(Title Image: ITV Wales)
After months or weeks of campaigning, the Welsh electorate (or, more accurately, those who bothered to vote) has delivered our verdict.
The big talking point here will be Leighton Andrews and the Lib Dems, obviously.
We all might “hate the other side”in politics (even the same side in some cases), but it’s worth remembering there’s a human cost behind every election defeat. Politics can be a very cruel business, and we’re sacking someone in public; for some, now former, AMs it might’ve been the last job they’ll ever do.
Sniping at what other people do on our behalf – like this blog – might be necessary in a democracy, but it isn’t brave. Barring thin-skinned local authority chief executives, there’s little risk to ourselves other than a bruised ego when we get things wrong.
Sticking your neck out and actually standing for election – at any level – is a civic duty that a lot of of us take for granted. So regardless of the colour of their rosettes, it’s worth acknowledging those who lost their seats last night (and those who missed out as well).
The Main Political Talking Points
UKIP storm into the Assembly – The big story, as expected, is that Wales is now a five-party country with UKIP taking 7 seats in one of the biggest swings we’ve seen in post-devolution Wales. They took seats off all the opposition parties, but the Conservatives and Lib Dems took the brunt of the losses on the regional lists.
Wales’s new UKIP MEP? – With Nathan Gill being elected in North Wales, he’ll have to stand down as an MEP. It’s rumoured one of the newly-elected AMs will have to resign to take up the vacant EU Parliament seat. It’s rumoured to be either Caroline Jones (South Wales West) or David Rowlands (South Wales East). A third-ranked list candidate will take up their Assembly seat. Are we about to see the shortest Assembly career ever?
Labour take a kicking but are still standing – First past the post rescues Labour yet again and on the whole Labour had a good night. In terms of vote share they’re at their lowest level since 2007. Due to the stupendous majorities in many south Wales seats they were never in any real danger, though some of the results – particularly Rhondda, Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West – show that when there’s an aggressive opposition campaign with a charismatic candidate, they’re vulnerable. Expect present grumbles from opposition parties in favour of electoral reform to get louder.
Progress for Leanne personally, but no Plaid “breakthrough” – There are two stories for Plaid here : firstly, the stunning result in the Rhondda and big swings in places like Blaenau Gwent as mentioned. Secondly, they otherwise had a so-so night without making any real progress – Leanne’s victory speech mentioning new dawns was premature. Nevertheless, Leanne Wood will now head up a “Shadow Cabinet” for real. Plaid’s results match what should’ve been their realistic expectations, but after telling us for the best part of a year they were an alternative government, they’ve fallen short and there wasn’t the anticipated surge in support. They actually performed quite poorly in some seats and there’s a real danger that Leanne is becoming bigger than her party.
Tories given a big slap – It was a pretty miserable night for the Welsh Conservatives. I think people were expecting the Lib Dems to get a kicking, but less so the Tories. They failed to win any of their key target seats and went backwards in many others. The bright side is they also successfully defended their own marginal seats. The thing that seems to have done it for them is a big drop in the regional list vote – they finished ahead of Plaid on constituency votes. Maybe one or two of the big personalities – including Andrew RT Davies himself – should’ve considered dual candidacy.
The Lib Dooms – One seat. The nightmare has come true and if it wasn’t for Kirsty Williams’ strong personal appeal they would’ve been wiped out. They’re no longer a party group and Kirsty is going to find it very difficult to make the same impact on her lonesome as she did with a fuller complement: there’ll be less involvement in committee work, there’ll be fewer contributions in the Assembly chamber. A terrible night for the Lib Dems which could have longer-term consequences.
The Green Pump-Pump-Squirt – There was no surge. There was no “Alice Effect”. There are no Green AMs. The wait continues. I don’t think it’s a case of them doing anything wrong as such – that’s a discussion for another time – it’s just the smaller lists and crowding out of the vote simply holds them back and always has done. It’s very difficult to see how they can go on as they are. Their vote seems capped at between 3-5% and it looks like they lost every single deposit in the constituencies, while they managed to finish behind the Abolish the Assembly party on the regional lists (the abolitionists had a very good night – better than expected – but nothing dramatic). They won’t make progress until either the Assembly expands or the voting system changes.
A lot of policy consensus – Aside from lack of costings (Lib Dems aside), there was a remarkable amount of similarity between the party manifestos – yes, in some aspects even UKIP. These include expansion of free child care, some sort of special treatment fund to address postcode lotteries in health, measures on autism (possibly even a law), electrification of main rail lines, plus either a big reduction in, or scrapping of, Severn crossing tolls. If any of you are expecting UKIP to “shake up the Senedd” (sorry Greens), you’re in for disappointment.
The Non-Political Talking Points
The polls were generally accurate – I’m sure there’ll be more from this over the coming days from Prof. Scully, but even if Assembly elections are generally pretty easy to predict anyway, the results match the broad trend over the last few months – particularly the strong performance of UKIP. However, the uniform swing polls towards the end of the campaign proved an outlier. Credit must go to ITV Wales and Wales Governance Centre for actually bothering to hold polls, but I think it’s time other polling companies and media outlets started pulling their weight and doing the same to improve accuracy.
Turnout was up, but still poor – In some constituencies, particularly Cardiff North, Brecon & Radnor and Aberconwy it was impressive with 50%+. I’m sure the good weather helped, and the pre-election doom-mongering on record low turnouts proved unfounded, with it actually being the second highest turnout in an Assembly election at about 45.3%. That still means more than half of voters didn’t bother, so expect further discussion on voter engagement in the Assembly.
Women’s representation remains unchanged; steps forward for LGBTs – Fears raised by the Electoral Reform Society a few weeks ago have proven true. The irony is former Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler, threw quite a lot of effort into women in public life in the Fourth Assembly, but the number of female AMs remains unchanged at 25 (42% of AMs). That’s still a good number, but even though there were plenty of women candidates, and even a Women’s Equality Party standing, when it came down to it women still missed out or were in situations where they would find it difficult to retain or win seats. Expect the debate to continue. A bit of good news on the equalities front is the election of Wales’ first openly-gay AMs: Adam Price (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr), Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath) and Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn).
Yet again, this wasn’t “The Social Media Election” – Tweets, Facebook likes, blogs, image macros, selfies etc. didn’t matter a jot. If the election were won by social networking alone: Alice Hooker-Stroud would now be forming a ruling coalition government with new First Minister, Leanne Wood; UKIP and the Tories wouldn’t have won anything because they’re evil incarnate; Labour would be down to a handful of seats following the Plaid surge and will face court summonses for damaging garden election boards. That’s how out of kilter social media is with reality. It’s a useful communication tool, but should be seen for what it is when it comes to politics: a party activist driven sheep-like echo chamber with very little objective analysis and opinion. To paraphrase Alan Hansen, “You can’t win anything with clicks“.
Coverage was awful – I don’t think criticism of the Welsh media would be appropriate – BBC Wales, S4C, ITV Wales and the major Welsh papers did their bit to the best of their ability – but coverage in the UK media (where most Welsh people get their news) was practically non-existent. There’s been more written and spoken on the US presidential primaries than our own elections, while it was somewhat inevitable the EU referendum would overshadow things. It’s almost certain this contributed to the poor turnout so expect AMs to bemoan it in the Senedd chamber over the coming weeks. The fact that I alone – no money and a Blogger account – have probably done at least as much as most mainstream/professional outlets to cover the Assembly election is a national embarrassment.
Time to ban garden signs? – It seemed not a week would go by without another incident relating to damage or theft of garden signs flagged up on social media in a pissing contest to be the most outraged. If politicians and party activists are going to act like children, they should be treated as such and have their toys taken away if they can’t play nice. Ideally, it would be window posters only – that way you would have to break and enter to stop them being put up or displayed and they can’t blow away. Plus, anyone who can have their vote swayed by a bit of coloured cardboard with a name on it should have their right to vote taken away from them.
What do the results mean?
A Labour minority government – They have the numbers, though if they’d fallen to 26 or 25 seats it would’ve be pushing it. Despite the good result, if Labour run into serious problems with their budgets they’ll have to reach out to other parties which could lead to a coalition at some point – though I doubt it’s on the table now. Even if they can govern alone, the opposition parties are going to be able to play a stronger hand in budget and legislative deals in the Fifth Assembly than the Fourth. As a result….
Expect more government bum squeaking – The only major government defeat we saw in the Fourth Assembly was the Public Health Bill. Expect things to be rowdier this time around. The M4 Newport bypass will already be in the firing line, and only the (toxic) support of the Conservatives will see it through to the end. That’s probably why the issue of the M4 was mysteriously left open-ended in Labour’s manifesto (in the hope of coalition negotiations – which they don’t need now). With the construction costs now expected to be much higher than Carwyn Jones anticipated, I think there’s a chance it’ll be shelved and some other things might be shelved alongside it.
Backbenchers (in all parties) will hold more power – ….and we’re in desperate need for them to use it. Many of them, including Labour backbenchers, have tight majorities to maintain so, as we’ve seen in previous Assemblies, I think we should expect them to exert their power more often and stand up to their leaders when appropriate instead of just standing and clapping. The same goes for the opposition parties.
Don’t expect to see many new faces in cabinet (but expect the cabinet to be smaller) – Carl Sargeant, Lesley Griffiths, Jane Hutt, Ken Skates, Rebecca Evans, Vaughan Gething etc. I’m expecting all to still be there. The big questions really are how many ministers will Carwyn appoint? And who replaces Edwina Hart, Leighton Andrews and Huw Lewis at Economy, Public Services and Education? We’ll find out in the next week or so, but I’m expecting a decrease in the number of cabinet members and probably only one deputy minister (for health).
The Race to become Llywydd – There are two serious contenders: David Melding and Dafydd Elis-Thomas. David Melding will be the popular choice, but if Dafydd is elected, there’ll be sighs of relief all around from Plaid’s leadership as it effectively neutralises him. There’s been talk of Kirsty Williams doing it too but as the sole Lib Dem I don’t see her wanting to muzzle herself like that, even as a Deputy Llywydd.
Leadership challenges – You would think Andrew RT Davies will be in the firing line, but I doubt the Tories will be in a rush to change their leader….for the moment. The stormclouds might only start to gather after the EU referendum – particularly if there’s a remain vote. Their poor set of results, as said, could’ve been down to events beyond their control than anything specific they’ve done. The lack of support from Westminster Tories must’ve hurt and it was probably down to Andrews “Brexit” announcement which would’ve infuriated the Prime Minister. Also, there’s been talk of a possible early challenge to Nathan Gill’s provisional leadership of the UKIP Assembly group.