Monday, 8 June 2009

Winners and losers

I would, of course, have liked to have done better than this in the constituency in last night's count; but it wasn't a bad result for us. Could have been better, though!


If I were a Lib Dem, I'd have added a banner headline saying "Can't Win Here!", with arrows pointing to the third, fourth, fifth parties... But I'm not, so I haven't.

There are lots of reasons for being careful about extrapolating results in one set of elections forward into a different election, not the least of which is the fact that the turnout was less than half of what I'd expect in a parliamentary contest. It's also the case that in any election where there is an element of 'proportionality' in the voting system, people can feel freer to vote for their real first choice, and there also tends to be a wider range of choice than in a Westminster election.

But even with all those caveats, would I prefer to be going into the next election with Plaid having come a very clear second rather than third in the immediately preceding contest? Of course – which candidate wouldn’t? I'd have preferred first place, mind…

There are problems also with interpreting the results across Wales as a whole, for the same reasons. Not so long ago, the idea that the Tories could finish in first place in terms of the popular vote in Wales would be unthinkable. It hasn't happened since the introduction of universal suffrage in the nineteenth century. And no party other than Labour has finished in first place in Wales since the khaki election of 1918, when Wales supported Lloyd George's Liberal Party.

The margin was very small, of course - indeed, less than 3% of the vote separated the first three parties. Nevertheless, there is a psychological impact from Labour having been beaten into second place, and from Plaid having come so close to Labour as well. Knowing that Labour can be beaten, in the right election and at the right time, will spur both the other major parties in Wales to greater efforts over the remaining time of the current parliament - and both have a more credible narrative about their potential for success.

Will the result be repeated in that coming election? I find that hard to judge. Neither Plaid nor the Tories made any great advance in terms of share of the vote – Tories up 1%, Plaid up 2%. The big story was how far the Labour vote fell (down 12%) – and where it went. Clearly, some Labour voters switched to other parties. (Including, sadly, both UKIP and the BNP. All parties need to be careful about taking it for granted that their supporters all share all of their core values.) However, I suspect that a lot also simply stayed at home – too disillusioned and fed up with their usual party to make any effort to go out and vote for them, but not yet ready to switch to an alternative.

The big question is what that group will do in the Westminster election – and I don't think any of us know the answer to that as yet. From our own door-knocking activities, I don't see any signs that the level of disillusion with Labour is limited to just the one set of elections; but that could change as a General Election approaches.

My own suspicion is that Wales is moving from an era of Labour hegemony into a short period of three-party politics, from which will emerge a different long term pattern. Personally, I don't believe that Wales' flirtation with the Tories would last very long if there was actually a Tory government in London. No surprise then that I think Plaid will turn out to be the real long-term beneficiary from yesterday's defeat of Labour in Wales.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog John.

Plaid need to ask why 2,00+ people in the Rhondda voted UKIP and not Plaid in the local election. Why are people voting Tory and not Labour in Clwyd and the M4 corridor and not Plaid?

You could be right about this 'short flirtation' with 3 party politics, but I'm not so confident that Plaid will benefit.

If Plaid want to benefit then I believe they need to develop a Welsh Gaullist narrative - in favour of a strong Welsh nation-state. If they don't people will go for parties which advocate a strong UK nationstate.

Plaid in all seats - West Carms/Pembs and Rhondda need to discuss issues which it has shied away from in the past, almost thinking it's below them or not decent to discuss - migration, anti-social behaviour, law and order, bindge-drinking etc. Plaid's remedy wont always be the same as UKIP or the Tories, but it has to be seen to show an interest in these issues.

Plaid's election was unfocussed - what was our message? We'd have been better to stick to 'Wales in Europe' slogan. We didn't in any way create a Welsh agenda in the press nor even come over as the SNP as being a party which would defent Welsh jobs.

Plaid isn't talking to a large swathe of the electorate across Wales because it's guilty at times of concentrating the 5% - 10% of the population with very left wing and green priorities. We need to speak to them but also other people outside our confort zone. I believe we need to poisition Plaid as a Welsh Gaullist party - in favour of a strong Welsh nation-state (which would appeal to the concerned working class vote and nationalists) and also give a stronger more assertive image to those who think Plaid is too wet on social issues and don't give us the time of day to listen to what our policies actually are.

S

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog John.

Plaid need to ask why 2,00+ people in the Rhondda voted UKIP and not Plaid in the local election. Why are people voting Tory and not Labour in Clwyd and the M4 corridor and not Plaid?

You could be right about this 'short flirtation' with 3 party politics, but I'm not so confident that Plaid will benefit.

If Plaid want to benefit then I believe they need to develop a Welsh Gaullist narrative - in favour of a strong Welsh nation-state. If they don't people will go for parties which advocate a strong UK nationstate.

Plaid in all seats - West Carms/Pembs and Rhondda need to discuss issues which it has shied away from in the past, almost thinking it's below them or not decent to discuss - migration, anti-social behaviour, law and order, bindge-drinking etc. Plaid's remedy wont always be the same as UKIP or the Tories, but it has to be seen to show an interest in these issues.

Plaid's election was unfocussed - what was our message? We'd have been better to stick to 'Wales in Europe' slogan. We didn't in any way create a Welsh agenda in the press nor even come over as the SNP as being a party which would defent Welsh jobs.

Plaid isn't talking to a large swathe of the electorate across Wales because it's guilty at times of concentrating the 5% - 10% of the population with very left wing and green priorities. We need to speak to them but also other people outside our confort zone. I believe we need to poisition Plaid as a Welsh Gaullist party - in favour of a strong Welsh nation-state (which would appeal to the concerned working class vote and nationalists) and also give a stronger more assertive image to those who think Plaid is too wet on social issues and don't give us the time of day to listen to what our policies actually are.

It says a lot that on a night when nationalist parties across Europe (from all different hues) swept the board, Plaid uniquely stood still.



S

Anonymous said...

John, As a Plaid supporter, coming third behind Labour in it's death throes was I feel a HUGE disappointment, Myself and others were optimistic not only of Plaid topping the poll but of winning 2 seats - Our Party has not suffered in the expenses row and The Labour Vote drops 12% yet we only manage a 1% Increase across Wales....What Happened?

alanindyfed said...

According to both Harriet Harman and Peter Hain, interviewed today by the BBC, Labour candidates have been "banging on the doorsteps" (sic) in their efforts to obtain votes.
Possibly that's one of the reasons for losing so dramatically? ;-)

alanindyfed said...

On a serious note I think some valid points have been made regarding Plaid's strategy, which should be more assertive and specific, identifying problem areas and public concerns - proposing radical solutions, taking the initiative from the weakened coalition partner, even breaking away from the coalition if need be. As with the SNP in Scotland, the party should do more to promote Wales as a strong and viable state and future independent nation and to provide a platform and a rallying point for those who oppose unionism and regional status, so that the party is seen to be resolute and determined in contrast to its rival.

Spirit of BME said...

Mr Dixon,it does not matter if the Tories do this or that in the next election.Who governs Wales will be decided by the English electorate,if they are split Scotland comes into play and then Wales.
Plaid has to sell the reality of the arithmatic as the SNP have.alanindyfed ,says Plaid has to be "more assertive" - well done that man ,BUT fat chance

John Dixon said...

Anon 1 & 2,

Some of what you say goes to the heart of deciding what Plaid (and similar comments would apply to any other party) is for. Are we first and foremost a party which seeks to win elections and form a government, and therefore decides on those policies which will best effect that aim; or ar we a party which actually stands for a set of objectives / principles, and attempts to seek support for those?

I make no secret of the fact that I believe that we should be the latter. That doesn't mean that we don't discuss the concerns which people have about the sort of issue which you mention (actually, I think we have been - but clearly not effectively enough if people aren't seeing that). It does mean that we talk about them in terms of our approach to dealing with them, and don't simply change our position to reflect what people want to hear.

Anon 3,

Whilst the expenses row was clearly a factor in the election result, I'm not sure that I really understand to what extent it was a factor. Certainly, I suspect that it was a factor in the low turnout - an element of anti-politics.

But I'm not sure that I buy Labour's line that it was the main factor in their poor performance. Looking at the claims, some of the the most egregious examples have been those claims from Tory MPs, yet it doesn't seem to have damaged the party to the same extent as the claimed damage to Labour. I simply don't buy, either, the claim that Labour suffered most because they happen to be in government at the time. I suspect that people are more discerning, and that a number of individual MPs who are seen to be the worst transgressors will suffer at the General Election, if their party is silly enough to allow them to stand again.

I can understand your disappointment; to an extent I share it. I, like you, had hoped to do better. But Plaid did still come closer to topping the poll in an all-Wales election than we've ever done before. There are things we need to look at - that would be true, even if we had had another 3% or so of the vote - but this is not a bad result for the party.

Alan,

I understand the view which you have expressed in a number of places about the future of the One Wales coalition. But the nature of Welsh politics has changed; coalition in the Assembly will be the norm. The question for us will inevitably be a fairly simple one - do we do more to promote our aims by making compromises (some of them major) and working with one or other party; or do we achieve more by taking a more robust stance and remaining outside government? The party membership gave its answer to that very convincingly in 2007.