After the news of a Tory landslide in Hartlepool was announced early Friday morning, senior Welsh Labour figures were worried. The scale of defeat in the North of England was worse than expected, and represented nothing short of a disaster for Keir Starmer’s leadership. Could the same fate be expected for Labour’s Red Wall in North and South Wales, which started to crack in the 2019 general election? The answer, in short, is no.
Welsh Labour stormed to a breathtaking victory in the Senedd election, gaining a seat from its 2016 hall to win thirty of the sixty places in Cardiff Bay. There was a Tory whimper but no bang: the party turned Vale of Clwyd from red to blue but failed to make significant inroads in other Labour heartlands, winning five seats mainly thanks to the much-derided regional member system. Plaid Cymru, outmanoeuvred by Labour’s soft nationalism and tortured by a lulled period of campaigning, had a poor day culminating in former leader Leanne Wood losing the Rhondda. A nineteen percent swing.
For a moment it looked like Welsh Labour may do the impossible and win an overall majority; not this time. Nonetheless they are comfortably ahead of the Tories, who with 16 seats are again the official opposition group in the Senedd, while Welsh nationalists total 13 parliamentary members. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats had a catastrophic collapse across the length and breadth of the nation, but leader Jane Dodds managed to clinch a seat in the Mid & West Wales region.
Interestingly Labour will have to govern without usual coalition support from the Liberals. Dodds has already (rather carelessly) ruled out a formal deal – and with it perhaps any last chance for the party that champions its Lloyd Georgian roots to make a real mark on policy in Wales.