Wales is divided into 40 constituencies for representation in the House of Commons. The Labour Party currently holds 25 of those seats with the Conservatives in second with 11; social-democratic Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru holding 3 and the Liberal Democrats holding a single seat. Labour has been the dominant political force in the nation since the 1929 election, holding at least 37.5% of the constituencies since that time. June 8th’s snap election is already being called ‘the election made in Wales’ in reference to Prime Minister Theresa May’s comment that she made the decision to call an early election while on a walking holiday in Snowdonia. However could this also be the election decided in Wales? Here are four reasons why this might be the case.
1. Wales’ slow blue shift: Over the course of the last three elections (2005, 2010 and 2015), the Conservative party has slowly been increasing their share of Welsh seats, moving from 3 to 8 to 11 with their 2015 result marking a 32 year high. Two of the three seats won in 2015 were taken from Labour, albeit with the slimmest majority of the election with 27 in Gower and a meagre 237 in the Vale of Clwyd. However, Gower had been held continuously by Labour since 1910, with an average majority of 10,220. And the loss of Gower in 2015 may have been a sign of things to come. Theresa May has visited Wales five times in three months, suggesting serious Conservative ambition in the country and a recent article from the BBC showed some of the thoughts of Welsh voters, many of whom were lifelong Labour voters considering the shift to Conservative for one reason or another. It is still too early to tell what will happen but if polls hold and the trends of the last few elections are anything to go by, a blue shift in the west might be the Tory’s saving grace.
2. Seeing red over Brexit: Wales voted in favour of leaving the European Union and this has put the voters at odds with their Labour MPs, 21 (out of the 25 in Wales) of whom had said they backed the Remain campaign. In contrast, only 3 of the 11 Conservatives in Wales publicly backed remaining in the European Union. While the decision over Brexit was largely seen as a personal decision, one to be made by each voting individual, it does show a lack of local representation if you vote one way and your MP backs the other. This could be especially dangerous for Labour, given the wave of calls for voters to oust Leave supporting MPs. While the party leaders seek to show that this is not simply an election about Brexit, it is definitely a factor considered by many voters, especially young and first time voters, the people who the ramifications of Brexit will affect.
3. High stakes: The 2017 election is not exactly a safe one for either of the main two parties (Labour and Conservative). While the polls have the Tories far out in front, they are going into the election defending a majority of 17. While this does give them the advantage, it does mean that the other contesting parties (Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, Green and Plaid Cymru (I would include the SNP but there is only one Conservative seat in Scotland)) only need to take 18 seats from the Conservatives across all 650 constituencies to create a minority government. However, this does mean that Labour especially need to be on the defensive. If the Tories were to win, say, four seats in Wales, that is four seats that Labour would need to make up elsewhere in the country. And while calls have been to unify in order to strategically beat the Tories, a united front is yet to appear, meaning Labour needs to keep its seats, meaning Labour needs to keep Wales.
4. The potential inverse: Polls can be wrong- they certainly were in 2015 and while unlikely, Wales could be the starting point for the Labour comeback. An outright Labour victory is very unlikely, as they would need to turn 97 seats plus any additional seats needed in the event that they lose seats. However, Wales is still red for the time being- Labour is currently the polling favourite in local elections, due to take place on May 4th, and it isn’t a simple thing for a lifelong Labour supporter to suddenly cross the aisle. If Labour can defy the polls, the 15 seats held by other parties in Wales may help, at the least very, force Theresa May and the Conservatives into a minority government. While it’s not the Labour government Corbyn dreams of, a minority government would certainly be a victory for the parties opposed to the current government.
The election is still 42 days away and a lot can happen in that time but Wales is already shaping up to be a battleground without precedent. For the Conservatives, gains in Wales will help ease them into a comfortable majority while Labour will need to hold firm or make gains or their own if they want any chance to make their opponents in blue sweat on the night of June 8th.