Last week’s Welsh poll showing a substantial revival in Labour fortunes was, we now know, not a fluke. Nor was it as some people – including me – suspected at the time, largely down to pangs of sympathy for the party after the untimely passing of Rhodri Morgan. Today’s latest Welsh Political Barometer poll confirms the Labour fightback in the staunchest of its bastions.
This has been an erratic election in Wales. The first two polls of the campaign showed clear Conservative leads, and indicated that the Tories were on course for an historic electoral breakthrough. But the last two polls have given Labour substantial leads. The Welsh polls have followed the broad direction of travel seen in the Britain-wide surveys, but with more exaggerated movements in both directions – going sharply further to the Tories at the start of the campaign, and strongly back to Labour in the last fortnight.
It now seems as if Wales might well not be on course for the sort of electoral transformation that looked likely a month ago. The dominance of Labour in every general election from 1922 onwards appears likely to continue, and the Conservatives look set to continue their record of not having won in Wales since the 1850s.
Due caution must be taken. In particular, we should take note that all the Welsh polling has been conducted by YouGov. The company’s recent Britain-wide polls have been amongst those suggesting the strongest swing back to the Labour party. Other firms have continued to show more substantial Tory leads. If companies like ICM or ComRes turn out to have things closer to the mark than YouGov, the 2017 election could still see a significant swing to the Conservatives in Wales.
But if YouGov are getting it right, then this could still be an historic general election in Wales – just not for the reasons that people were thinking of only a month ago. Today’s new Welsh poll shows support for both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats being squeezed even further. With Ukip’s Welsh arm largely collapsed, two-party politics seems to have re-emerged with a vengeance. If the latest poll proved to be an accurate predictor of party support, the combined Labour and Conservative vote share in Wales, at 81 percent, would be the highest in any general election since 1966. Plaid’s current eight percent score has them on course for their worst general election performance since 1987. The Liberal Democrats’ five percent would constitute the worst general election vote in Wales by that party or their predecessors ever. Even in the dog days of the 1950s under Clement Davies, the Welsh Liberals never sank as low as they are faced with doing under Tim Farron.
Meanwhile, with support apparently running at 46 percent, Welsh Labour could be on course for its best vote at a general election since the second Blair landslide of 2001. That would be an extraordinary achievement for the party, and would surely be taken as strong vindication of its strategy of running this campaign very much as Welsh Labour. Election observers have long believed that parties do best in elections by appearing as united as possible. But Welsh Labour has, in an important sense, emphasised its fundamental disunity with the Britain-wide party. With a wholly separate Welsh manifesto, and with Carwyn Jones rather than Jeremy Corbyn being made the principal face and voice of the campaign, Labour in Wales has done everything to insulate itself from a Westminster party that it believed to be toxic to much of their traditional support.
Yet it might be incorrect to understand the Labour revival as being wholly down to its “Welshing-up” strategy. The Prime Minster has appeared diminished by the election campaign, while the Labour leader has grown in confidence and public stature. A few weeks ago Theresa May was the most popular politician in Wales, and a long way ahead of Corbyn in the popularity ratings. Now their positions have changed. The most recent Welsh poll actually has the opposition leader ahead of the Prime Minister in the popularity stakes with Welsh voters.
There remain significant vulnerabilities for Labour. Even those polls that show its support rising significantly indicate that this greater success is based particularly strongly among younger voters. Of course the young have long been more inclined to support Labour than the Conservatives, but the Labour advantage among 18-24 year old voters in the latest Welsh poll, running at approximately three-to-one, is particularly striking. But we also know that such younger voters tend to be less reliable in terms of turnout. Getting the vote out, among those voters who are hardest to turn out, will be key for Labour in this last week of the campaign.