The Conservatives could win 21 of Wales’ 40 seats next monthby Jac Larner / May 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
Last week a Wales Governance Centre (WGC)/ITV Wales poll by YouGov sent shockwaves through the UK’s political landscape by reporting a ten-point lead for the Conservatives over Labour in Wales. The poll was described by Welsh psephologist-in-chief Roger Scully as the beginning of a potential “electoral earthquake.” If the poll is accurate—and that is an important “if”—the Conservatives could win as many as 21 of Wales’ 40 seats, breaking two historic characteristics of Welsh politics.
The first of these is Labour hegemony. Since 1922, Labour has won every general election in Wales and, as of 1935, has also won a majority of Welsh seats. Labour’s dominance in Wales has not been limited to general elections. Over this period, it has won every National Assembly, local and EU election bar one: the 2009 European Parliament Elections, where it was narrowly edged into second place by the Conservatives. This period of near-complete dominance has made Labour in Wales one of the most effective electoral machines in Europe.
The second characteristic that looks to be coming to an end is the Conservative Party’s historic weakness in Wales. The Tories’ lack of success in Wales pre-dates Labour dominance; the last time the Conservatives won the popular vote in Wales was 1859. To place this in historical context, the Tories’ last major success at a general election in Wales occurred two years before the American Civil War had begun, when the they won 2,767 of 4,352 votes cast. As recently as the 1997 and 2001 general elections, no Conservative MPs were elected in Wales. This makes their sudden standing in the polls even more impressive, as they could potentially move from zero MPs to a majority in just 16 years.
So how has this happened? Whilst the Conservatives are undoubtedly benefitting from some recent political developments, there are also long-term trends that have contributed to their recent fortune. Chief among these is the “dealignment” of the Welsh electorate and the subsequent downwards trend in support for the Labour Party in Wales. This has been particularly apparent in Labour’s diminishing general election vote share since the late 1990s. Voters are increasingly less likely to develop an attachment to a political party because of social identity (i.e. their social class, the area they grew…