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Could the 2017 general election turn Wales blue?

The Conservatives have a chance to capture both the Leave Labour and the Ukip vote. 

For almost a century, general elections in Wales have been about Labour victories. Labour got the most votes in Wales for the first time in the 1922 general election, and it has done so at every general election since then. But this could just be the election where that formidable run comes to an end. Yes, things really are that bad for Labour.

Labour dominance in Wales has long meant Conservative weakness - the Tories always do worse in Wales than in England. But 2015 saw jubilant Tories across Wales celebrate their best general election result since the 1983 Thatcher landslide. Now they have realistic prospects of further advances. Even Bridgend - not won by the Tories since 1983, and held for the National Assembly by Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones - looks very winnable. Not only do the Conservatives face an enfeebled and divided Labour party; Theresa May's bold pitch for a Brexit mandate will likely win significant support in Wales. Almost the entire Welsh political establishment supported Remain here last year. But the Welsh people voted Leave, and the polling evidence suggests that they have not changed their mind. A Brexit-focused campaign could be particularly problematic for Labour in its most iconic Welsh bastions: all of the south Wales valleys voted Leave, many by substantial margins.

For Plaid Cymru this is an election they had not planned on and do not want. The Welsh nationalists have substantially thinner resources than their Scottish sister party, and did not want to be campaigning for anything other than the Welsh local council elections in 2017. The party has had internal problems aplenty in its National Assembly group, and could have done without the sort of profile that a general election campaign may bring. As in 2015, Leanne Wood's profile will likely benefit from the campaign exposure; but this did little electorally for her party then, and may do no more two years on. Labour's problems give Plaid realistic hopes of gaining the Ynys Mon seat, but there are few other potential positives to them from another election where the main focus will be on Britain-wide parties and issues.

For the Welsh Lib Dems, by contrast, this election may just offer them a way back after several cataclysmic years. In both the 2014 European election and in 2015, the party had an even lower vote share in Wales than in England and Scotland, while last year they were wiped out as a National Assembly party. But having positioned themselves as the voice of Remainers, a Brexit-focused campaign may offer them greater relevance. Such an appeal may cut little ice in much of Eurosceptic Wales, but could, for instance, give the party realistic hopes of regaining Cardiff Central - a student-heavy seat lost to Labour last time, but which backed Remain last June.

Finally, what of that rather strange entity, Ukip in Wales? The party has been on a roll in recent years: almost winning the 2014 European election, gaining more than 13.5 percent of the vote in 2015, and entering devolved politics with seven AMs elected last year. But since last May Ukip have largely been a shambles in the Assembly - and two of the seven AMs they elected no longer even sit in the Ukip group. With Theresa May's election pitch, and broader political strategy, having occupied much of Ukip's ideological turf, and the party continuing to feud internally, might this election be the beginning of the end for Ukip in Wales?

The one thing we can say for sure is that an early election means that the planned boundary changes will not go ahead. That has particularly big implications for Wales, which had been scheduled to lose its historic over-representation in the House of Commons, and see a drop from 40 to 29 MPs. For as long as election observers can recall, that over-representation has worked to the benefit of Labour and the detriment of the Conservatives. Could 2017 be the year when that ceases to be the case?

 

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

CREDIT: CREATIVE COMMONS
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A group of men united only by sport was once my idea of hell. What changed?

It struck me, during the course of our team’s annual pre-season dinner, how much I like my team-mates. 

To the cricket team’s annual pre-season dinner. Although I’ve been playing for them for ten years or so, I’ve never been to one of these. This is because when I say “I’ve been playing for them for etc…” you’re probably not getting the right picture. What I mean is: I have played ten matches for them, and last year not at all, with a highest score of 22, and an average of 10.17. If you think that’s unimpressive, it’s a lot better than when I was a schoolboy, and I am just 26th placed out of 50 people who have played ten or more matches for them. Last year I was 25th, I see. Well, I’m going to have to do something about that.

The idea is that if I go to the dinner this time, it will inspire me to get in shape and play a game or two this season. I almost invariably enjoy it when I do, especially the time I was in a record-breaking tenth-wicket partnership of 72 while batting with a broken hand. (Well, finger. But a finger’s a part of the hand, isn’t it? Even the little finger.) I suppose there are times when I don’t enjoy it so much, such as when it’s raining hard enough for the cows in neighbouring fields to sit under a tree, but not hard enough to send us back to the pavilion or, better still, the pub, and the opposition are clouting us all over the ground despite the weather, and if we’d batted first – we never bat first, in my (limited) experience – the other lot would have polished us off about an hour ago, and we could now all be cosily inside the pavilion or, as I said earlier, even better, the pub. Then again, the team is called the Rain Men, so what did I expect?

So signing up for games involves considering a number of factors: some kind of mystic calculation about what the weather will be like, an assessment of how far away the ground is (we’re a nomadic team, so we don’t have one of our own), and how fit I think I’m going to be on the day. That’s the troublesome part. There is, of course, the melancholy of coming back, aching and knackered, at what is usually well after nine in the evening on a Sunday, lugging a cricket bag, like someone who has not been able to let go of his childhood and is out after his bedtime.

The fitness, as I said, is problematic. I got slightly out of puff going for a pee between the second and third paragraphs of this column, so I think there is going to be a lot of tedious spadework in store for me. My dumb-bells are in East Finchley, which I don’t go to, although as my cricket stuff is there too I suppose I’m going to have to bite that bullet sooner or later. If I eschew the dumb-bells then there will always be the floor, gravity, and push-ups. There will always be stairs, somewhere, I can run up and down, while I have the use of my legs. While there is an earth I can walk upon, I can walk upon it. The upper body strength, so I can pick up a cricket bat without falling over, is the thing to aim for, but right now the main goal is to be able to get out of bed and go to the loo without getting winded.

Anyway, the dinner. I decided that I’d walk to the restaurant. This was largely because the restaurant is about 200 yards from where I am holed up at the moment. There is, literally, only one restaurant closer to me. I walked a bit more than 200 yards because I had to swing by Sainsbury’s to pick up a couple of bottles of wine (the McGuigan’s Reserve Cab Sauv at £6.50 a bot, special offer, being the sedative of choice these days), as the restaurant is unlicensed. We met at the pub first, of course.

It struck me, during the course of the evening, how much I like my team-mates. I am by no means the oldest, so many of them are rich in wisdom and experience. (Amazingly, the team won more games last season than it has in its history, but that might have been because I hadn’t played for them.) Two of the people I am particularly fond of couldn’t make it, but at least I got to have A Long Rant About Life In General with Marcus Berkmann, author of two extremely amusing books about the team (Rain Men and Zimmer Men), as well as the greatest book about Star Trek ever written (Set Phasers to Stun).

Imagine: a long table sat at by a group of about 15 men, united only by a sport. It would once have been my idea of hell. So why is it not now? Is it because I actually like these guys? They’re not the typical idea of a cricket club gang, I have to say that. And we do, admittedly, talk about cricket a fair amount. But still. (I even liked I—, who gave up smoking and then had a rush of blood to the head last year and sent a round-robin email to the team saying how much he hated A—, one of our most lovable players. I— couldn’t make it to the dinner, largely on the grounds of not having been invited.) Or am I that lonely? 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war