By Prof Roger Scully
Something extraordinary could be about to happen. Wales is on the brink of an electoral earthquake.
The Conservatives appear to be on course to win the majority of Welsh parliamentary seats for the first time in the democratic era, while Labour faces losing a general election in Wales for the first time since1918.
These are the sensational findings from the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll – the first opinion poll to be conducted in Wales since Theresa May called the snap general election.
Our new poll asked how people would vote in a general election for the House of Commons. The poll was conducted on Wednesday to Friday last week, after Theresa May had announced her intention to seek approval for an election from parliament.
These are the astonishing voting intention figures that our poll produced (with changes on our last Barometer poll, conducted in early January, in brackets):
Conservatives: 40% (+12)
Labour: 30% (-3)
Plaid Cymru: 13% (no change)
Liberal Democrats: 8% (-1)
UKIP: 6% (-7)
Others: 3% (-1)
A few words of explanation may be needed as to why these figures are quite so amazing.
Labour’s 33% vote share in our previous poll was its lowest in Wales since before the 2010 general election; it has now fallen three further points. Only one poll this century (in July 2009, at the very nadir of Gordon Brown’s fortunes as Prime Minister) has had Labour lower in Wales during this century. And I can find no precedent in any poll this century either for the Conservatives to be on 40% in Wales or for them to have a ten percentage point lead over Labour in general election voting intentions.
The huge leap in the Tory rating since our last poll has come mostly at the expense of UKIP.
The headline figures in our poll seem to reflect a direct move by many former UKIP supporters into the Conservative ranks: very nearly two-thirds of all our respondents who voted UKIP in the 2015 general election now say that they intend to support the Tories.
Theresa May’s gamble of seeking a mandate for Brexit from the British people appears to have particular appeal to many of these voters.
While UKIP seem to be on the slide in Wales, the other parties are stagnant.
Plaid Cymru will presumably be pleased that the Tory surge has not eaten into their support, and they do start the general election campaign a percentage point or two better off than they did at the equivalent point two years ago.
For the Liberal Democrats, this first Welsh poll of the election must be a disappointment – they show little signs of recovery from their disastrous 2015 general election performance in Wales. Much more will be needed from the Lib Dems if they are to win back some of the votes and seats that they lost last time.
Following the standard method of projecting poll results into seat outcomes – that is, assuming uniform national swings from the 2015 general election – our latest poll implies the following overall result.
Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are projected, by this poll, to hold the seats they currently have but make no gains.
Sensationally, however, a full ten seats are projected to be gained by the Conservatives from Labour.
The ten seats are:
Alyn & Deeside
Cardiff South & Penarth
Were any such result to be produced on June 8th this would obviously be a big shift from the 2015 result in Wales. But it would also be a result of long-term historic significance. The Conservatives have not won a majority of Welsh seats at a general election since the 1850s – before the era of mass democracy. Labour have won the most votes and the most seats in Wales at every general election from 1922 onwards; and have won an absolute majority of Welsh seats in the last twenty successive general elections (from 1935 on).
For the Conservatives potentially to be in a position not merely to finish ahead of Labour but even to win over half the seats in Wales indicates that we are on the brink of something truly seismic. And Labour seem to be facing a defeat of historic magnitude: even in the disastrous 1983 election under Michael Foot, things were never this bad.
Some caution is needed. This is only one poll. Moreover, there are more than six weeks of both national and local campaigning to go. It could be that the sight of Jeremy Corbyn on their television screens night-after-night will encourage voters to flock back to Labour. Or perhaps not. But even if this continues to be a difficult election overall for the party, their local campaigners and sitting MPs seeking re-election will be hoping that their hard work will enable them to buck what currently appear to be the national trends.That sometimes works – although as plenty of Liberal Democrats found out in 2015, more often it does not.
But while showing due caution, we also should not underplay these findings. For once, words like sensational and unprecedented do not seem out of place. Wales has been Labour for longer than any voter taking part in these elections can possibly remember. We could be just over six weeks from that near-century of one-party dominance coming to an abrupt end.
The poll, for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, had a sample of 1029 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov from 19-21 April 2017.