The Welsh Senedd elections were perhaps the most unusual and most important since the advent of devolution in 1999. Political parties spent weeks unable to knock doors or deliver leaflets, unable to reach out and spread their message and unable to gage the opinions of voters. The results were even more unusual. Despite being in power for twenty-two years, Welsh Labour clinched a sixth election victory, replicating their best ever results and defying the polls with thirty seats, one short of an overall majority.
However, the results also showed a significant shift in political allegiance. In almost every constituency outside of Labour’s metropolitan bastion of Cardiff, the Conservatives more than doubled their votes. In the anti-Conservative South Wales valleys, we tallied some of our best performances in history. The radical shift to ‘blue collar conservatism’ has branched into Wales.
From my own experience campaigning in the marginal Vale of Glamorgan, I found our most enthusiastic supporters herald from the council estates of Barry and our hostile conversations came from the affluent villages of the rural Vale, a shift we must try to stop if we are to form a Welsh government in years to come.
In North Wales, the long held, blue collar Labour seat of the Vale of Clwyd fell narrowly to the Tories by just 366 votes. The first brick of Labour’s Welsh Red Wall to fall, laying the foundations for greater gains in years to come.
When the last seat was declared, the Welsh Conservatives achieved sixteen seats, our highest number yet. But what went wrong for us? Why didn’t we sweep Labour aside just two years from the success of 2019? The answer is unclear; however the solutions are obvious.
Going forward, the Welsh Conservatives must set out a positive, bold and ambitious vision to fix the problems Wales faces. We need a clear plan to take Wales forward. We must avoid the negative opposition that many see us to be. We shouldn’t just criticise and condemn, but offer solutions and constructive opposition so we can be seen as a government in waiting.
Education standards in Wales have consistently been behind the rest of the UK, with average GCSE and A level grades being lower than England. We need a bold and ambitious vision to transform education for all our young people. We must advocate for greater school choice and diversity, improved technical education and the delivery of more, high quality apprenticeships, laying the pathways to new horizons for so many young people.
This election proved there is no appetite for independence nor for the abolition of devolution. Despite polling showing big gains for the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party and reports of Labour MSs worrying about their seats, Abolish made zero gains and made no big impact on the electoral map. Similarly, Plaid Cymru went backwards in every one of their target seats and lost their shock 2016 win of Rhondda by a stunning twenty three percent, marking what could be one of their worst election performances yet. Bullish Plaid leader Adam Price MS will have a lot of questions to answer from his ever-vocal nationalists. All this considered, the desire for radical constitutional change has not yet reached the mainstream.
Despite the supposed rise in anti-establishment views among Welsh voters, turnout still hasn’t reached fifty percent, proving the anti-devolution voters of Wales are still not willing to do what must be done to scrap the institution they disagree with so profoundly.
We should reach out into the middle ground and construct an alternative vision for devolution. Empowering communities with new mayors for the regions, new powers for local councils and greater freedom for communities to build new homes, delivering the best of both worlds for Wales. Stability, leadership and strength with Westminster and the local Welsh representation and voice of devolution.
There’s no denying that campaigning during the pandemic was always going to work against us but there won’t be that excuse next time. We must carefully reflect on what went wrong and why we increased our votes to record levels but failed to break through. We need to explore new routes to take power, through Labour’s Red Wall but also Plaid’s Green Dam. It won’t be an easy journey, but we must confront the hard truths about why we have remained in opposition, by the next election, for twenty seven years.