Election 2016: The Regional Lists

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Aside from a few select constituencies, the exciting stuff happens on the regional lists because it’s largely unpredictable: in 2011, few people foresaw Nick Bourne’s unseating or the Lib Dems retaining 4 list seats. It promises to provide most of the drama this time around with UKIP and the Greens aiming to elect AMs for the first time.

There’s added spice this year because candidates are allowed to stand in a constituency and on a regional list at the same time (dual candidacy) – a practice abolished by Westminster Labour in 2006, but reintroduced by the Con-Lib Dem Coalition in 2014.

The Additional Member System (AMS) Explained

The Additional Member System sounds complicated but it’s simpler than you think.

Wales is divided into 5 regions. Each region elects 4 AMs on top of the 40 constituency AMs, bringing the total to 60 AMs.

The number of votes cast for each party on the regional ballot paper (A) is divided by the total number of seats that party has already won in that region (B) plus one (+1).

The formula works out as : A/(B+1).

So if Labour get 300,000 regional list votes (A) and win 7 first-past-the-post seats in that region (B), their regional votes are divided by 8 (B+1).

300,000/(7+1) = 37,500

The party with the highest number of votes after being processed by the formula wins the first seat, and the candidate in first position on that party’s list is elected. This seat is then added to (B) and the formula is re-calculated until all four list seats are filled in each region.

When a party does well in first-past-the-post it makes it harder for them to win seats on the lists as their regional vote would be divided by a bigger number. This is to ensure parties which can’t win constituency seats but get lots of votes can still be represented, otherwise it’s likely Labour would persistently win 70%+ of the seats with under 40% of the national vote.

Mid & West Wales

Current : Labour 2; Plaid Cymru 1; Lib Dems 1

Key Personalities (Party [position on list]; incumbents in itallics) :

  • Cllr. Aled Davies (Con [1])
  • Alice Hooker-Stroud (Green [1])
  • Joyce Watson (Lab [1]), Eluned Morgan (Lab [2])
  • William Powell (Lib Dem [1])
  • Simon Thomas (Plaid[1])
  • Neil Hamilton (UKIP [1]), Cllr. Gethin James (UKIP [2])

The most interesting list battle by some way, and incredibly hard to predict.

The one thing you can say is that if the Conservatives retain their current constituency seats – with or without taking Brecon and Radnor – they wouldn’t win a list seat.

I’m genuinely surprised Eluned Morgan wasn’t picked as first choice ahead of one of Labour’s weakest backbenchers, but it does imply Labour are worried about losing Llanelli, which should result in them retaining two seats on the list – but even those are at risk, particularly due to anger over hospital reorganisations.

I don’t see Plaid retaining a list seat here. With Simon Thomas’ campaign in Carmarthen West & South Pembs. supposedly going well and Helen Mary Jones favourite in Llanelli, (plus Plaid are almost certain to hold Ceredigion, Carms.E & Dinefwr and Dwyfor Meirionnydd) it’s highly unlikely they’ll get the huge number of list votes needed to win a seat. So unless Simon Thomas wins his constituency contest, he’s on his way to being a one term wonder again. That’s disappointing because he performed reasonably well in the Fourth Assembly.

Considering their strong vote across the region you would think this is the best chance the Lib Dems stand of retaining a list seat (elsewhere it’s looking grim) – but it’s going to be tight and they’re probably going to be reliant on other parties taking votes off each other, as well as UKIP’s decision to parachute in Neil Hamilton backfiring. They stand a chance but they shouldn’t get their hopes up.

This is also considered to be the Greens best opportunity since 1999 of getting an AM elected. Their leader in Wales, Alice Hooker-Stroud, is standing both on the list and in Dwyfor Meirionnydd. As it’s so tight they probably only need about 6-7% of the vote to get a seat, and with several universities scattered across the region I think they stand a decent chance. Safe to say if they don’t win here, they’re probably not going to win anywhere.

UKIP might struggle to win a list seat here due to the relatively even strengths of the parties, so I don’t think it’s a racing certainty Neil Hamilton will be making a political return just yet. In fact, with the large rural areas kept partly economically afloat through EU payments, you would’ve expected UKIP to be weak here….but they actually performed reasonably well in places like Powys in the last European Parliament elections, so brace yourselves for The Hamiltons in Cardiff on ITV2.

North Wales

Current : Conservatives 2; Plaid Cymru 1; Lib Dems 1

Key Candidates :

  • Mark Isherwood (Con [1]), Janet Howarth (Con [2])
  • Duncan Rees (Green[1])
  • Aled Roberts (Lib Dem [1])
  • Llyr Gruffydd (Plaid [1]), Cllr. Carrie Harper (Plaid [2])
  • Nathan Gill MEP (UKIP [1]), Michelle Brown (UKIP [2])

You would expect UKIP to win at least one list seat in North Wales, with a very good chance of two.

It’s presently unclear who would replace Nathan Gill as an MEP should he be/when he’s elected. As it stands, James Cole – who’s standing for Abolish the Assembly – would’ve been in line to take the job as the other three UKIP candidates put forward in 2014 stand a good chance of being elected this week. I honestly have no idea what happens under those circumstances, but we’re about to find out.

Plaid should have enough to keep one list seat, but unless they can take Aberconwy I don’t see them adding to their numbers in North Wales. In fact, winning Aberconwy could cost them a list seat, possibly meaning an unexpectedly early and unwelcome exit from the Assembly for Llyr Gruffydd.

It looks more likely it’ll be the Conservatives and Lib Dems losing out – the Lib Dems certainly. The only way I can see Aled Roberts keeping his seat is if the Tories managed to win one of their targets in the north, like Vale of Clwyd or possibly even Delyn. Other than that, Mark Isherwood will probably be returned, while it’s currently 50:50 as to whether Janet Howarth will join him in Cardiff Bay after her 12 month stint as an AM.

South Wales Central

Current : Conservatives 2; Plaid Cymru 1; Lib Dems 1

Key Personalities :

  • Andrew RT Davies (Con [1]), David Melding (Con [2])
  • Amelia Womack (Green [1])
  • Eluned Parrott (Lib Dem [1])
  • Leanne Wood (Plaid [1]), Cllr. Neil McEvoy (Plaid [2])
  • Gareth Bennett (UKIP [1]), Mohammed Islam (UKIP[2])

Eluned Parrott perhaps realises her best opportunity to stay in the Assembly is to win Cardiff Central. As she stands a good chance of doing that, the Lib Dems would lose their seat on the list. Where that seat goes is the big question.

The Conservatives should comfortably retain one list seat, but the prospects of the sage-like parliamentarian, David Melding, being re-elected are looking increasingly slim due to UKIP. The idea of someone of David’s calibre being replaced by Gareth Bennett is genuinely upsetting….but that’s democracy for you.

Plaid should retain a list seat easily, but if Cllr. Neil McEvoy manages to win Cardiff West, Leanne Wood could be unceremoniously dumped as Plaid leader and AM if she didn’t win Rhondda. So the only way both can be 100% guaranteed a place in the Assembly is either for both to win their constituency contests or both to be elected via the list. It would take a abnormally poor performance by both the Tories and UKIP for a constituency and list seat combo to work.

Standing in seats and on the lists en masse doesn’t sound so bright now, does it? I return to this later.

As mentioned previously, Amelia Womack is Deputy Leader of the EnglandandWales Green Party and has long been tipped as a possible future leader; if the Greens survive the fallout (should they not win any seats), I suspect her accession to leader of the Welsh branch is all but guaranteed in the medium term. They’ll probably go close here with the large student vote, but not close enough.

This is probably where UKIP will be at their weakest and I think they’ll struggle to win one seat, let alone two. Gareth Bennett has already damaged the UKIP case by making a complete prat of himself on national TV, leading to a bun fight with other candidates and the UKIP leadership bubble. Somehow he’s still there. That should give the Tories, Lib Dems and Plaid all cause for cheer. Alas, likelihood is he’s still going to be an AM as people are voting  UKIP for reasons beyond the quality of candidates.

South Wales East

Current : Conservatives 2; Plaid Cymru 2

Key Personalities :

  • Mohammad Asghar (Con [1]), Laura Jones (Con[2])
  • Pippa Bartolotti (Green [1])
  • Veronica German (Lib Dem [1])
  • Steffan Lewis (Plaid [1]), Delyth Jewell (Plaid [2])
  • Mark Reckless (UKIP [1]), David Rowlands (UKIP [2])

Following a brutal selection process, long-serving AM William Graham was effectively deselected after coming fifth in the Tory’s list at the expense of the wholly-underwhelming Mohammad Asghar. There are strong Tory areas in the south east so the Conservatives should retain at least one of their list seats. Two might be stretching it.

Steffan Lewis and Delyth Jewell (who seems to be an exceedingly capable last-minute replacement for Rhayna Mann) are considered amongst Plaid’s rising stars, and it’s inevitable they’ll be put forward for safer seats in the future. I say that because this time around it’s difficult to see Plaid retaining two list seats as this is probably going to become UKIP’s “Welsh heartland”. One seat will be hard going but doable, but to win two they’ll have to put  distance between themselves and the Tories.

Turning to UKIP, you can easily see them winning two seats here – one seat each from the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. As for why, the south east has always been marginally more sceptical about devolution than the rest of Wales, plus it has a large number of people with core UKIP characteristics : low educational attainment, blue collar Tories, “left behind”. So I would also expect Abolish the Assembly Party to get their best list results here too.

In all honesty, from what I’ve seen and heard so far I don’t believe Mark Reckless would be as bad an AM as feared ….apart from his complete lack of Welsh connections and crypto-British nationalism. I hardly agree with any of its contents, but the UKIP manifesto was drafted to a much higher standard than previous attempts. Also, of all of UKIP’s possible intake, Mark would be the most useful in the committees. It’s David Rowlands I’m worried about, as he’s more of an old-school, abolish the Assembly, kick ’em out kipper.

With the Lib Dems unlikely to do anything here, last but not least there’s the “colourful” former Green Party branch leader in Wales, Pippa Bartolotti. To be frank she’s not likely to do much either and it would probably take 7-10% of the vote to see a Green elected – won’t happen.

South Wales West

Current : Conservatives 2; Plaid Cymru 1; Lib Dems 1

Key Personalities :

  • Suzy Davies (Con [1]), Altaf Hussain (Con [2])
  • Lisa Rapado (Green[1])
  • Peter Black (Lib Dem [1])
  • Bethan Jenkins (Plaid [1]), Dai Lloyd (Plaid [2])
  • Caroline Jones (UKIP [1]), Martyn Ford (UKIP[2])

The Conservatives will be pushing for two list seats again; Bridgend and Swansea carry strong Tory votes and the fact they’re unlikely to win any constituencies means the maths favours them. There should be a guaranteed list seat for Suzy Davies.

The Plaid vote is also strong enough to guarantee one list seat – which would be held by Bethan Jenkins – but it sounds as though the fight to win two list seats will be very close between Plaid, Tories and UKIP.

Like Plaid list candidates elsewhere in Wales, the ones here are disadvantaged by the fact all of them have decided to fight constituencies at well as the list. One of the perils of dual candidacy is that I doubt I’m the only person who’s wondered : Why should I vote for a party whose candidates consider regional seats a consolation prize? If elected, will they use their list seat to run a five-year constituency campaign for 2021, or properly represent the whole region? Does my regional vote even matter? Does anyone want it?

The Tories had been criticised for re-introducing dual candidacy but then not using it themselves. On the whole they’ve got it right: because it’s so volatile, dual candidacy should be used sparingly and perhaps reserved for party leaders or cases where there’s a chance of winning a marginal constituency in the region.

Plaid’s more intense response to the steel crisis (steel being a big employer across south west Wales) might bolster their vote. So I’d say at the moment Plaid will be slight favourites to win two list seats as they did in 2007, but it seems just a few hundred votes could swing it either way and Plaid would still have to finish ahead of the Tories and get maybe 20-25% of the list vote (I don’t think they need worry about UKIP so much).

It looks as though the last list seat will go to UKIP’s Caroline Jones at the expense of long-serving Lib Dem AM, Peter Black – Peter being very keen to point that out in leaflets and letters. It’s not a prospect I relish either to be honest. The Greens could also pose a distant challenge by picking up student votes (Swansea tends to be one of their strongest areas).