Senedd Election 2021: The countdown is on for those on the campaign trail

At this late stage in an election campaign you can tell where the political parties think their best chances or their biggest worries are, when it comes to seats that might change.

That's certainly true of the three biggest parties in this Senedd election.

Hence UK Labour leader Keir Starmer's appearance in northern seats, Delyn, Wrexham and the Vale of Clwyd. The seats his party lost to the Conservatives in the 2019 UK election.

Similarly Boris Johnson's visit to another Vale, the Vale of Glamorgan, this week shows that the Conservatives think they can add that Senedd seat to the parliamentary seat they've previously won.

Boris Johnson visited the Vale of Glamorgan alongside Andrew RT Davies, in his second trip to Wales during this election campaign. Credit: PA Images

Meanwhile Plaid Cymru's late activity in Aberconwy today demonstrates its belief that the contest for that seat is hotting up too.

Labour's message has changed slightly in recent days with a greater 'jobs first' emphasis. Expect to see much more talk from senior party figures about the post-pandemic economy.

Even so, Mark Drakeford remains front and centre of the campaign in a way that might have surprised politics watchers even a couple of years ago.

But it's because the party believes that public support for his handling of the pandemic is strong and that belief has only firmed up as members have been able to meet more voters with the easing of campaign restrictions.

The party's message was clearly summed up in comments made by Keir Starmer ahead of his visit:

"Mark Drakeford has done a brilliant job as First Minister in the toughest times. He has been cautious and considered in the pandemic, always following the science and keeping Wales safe.

“Welsh Labour will deliver jobs, a new medical school and a new national forest to  North Wales, building a fairer and more prosperous future.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been visiting a tech firm in St Asaph, North Wales. Credit: PA Images

The UK leader's repeated visits also signify a change from previous elections. Even in good times there could be tension between Welsh Labour and the London-based Labour HQ.

There are no such reservations in this campaign as yet another UK leader visit demonstrates. For a change the two wings of the party seem to be helping, not hindering each other. For now at least.

Plaid Cymru used its campaigning today to criticise Labour's record in government here in Wales.

Liz Saville Roberts, who leads the party's MPs in Westminster, said:

“Labour’s record on voting against free school meals, voting against a flooding inquiry that would get vital answer for those whose homes have been devastated by bad weather, and arguing that welfare powers should remain in the hands of the Tories in Westminster speak of a party which has forgotten how to enact its values, and betraying those very values in the process.

“Now is the time for a new beginning. Let’s choose a new future not stick with the past and more of the same."

Plaid Cymru's Liz Saville Roberts was in Aberconwy campaigning today. Credit: ITV Wales

That criticism comes despite, or perhaps because, polls show that a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government remains a possible outcome of Thursday's election.

Both parties have left their respective doors open to the prospect although Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has said he would not serve as a junior partner in any such arrangement.

There are some Conservatives who fear that the various controversies surrounding Boris Johnson are cutting through to voters here and putting off those who are still weighing up whether or not to back them.

Others remain optimistic. There's anecdotal evidence that many of those floating voters see it as 'Westminster bubble' stuff and anyway are more concerned about things like vaccinations and lockdown easing.

There's no real worry about any impact on core Conservative voters who are causing more of a concern in other respects. Party officials are anxious that many of them who are thought to be hostile to devolution in general will either not vote or cast their second vote for one of the anti-devolution parties such as 'Abolish the Welsh Assembly' whose activists report being 'pleasantly surprised' at the welcome they're receiving.

That's why Welsh leader Andrew RT Davies warned his supporters that a protest vote would put the future of the United Kingdom at risk. Saying that, while he understood their anger at what he said were Labour failures, using a second vote in protest would "allow the separatists in through the back door."

“Voting Welsh Conservative on both ballots will deliver a strong economic recovery in a stronger Union. Anything else benefits the Welsh nationalists who are seeking to do a deal with Labour after Thursday.

“Wales simply cannot risk a dangerous dance with nationalism and the economic and constitutional chaos that would bring.”

The truth is that, even more than usually, this election is difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

Door to door canvassing, which gives the parties a better sense of how their people and policies are going down with voters, has only really just begun. Phone canvassing and polling have their limitations.

And there are other unknowns, particularly the impact of 16 and 17 year olds voting for the first time and the level of turnout more generally.

After an extraordinary and uncertain year of pandemic, this remains an extraordinary and uncertain election.