The 650 | 27th April 2017

Could the 2017 general election turn Wales blue?

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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┬áthe 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?