Republic of Carmarthenshire expect it to be another close(ish) result.

Rhondda

Candidates :

  • Maria Hill (Con)
  • Pat Matthews (Green)
  • Leighton Andrews (Lab)
  • Rhys Taylor (Lib Dem)
  • Leanne Wood+ (Plaid)
  • Stephen Clee (UKIP)


Aberconwy, Cardiff North and Llanelli may be the most interesting contests in terms of their impact on the overall results, but the cameras will be focused on this one – a personal grudge match in the valleys between one of the heavyweights of Labour’s front bench and Plaid Cymru’s media darling leader.

Leanne has a massive advantage in that she’s clearly got strong local roots, enjoys a measure of popularity as a party leader and has a very high-profile. Voters in the Rhondda might, stress might, be more willing to back a “local girl done good” even if she isn’t wearing a red rosette.

Leighton’s advantage is his almost insurmountable majority, the fact he’s probably one of the more relatively well-known cabinet ministers, has been tipped for the Labour leadership more than once and has (perhaps cynically) made a personal sacrifice for his constituency (his cabinet resignation in 2013).

It’s safe to say there are two reputations on the line here. I expect it to be close with Leighton seeing it through. Anything less than that will probably be a little embarrassing for Plaid Cymru, but as a “glorious failure” it would be a lot more manageable for them than a loss would be for Labour.

Vale of Clwyd

Candidates :

  • Cllr. Sam Rowlands (Con)
  • Ann Jones (Lab)
  • Gwyn Williams (Lib Dem)
  • Mair Rowlands (Plaid)
  • Paul Davies-Cooke (UKIP)


Like Gower, this one might be interesting based on the result at the Westminster election in 2015 than anything specific on the ground in the current Assembly campaign. Ann Jones is one of the few remaining original members from 1999, but this might’ve been a good juncture to make an exit and allow a fresh face to contest it in light of Labour losing the seat last year.

Like many seats, Vale of Clwyd seems to go on a two-election cycle with a big majority for Labour in one election, followed by a close contest in the next one. Ann Jones came within a whisker of losing the seat in 2007, so it’s not as if this hasn’t been closely fought before and it’s now in the “close contest” bit of the cycle.

It’s clear some of the possible reforms to hospital services in north east Wales have proven incredibly unpopular while the north Wales coast is gradually turning blue. Ann Jones is something of a survivor and I’d expect her to hang on. However, taking into account current Conservative poll woes, perhaps it won’t be that close in the end.