Labour heading for overall majority in Wales

YouGov poll indicates a political shift in Wales.

It is a year of important decisions for Wales.

On 3 March, the country voted on a referendum which asked if the people wanted the Welsh Assembly to have full law making powers on a range of 20 subjects - including health, education and housing - without having to consult the UK Parliament.

The outcome was a massive "yes".

The next big decision comes on 5 May, when the National Assembly elections take place. Thanks to the referendum, Wales will vote for an Assembly which will have many more powers than at the previous elections in 2007.

Interestingly, the first YouGov Welsh poll to be released after the referendum showed that at current ratings, on a constituency level, Labour have gained a 3 point increase on last month's poll, bringing their support up to 48 per cent, while the Conservatives have dropped 1 point to 20 per cent support.

At the regional level, Labour are up 4 points to 45 per cent, and the Conservatives remain unchanged at 20 per cent. Support for the Lib Dems remains low, but strangely the nationalist party Plaid Cymru's ratings have dropped slightly too, even after Wales celebrated a degree of further national independence from England. The party also lost the Cardiff Riverside seat to Labour in a by-election on the 3rd March, the same day as the referendum.

In the Assembly voters have one constituency member and four regional members representing them. Constituency members are elected using first-past-the-post whilst regional members use the more proportional Additional Member System.

UK Polling Report's Anthony Wells said of the poll:

On a uniform swing, my projection is that it would be enough to give Labour an overall majority in the Welsh Assembly, producing 33 seats for Labour, 14 for the Conservatives, 10 for Plaid and 3 for the Liberal Democrats.

Liam McLaughlin is a freelance journalist who has also written for Prospect and the Huffington Post. He tweets irregularly @LiamMc108.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.