How the 2015 election will play out in Wales, part 2

Posted: October 13, 2014 in Politics

The six seats most likely to change hands

Cardiff North

2010 Result: 1. Conservative (37.5%), 2. Labour (37.1%), 3. Lib Dem (18.3%)
Majority: 194
Swing needed: 0.2%

One of four seats in the capital, Cardiff North includes some of the city’s most affluent areas, including Lisvane, Llanishen (pictured), Whitchurch and Rhiwbina, stretching as far as Tongwynlais next to the M4. It was a Conservative seat from 1950 to 1966 and 1970 to 1997, when Labour’s Julie Morgan, wife of former First Minister Rhodri, took it on an 11% swing.

Morgan held it until a narrow defeat in 2010, but in 2011 won the seat back in the Assembly election with a majority of 1,800. This alone suggests that it’s an obvious candidate for change despite its solidly Tory history prior to 1997. Labour will be doing very badly if they can’t take it back in 2015.

Cardiff Central

2010 Result: 1. Lib Dem (41.4%), 2. Labour (28.8%), 3. Conservative (21.6%)
Majority: 4,576
Swing needed: 6.3%

The area covered includes, as the name suggests, the centre of Cardiff, a mix of working class areas such as Adamsdown and Cathays and areas populated by students at the nearby Cardiff and Cardiff Metropolitan Universities. This was previously a three-way battle, held by the Tories in 1983 and 1987, switching to Labour in 1992, and then eventually to the Lib Dems in 2005.

However, the Lib Dems, who also held the seat in the Assembly from 1999, lost the seat to Labour in the 2011 Assembly election by just 38 votes, after a swing of nearly 15%. Any swing on that scale would see Labour win the seat with a larger majority than the one they currently have to overcome.

Brecon and Radnorshire

2010 Result: 1. Lib Dem (46.2%), 2. Conservative (36.5%), 3. Labour (10.5%)
Majority: 3,747
Swing needed: 4.8%

Roughly covering the traditional counties of Brecknockshire and Radnorshire, this is one of the largest constituencies in southern Britain, stretching from Crickhowell and Ystradgynlais in the south to Knighton in the north. No town is larger than 9,000, so it’s largely farming country and mountains, including the Brecon Beacons National Park (pictured). Since the Tories took the seat in 1979, this has been a contest between them and the Liberals/Lib Dems – it went Liberal in a by-election in 1985, switching back to the Tories in 1992, and then back to the Lib Dems in 1997. Labour had held the seat previously but are now a distant third.

Lib Dem voters have been loyal here, with an increased majority in 2005 and a slight decrease in 2010. Even in 2011, they still held the seat by 9.7%, more than in 2010. Despite this, you’d fancy the Tories to take it, although it wouldn’t be a shock if the Lib Dems clung on, especially in light of a UKIP surge – they topped the European polls in Mid Wales in 2013.

Ceredigion

2010 Result: 1. Lib Dem (50.0%), 2. Plaid Cymru (28.3%), 3. Conservative (11.6%)
Majority: 8,324
Swing needed: 10.9%

Formerly Cardiganshire, Ceredigion (the Welsh translation of the county’s name) takes up a large proportion of Wales’ west coast, covering from the Dyfi Estuary in the north to Cardigan and Lampeter in the south. The largest settlement included is the coastal town of Aberystwyth, home of one of Wales’ oldest and largest universities and a bastion of the Welsh language. It’s thus no surprise that Plaid Cymru have had success here, holding the seat in Westminster from 1992 to 2005 and in every Assembly election.

But since the start of the 20th century, this seat has been dominated by the Liberals, with only a brief eight-year period from 1966 to 1974 where Labour held the seat. The Lib Dem majority rose sharply in 2010 after a marginal win in 2005, meaning this is superficially a very comfortable seat for them but this may prove to be deceptive – looking beyond the last election shows this is far from safe, and Plaid will fancy their chances here.

Vale of Glamorgan

2010 Result: 1. Conservative (41.8%), 2. Labour (32.9%), 3. Lib Dem (15.2%)
Majority: 4,307
Swing needed: 4.4%

The Anglicised, affluent Vale of Glamorgan, which includes the towns of Barry, Cowbridge and Llantwit Major, has been a bell-weather seat since its creating in 1983. Having been held by the Tories initially, Labour snatched the seat in a by-election 1989 before losing it back to the Tories by just 19 votes. In the landslide of 1997, there was a predictably huge swing to Labour, leaving them with a 10,000 majority. This was reduced gradually over the next two elections before the seat eventually went blue again in 2010.

However, in the Assembly, Labour have always held the seat, although long-time government minister Jane Hutt had a scare in 2007 when she saw her majority reduced to 83. This grew again in 2011 to just under 4,000, a swing of 5.6% away from the Conservatives which would be enough to give them the seat in 2015. An added complication for the Tories is that UKIP seem to have strong support here, having received the most votes here in the European election here this year. If Labour are going to win an overall majority in Westminster next year, this is a must-win.

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

2010 Result: 1. Conservative (41.1%), 2. Labour (32.7%), 3. Lib Dem (12.1%)
Majority: 3,423
Swing needed: 4.2%

Though it requires less of a swing than Vale of Glamorgan, this is perhaps a slightly tougher seat for Labour to win. The very tip of West Wales around Milford Haven, Pembroke and Tenby (pictured) was covered by one seat (Pembrokeshire) until boundary changes in 1997, which split it into two separate constituencies, combining it with the western part of the old Carmarthernshire constituency. Pembrokeshire was held by the Tories from 1970 until 1992, when Labour won the seat.

In 1997, Labour won both the Pembrokeshire seats and held them until 2005, when they lost Preseli Pembrokeshire (the most northern of the two, including Milford Haven and Fishguard) to the Conservatives. In 2010, Carmarthen West, which includes Tenby and Pembroke itself, also turned blue with a swing of 7%. This followed the Assembly seat, which had narrowly vote Tory by just 98 votes in 2007. Despite the national trend, they actually increased their majority in 2011 to 1,500, which suggests there may be a lot less room to manoeuvre than in the similarly Anglicised parts of South Wales.

Six wildcard seats

Arfon

2010 Result: 1. Plaid Cymru (36%), 2. Labour (30.4%), 3. Conservative (16.9%)
Majority: 1,455
Swing needed: 2.8%

One of the smallest seats in Britain by electorate, Arfon was created in the last round of boundary changes, taking Bangor from the former Conwy seat (now largely Aberconwy) and Caernarfon from the former seat of the same name. Touted as a potential three-way marginal before the last election, in the end it became a Labour-Plaid battleground, with the nationalists winning by 1,500.

However, in the Assembly, their majorities have been over 5,000, suggesting this is a seat they should be winning. But in the inevitable squeeze on Plaid in the Westminster elections, it’s possible that they could lose the seat, meaning they would not have the seat that represents Caernarfon for the first time since Dafydd Wigley won it from Labour in 1974.

Ynys Mon

2010 Result: 1. Labour (33.4%), 2. Plaid Cymru (26.2%), 3. Conservative (22.5%)
Majority: 2,461
Swing needed: 3.6%

If the possibility of losing Arfon represents the nightmare scenario for Plaid, Ynys Mon represents a potential triumph. The island of Anglesey is one of the surviving core regions of the Welsh language, and this is a seat they first won from the Conservatives in 1987. The Tories had previously held it since 1979, when they won it for the first time in 250 years by defeating Labour. Plaid hung on for three elections, beating the Tories again in 1992 and Labour in 1997, but in a rare gain Labour snatched it back by 800 votes in 2001, and have continued to frustrate Plaid by increasing their majority in every election since.

In the Assembly, it’s a different story – Plaid, who were represented for many years by their former leader and former MP Ieuan Wyn Jones, have held the other parties at arm’s length, including a huge by-election win last year for former BBC journalist Rhun ap Iorwerth. The Tory challenge here has been frustrated by their own former AM Peter Rogers, who ran on a number of occasions as an independent, notably finishing 2nd in the 2007 Assembly election. The 2013 by-election indicated future problems as they finished behind UKIP. This will be a fascinating seat to watch.

Aberconwy

2010 Result: 1. Conservative (35.8%), 2. Labour (24.5%), 3. Lib Dem (19.3%)
Majority: 3,398
Swing needed: 5.7%

The old seat of Conwy, including the town of the same name, Bangor and Llandudno, was a classic three-way marginal. Though the Liberals never held it, it frequently switched back and forth between Tory and Labour. From 1983 to 1992, it became a Tory/Lib Dem marginal, but Labour jumped both of them to win again in 1997, relegating the Tories to 3rd. The high watermark of Labour support here was in 2001, when they held a 6,000 majority, but this slipped to 3,000 in the last election under the old boundaries in 2005. Meanwhile, in the Assembly, the seat was surprisingly taken by Plaid in 1999, before it slipped back to Labour four years later.

The new Aberconwy seat made its debut in the 2007 Assembly election, with Plaid again taking the seat ahead of the Tories. But come the Westminster election three years later, the Tories took the seat, with Labour (notional holders of the seat) 2nd, the Lib Dems 3rd and Plaid a disappointing 4th. The Tories added the Assembly seat a year later, but it remains perhaps the only theoretical four-way battle in Wales, even if the Lib Dems are probably out of contention. But the former Lib Dem voters add an interesting variable, as does UKIP, who were dominant in North-East Wales in the European elections. While the swing would be large, it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for Plaid to jump from 4th to win the seat.

Llanelli

2010 Result: 1. Labour (42.5%), 2. Plaid Cymru (29.9%), 3. Conservative (14.4%)
Majority: 4,701
Swing needed: 6.3%

If you didn’t know any better, you’d call me stupid for highlighting this seat, as on paper it’s a relatively safe Labour seat in a former industrial area. In fact, it has been a Labour seat since 1922. But Llanelli’s Westminster election history only tells half the story. Back in 1999, it was another of Plaid’s famous surprise wins, taking the seat by 688 votes. It has proceeded to change hands in every election since – Labour won by just 21 votes in 2003, before a 7% swing took it back into Plaid hands in 2007, and then another swing back gave it back to Labour by just 80 votes.

So you might be thinking that judging by that, Plaid are perhaps not performing as well as they should in Westminster elections here, given that the majority remained comfortable even when Labour were at their lowest ebb nationally. But this belies the progress they have made – what was a 19,000 majority in 1992 (over the Tories, no less – Plaid were a further 1,000 behind) has been whittled down to just under 5,000. Granted, Labour will be stronger this time due to the national picture, but there remains a chink of light for the nationalists. It would be a shock win, but shocks happen in every general election.

Clwyd West

2010 Result: 1. Conservative (41.5%), 2. Labour (24.7%), 3. Plaid Cymru (15.4%)
Majority: 6,419
Swing needed: 8.4%

The Tories have been strong in North-East Wales for generations, despite the disastrous 1997-2005 period. Clwyd West, which includes parts of the North Wales coast around Colwyn Bay and Denbighshire, is an ideal seat for them; even during the landslide of 1997, Labour’s majority was just 1,800, and it was one of the first the Tories took back in 2005, initially by 133 votes but then increasing their majority dramatically in 2010. They have also held it in the Assembly since 2007.

It stands to reason that this is therefore their second-safest seat in Wales, behind affluent Monmouthshire. It is also the seat of current Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones. But this seat is by no means bullet-proof, and it again comes down to the presence of UKIP. I’ve left Labour’s north-eastern seats out of this equation for now as while they may lose votes, it shouldn’t cost them seats. However, the Tories are at real risk of losing their seats in the region, including a theoretically safe one like Clwyd West. The promise of a ministerial scalp may also add to the incentive for Labour.

Montgomeryshire

2010 Result: 1. Conservative (41.3%), 2. Lib Dem (37.8%), 3. Plaid Cymru (8.3%)
Majority: 1,184
Swing needed: 1.8%

Yes, I know, it seems incredibly unlikely – how are the Lib Dems going to regain a seat they lost in 2010 when their vote share is going to plummet? Again, it’s the UKIP factor – and also an incumbency factor to go with it. This is a natural Liberal seat, held by them from the war until 1979, and again from 1983 on. It always seemed to be the safer of their two Mid Wales seats, with a majority of 7,000 in 2005. Lembit Opik’s shock loss in 2010 therefore might have been more down to him personally than his party, though the Tories also took the seat in the 2011 Assembly elections.

However, UKIP’s huge number of votes in Mid Wales this year implies they may yet throw a spanner into the works. Even in 2010, they picked up over 1,000 votes, or over 3%. A massive increase in this time will affect the Tories more than the Lib Dems, who should be relatively immune to that. If Plaid and Labour supporters vote tactically, the Lib Dems could surprisingly reclaim the seat – it’s by far and away their best chance of gaining one in Wales in what could be a tough election for them.

Images used in the spirit of fair use

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