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03 May 2011
Professor Richard Wyn Jones casts his eye over the Assembly elections
"If the Scottish election is a straight fight between Alex Salmond on the one hand, and Labour rival Iain Gray on the other, with both men seen as embodying the qualities of their respective parties, then the situation in Wales is very different.
"The relative merits of Welsh political leaders do not seem to be the key issue among the electorate. At first this may seem surprising. Welsh devolved politics might be expected to follow the trend for increasingly personalised politics. It is not as if Wales has been immune. Think no further than Rhodri Morgan's domination of the first decade after devolution.
"Nor is there much by way of policy debate either. While all four main parties have published weighty manifestos – in full bilingual form, Labour's is 218 pages long – there are few memorable ideas. There does not even seem to be a rush to utilise the new legislative powers that the assembly will inherit following the comfortable yes vote in the recent referendum.
"Only the Welsh Conservatives seem to have given serious thought to that. With all the certainty of the recent convert – members of the Conservative assembly group all campaigned for a yes vote – their manifesto does not seem to have been blighted by the caution, even pessimism, of most traditional devolutionists.
"The determining factor in the election will be the Welsh response to the formation of the UK coalition government, as shown by comparing opinion polls conducted in Wales before and after the 2010 UK general election.
"At the beginning of May 2010, before the last general election, voting intentions for the next devolved election were just about unchanged from the previous poll in 2007. By June, however, the situation was transformed. Labour's support had surged by a full 10 points from 32% to 42%, while Liberal Democrat support plummeted from 20% to 12%. The most recent polls have Labour approaching the 50% mark.
"Part of this has been at the expense of the Lib Dems, whose support has continued to slide to around 8% in the most recent poll. But far from experiencing an expected boost to its electoral support after the referendum, Plaid Cymru also seems to be succumbing to a Labour squeeze. From effectively being in joint second place with the Conservatives, Plaid has slumped to around 17%.
"A very strong Labour performance as well as a clear second place for the Conservatives both now seem inevitable. How low the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru might fall, however, is not clear. Given the possible implication for the UK coalition of a spectacularly poor Welsh Lib Dem performance, it is natural that the former will loom largest in the minds of most observers.
"But given how poorly the Lib Dems performed in previous assembly elections, the damage may yet prove containable.
"Rather than focus on his party colleagues, Nick Clegg, in particular, might wish to ponder the fate of Plaid Cymru. Plaid appear to have had a successful and productive time as junior coalition partners to Labour since 2007. By all accounts their ministers appear to have been among the most competent in the Welsh government, and the coalition has delivered on key party objectives, not least through the recent referendum.
"If, despite this, Plaid suffer a heavy defeat at the polls, then one really does wonder what fate holds in store for the Liberal Democrats at the 2015 general election."
The article first appeared in The Guardian on the 19th April, 2011: www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/apr/19/welsh-election-2011-analysis
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