Soul-searching and disappointment as parties fail to challenge Labour's dominance in Wales

Both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives will be reflecting on their performances in the Senedd election. Credit: PA Images

No one is doubting Labour’s victory in this election, but it’s worth noting that the Welsh Conservatives have just recorded their best-ever Senedd performance. 

So how can it be that a senior Welsh Conservative can talk about the result as "disappointing" when his party should be celebrating?

After all, the Tories now have more Senedd seats than ever before, including some new faces - among them the Welsh parliament’s first BAME female member, Natasha Asghar.

It was the UK government minister David TC Davies who used the D-word during our Wales Decides election coverage - and he is far from alone. In private, some Welsh Tories are even more scathing.

The reason for this disparity is because they think they could - and should - have done much better. 

They firmly believed they could repeat their 2019 success in taking ‘red wall’ seats in North Wales from Labour and benefit from a wave of support linked to Boris Johnson. This was support that Welsh Conservatives recognised even when others didn’t - and which has shown itself in England’s local council elections and the Hartlepool by-election.

Members are already raising questions about what they see as a failure to hit their internal target of winning 75% of the votes they won in 2019, a lack of policies to motivate the core vote, and not using Boris Johnson enough (he visited twice during the campaign).

Boris (pictured in Barry) visited Wales twice during the election campaign - some think it should have been more. Credit: PA Images

For these reasons, the Welsh Conservatives are in a strange position this weekend.

Whether or not that internal unhappiness will translate into a challenge against Andrew RT Davies’ leadership, there will certainly be questions. 

For Plaid Cymru, there will be much soul-searching. 

The loss of the Rhondda was the worst blow for the party, but so too was the failure even to come close to winning Llanelli, and missing out on a second North Wales list seat by just 21 votes.

Former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood lost her Rhondda Senedd seat to Labour's Elizabeth Buffy Williams. Credit: PA Images

The number two list candidate, Carrie Harper, had even gone to the regional declaration, so optimistic was the party that she would be heading to Cardiff Bay. 

To Plaid Cymru, she represents in the North what Leanne Wood has previously represented in the South - a different kind of potential Plaid voter that must be won over if it is ever going to make progress.

Publicly, senior Plaid Cymru figures have remained loyal both to Adam Price’s leadership and the decision to put him and the promise of an independence referendum at the heart of the party’s campaign. 

The problem for his leadership is that Plaid Cymru may well have to shift emphasis, if not actually change direction, in the coming years and he is inextricably linked to the current direction.

Plaid Cymru put leader Adam Price and Welsh independence at the centre of their campaign. Credit: PA Images

The next Senedd will be noticeably less fragmented than it has been for the last five years, without the kaleidoscope of smaller parties and independents in the chamber. 

Abolish the Welsh Assembly had been polling consistently at around 7% in the regional vote and had good reason to expect a couple of seats coming their way. 

In the end, it seems that anti-devolution voters had a choice of parties to support, splitting the vote going to Abolish and perhaps, too, Andrew RT Davies’ warning to Conservatives not to use the regional ballot as a protest vote actually worked. 

None of this should detract from Labour’s victory in this election. It really is remarkable that Mark Drakeford’s party has been able to defy both the problems facing his party in England and Scotland and the rising support for the Conservatives under Boris Johnson. 

Today's newspaper headlines reflect the contrasting fortunes of the Labour party in England and Wales.

I’ll write elsewhere about his options for governing, but however that pans out, Mark Drakeford is in the driving seat with his own personal mandate. 

That strengthens him as First Minister and as Welsh Labour leader. He has repeatedly said that he will stand down from both jobs in this Senedd term.

On the basis of this result, he can choose his own time for doing that - or, should he wish, change his plans altogether.

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