May Visits Wales as Labour Withdraw from the Celtic Fringe

Conor Bunting April 27, 2017 1
May Visits Wales as Labour Withdraw from the Celtic Fringe

With every passing day, it seems, a new poll emerges to profess just how undesirable a Labour government has become to the people of the United Kingdom. Last Sunday, it was the turn of Wales to asseverate how uncharmed they have become with the direction of Labour party politics. According to the YouGov poll, support for Labour in Wales has now ebbed to its lowest level since 1922. To place this into a further historical context, Labour has not lost an election in Wales since the beginning of the First World War. Now, with the party predicted to collect 30 percent of the popular vote, a total of 10 seats are expected to shed their Labour skin and instead opt for the Conservative Party. With Theresa May at 40 percent in the polls, the Conservative Party could win a General Election in Wales for the first time since 1852. To add another layer of context, this was the year the new palace of Westminster was reopened in the familiar Gothic–revival style, and the year final year of the Irish Potato Famine.

The Conservatives have now opened a ten–point gap in Wales over the Labour Party.

With Cymru’s Welsh Dragon no longer burning a perennial red, Labour’s expulsion from the Celtic fringes of our fair isle, in Scotland, Cornwall and Wales, looks to be nearing completion. In Cornwall, with the exception of Falmouth and Camborne, the party has never once won a seat in the region. With the county voting overwhelmingly for Brexit, one would suspect it will be the Conservative Party sweeping up former Liberal Democrat voters in the region, not the Labour Party. In Scotland, Labour’s pallidity will forever be immortalised by the 2015 General Election, when Labour’s seat count was cut down from 41 to 1, owing mainly to the nourishment of that well-oiled, nationalist engine, the SNP. That night, Labour were uprooted from their relatively comfortable position as the mouthpiece for a socially-democratic Scotland. If the polling company Survation is to be believed, it is a position they will not be returning to any time soon; the Conservative Party now has a 10–point lead over the Labour Party in what may prove to be a seminal election night for the eminently likable Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives. Conversely, the Labour Party’s popular vote is expected to fall from 24% to 18% in the region.

Unlike in Scotland, there is yet to be a flashpoint for Labour’s egression in Wales. Yet as early as January 2015, whilst the rest of the country was grappling to understand the enfeeblement of Scottish Labour, political analysts were beginning to draw attention to the curious decline of Welsh Labour. Roger Scully, Professor of Political Science at Cardiff University, was such an analyst, one who observed that the ramparts of Labour’s Welsh citadel were visibly trembling, even if the walls had yet to collapse. As early as 2007 in devolved assembly elections, Labour’s vote share was sharply cut (to a greater extent than in Scotland in fact). In the 2009 European Elections in Wales, the Conservatives actually did better than Labour in the popular vote. Despite a resurgence in early 2011, the downturn was confirmed in the 2015 General Election when Labour’s vote slumped to 36 percent; only the peculiarities of FPTP allowed Labour to return a majority of MPs in Wales.

Greenbank Parish Church in the Edinburgh South Constituency – Labour’s sole Scottish seat

For those analysing Welsh politics, it was tempting to view Labour’s poor showing in 2015 as an aberration. For some, the problem was simply a matter of personality. It is true that Ed Miliband’s personal ratings were distinctly unimpressive in Wales. His geeky demeanor, idealised view of working-class life and his unwavering adherence to political correctness failed to assimilate with the more traditional strain of welsh socialism (a distinctly more firebrand, muscular strain than that of Islington). Of course, one would anticipate Jeremy Corbyn’s style of leadership receiving similar dosages of enmity, especially with the party’s wishy–washy response to a Brexit the Welsh heartily supported. Yet it is Labour’s political record which is truly up for scrutiny here. The Welsh NHS under Labour has seen the budget cut by £800 million. In operational terms, this means those in need of an electrocardiogram (a test to register the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity) will have a 1 in 6 chance of waiting over six weeks. In England, you have a 1 in 100 chance of facing such delay. In education, Wales mirrors Scotland for declining educational standards; university applications last year dropped by 7 percent, meaning only 31 percent of Welsh eighteen year olds are applying for university, despite more generous maintenance grants being offered to prospective students. In other devolved regions, the percentages are usually far higher. In Northern Ireland, the percentage of applicants is around 47 percent.

May Hopes To Gain former UKIP Voters In Wales

Emboldened by such a record, Theresa May has smelt blood; visiting Wales yesterday, she headed for the Labour stronghold of Bridegend. She will hope to cash in on the 13 percent of UKIP voters who are not returning to Labour and instead wish to strengthen the hand of the Prime Minister heading into Brexit negotiations. There is no reason for them to refrain, and so we are likely to see an historic result in Wales. As Professor Scully stated to the Financial Times yesterday, “there is no poll this century which has the Conservatives so high in Wales. For once, words like ‘sensational’ and ‘unprecedented’ do not seem out of place.”

 

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