Some 2016 Welsh Assembly election predictions

Posted: May 10, 2015 in Politics

It’s a bit early to be doing this, but I thought that this is a good time to look ahead at what the 2015 election results might mean for the 2016 Welsh Assembly election. This week has seen a major surprise – the best results in Wales for the Conservatives since 1983, as they gained three MPs to take their total to 11. Contrary to my previous predictions, Labour surprisingly lost two, Vale of Clwyd and Gower, but did gain Cardiff Central from the Lib Dems, who are now down to just one. UKIP failed to gain any seats but it was a good night for them regardless, as they moved into second place in six constituencies, all in South Wales.

So what does this mean for next year? Well, while there was a pattern across Britain of some surprising swings away from Labour to the Tories in marginals, my (slightly educated) gut reaction to this was that Labour lost those two seats because they are not perceived to be doing a good job in government here. I’m not here to argue whether that is correct or otherwise, but I think this hints at more bad news to come for Welsh Labour – regardless of who is voted as the next national leader, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

As it is, the opinion polls here were already suggesting a decline in the Labour vote. Four years ago, Labour received 42.3% of the constituency vote, up from 32.2% in 2007 – a significant success. This was enough to gain four constituencies. They also received 36.9% of the Additional Member System vote, up from 29.6%, allowing them to maintain their two regional AMs. This gave them half of the AMs in the chamber, equalling their total of 2003, and allowing them to ditch their coalition partners Plaid Cymru and form a government alone.

However, the latest poll from March suggested Labour’s constituency vote is set to drop to 37%, a drop of 5%, while the regional vote is down 4% to 33%. Both of these figures had been lower in previous polls, although nowhere near as low as they were in 2007. But it is worth bearing in mind, as we discovered this week, that Shy Toryness is still alive and well. In fact it had been around during the 2011 election – Labour had originally been forecast to get close to 50% of the constituency vote and 45% of the regional vote, but fell short of that on the day. With Plaid figures pretty much bang on and only a small difference in the Lib Dem figures, it was the Tories who had once again been underestimated, gaining some 5% more than expected in the constituencies and 2.5% more in the regions.

So we must bear that in mind when looking at the polls – it may well be that we’re looking at the Labour vote dropping as low as in 2007. But there is more to this than just a Labour decline – UKIP are estimated to pick up around 12% of the vote, up from 4.6% in the regions in 2011, while the Greens are also up a little and the Lib Dems are expected to crash as they have done throughout the rest of Britain. As for Plaid, they seem likely to gain a little, putting them close to that possibly-underestimated Tory figure, so will almost certainly remain the third party.

Constituency guesstimation
If a seat changes hands in the Westminster election, that’s usually a sign of things to come in the Assembly election, so to begin with, I would seriously consider the possibility of Labour losing Vale of Clwyd and Gower to the Tories. If this is indeed a reaction against the Welsh Labour government, it’s almost certain these seats will change hands for a second time next year.

Additionally, the Conservatives increased their majorities in Cardiff North, a seat Labour took back from them in the 2011 Assembly election, and Vale of Glamorgan, where Labour held on by just 83 votes in 2007 and increased their majority in 2011. It seems fair to predict that these will change hands in 2016.

So already we’re looking at the Tories gaining four seats. To this you can also add Brecon and Radnorshire, which they finally took back from the Lib Dems this week. In the Assembly, this is the seat of beleaguered Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams, and boy is it hot now. I expect the Tories to chalk up a fifth gain here and leave the Lib Dems with no constituency AMs.

Finally, there’s Plaid Cymru, who currently hold five constituency AMs, all in the west of the country. Llanelli is their main target, a seat they held from 1993-2003 and 2007-2011 before losing it by just 80 votes last time. Despite another poor performance here in the Westminster election, you would expect them to take it back if Labour are struggling nationally.

But I also think they have a strong chance of taking another of their surprising scalps of 1999 – my own seat, Rhondda. Now hear me out on this – the stats may suggest it’s virtually impossible, but there’s an interesting story building here.

Plaid’s stunning victory in 1999 was considered to be an outlier. A Labour seat since the dawn of time, it was not only a surprise in the sense that the nationalists won it, but also because they won it by a full 8% of the vote, a majority of over 2,000. Leighton Andrews took it back comfortably next time on a swing of 21% and hasn’t really been challenged since, with a majority last time out of nearly 7,000, or just under 34%. However, there are causes for alarm for him heading into 2016.

Firstly, Andrews’ reputation has since been tainted by a troubled period as Minister for Education, when he frequently sparred with Michael Gove and was eventually forced to resign in 2013 after campaigning against his own policy. He returned to the government last year as Minister for Public Services in order to oversee the planned mergers of most of Wales’ heavily-indebted local councils, but even that has gone badly, with councils refusing to merge and the whole plan now being up in the air.

Not only that, but last week saw Chris Bryant’s majority over Plaid Cymru in the Westminster seat almost halved from 13,000 to 7,000, with UKIP surging into 3rd. Added to this, Plaid will be putting their own leader Leanne Wood, a local resident and already a regional AM, up against Andrews next year and will no doubt fight this constituency very hard. To me, it has all the signs of a shock result – at the very least, you can expect it to be a very closely-fought contest. I think Plaid might just take it.

This would leave the constituency AM results as follows:

Labour – 22 (-6)
Conservatives – 11 (+5)
Plaid Cymru – 7 (+2)
Lib Dems – 0 (-1)

Crude maths for the regions
To predict the regions, I’ve combined those predictions with the most recent opinion poll – remember that this is probably an optimistic prediction for Labour, but it might not actually make a huge difference because of the way the system works. Seats are calculated via the D’Hondt system of proportional representation, but the number of constituency AMs in the region is also taken into account – the more constituencies you win, the more your regional vote is divided up before the regional seats start to be allocated; if you win nearly all the seats in the region, you’ve got virtually no chance of getting a regional seat.

Firstly, in the Mid and West Wales region, Labour currently hold two seats, with one each for Plaid and the Lib Dems. With a predicted constituency gain each for Plaid and the Tories, Labour would again hold two of the four regional seats. But this is where the UKIP surge would first come into play – not only do the polls say they should take one seat, but they have also done well here in the European and Westminster elections.

The fourth seat theoretically goes to the Lib Dems, but given the collapse of their vote nationally, I must admit I am dubious of this. I wouldn’t be surprised if UKIP get an extra boost here relative to the rest of the country and take that fourth seat, but I’ll hold back on predicting it for now, since this is about the only place in Wales that might just continue to give the Lib Dems some votes – this is the only region where they would notionally finish ahead of the Greens.

In North Wales, the Tories previously held two of the four regional seats, with Plaid and the Lib Dems each having one. But I’ve predicted the Tories to gain Vale of Clwyd, which would cost them a regional seat. Instead, UKIP should pick up two seats here, with the other coming from the Lib Dems.

In South Wales Central, the region including Cardiff, Labour currently hold all seven of the constituencies, but I have predicted them to lose two to the Tories and one to Plaid. Even so, they still have too many constituency AMs to pick up a regional one. Indeed, the Tory constituency victories also cost them a regional seat, while the Lib Dems also lose one. The beneficiaries are again UKIP, who take one, and the Greens, who pick up their first AM.

In South Wales East, the Tories and Plaid currently have two seats each. Here the UKIP surge would cost the Tories, who already have a constituency AM here from Monmouth, while in South Wales West, the Lib Dems would again lose out.

This leaves the regional results as follows:

Plaid Cymru – 6 (nc)
UKIP – 6 (+6)
Conservatives – 4 (-4)
Labour – 2 (nc)
Lib Dems – 1 (-3)
Greens – 1 (+1)

And overall:

Labour – 24 (-6)
Conservatives – 15 (+1)
Plaid Cymru – 13 (+2)
UKIP – 6 (+6)
Lib Dems – 1 (-4)
Greens – 1 (+1)

As you can see, the Tories prove to be victims of their own success in the constituencies – their progress there is undermined by a loss of regional seats (and they would be comfortably short in most of the regions too), meaning they barely move forward at all. Similarly, Plaid will struggle to make serious inroads unless they take more constituency seats. Instead, it is UKIP who benefit the most from Labour’s struggle and the collapse of the Lib Dems, taking one-tenth of the seats in an Assembly they have campaigned against. The Greens would also enter the Senedd for the first time, providing another voice there.

For Labour, this would be their worst result yet – even though this is based off voting figures which are better than in 2007, they would be left with their lowest number of seats. While they would still comfortably be the largest party, they would be well short of a majority, almost certainly necessitating another coalition with Plaid Cymru. But this time the nationalists will have a little more power in that coalition than in 2007, as they would hold 15 out of 37 instead of 39. The Tories and UKIP together would be a bloc of 21 against them – if either party was to do even better than the polls predict, things might get even more uncomfortable for Labour.

Granted, this isn’t the most scientific of predictions but this is the direction things are looking now – Labour going backwards, but the main parties challenging them only inching forward, and UKIP arriving on the scene as the fourth-largest party to replace the rapidly-diminishing Welsh Lib Dems.

While the overall figures may seem static, it would still be a seismic shift in Cardiff Bay – and this is just a conservative prediction. Short of an SNP-style revolution, Welsh Labour will continue to be the largest party for a while yet, but they are facing more challenges than ever.

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