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Election shocks galore – but why not Wales?

2 August 2017

Multicoloured graphic of hands registering votes

The 2017 general election provided seismic shocks, but why did little change in Wales where Labour won for the 26th time in a row?

Cardiff University political expert Professor Roger Scully examines the fall-out from the election at 14:30 on Tuesday 8 August in the Societies 2 tent at the National Eisteddfod.

Professor Scully, who will look in depth at the post-electoral landscape in Wales, said the snap election dismantled “much of what we thought we knew”.

Roger Scully

But in Wales, despite an early Cardiff University/ITV Wales poll putting the Conservatives ahead, the electorate reverted to type on polling day.

“The last time Labour lost a general election in Wales was in 1918. David Lloyd George was the last person to beat them,” said Professor Scully, Acting Director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre.

“At the start of the campaign we had a poll putting the Conservatives 10 points ahead in Wales.

“It was reported in the Times of India and we had Australian documentary makers showing up at the office, but Labour managed to turn it around.”

Carwyn Jones and Jeremy Corbyn

Professor Scully pointed out that Welsh Labour kept a firm grip on the campaign in Wales, pushing Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones rather than party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Meanwhile Tory fortunes in Wales soon faded after that remarkable polling peak in April.

“At the start of the campaign Theresa May was still enjoying her honeymoon period and was a long way ahead in personality ratings,” said Professor Scully.

“She was the most popular politician in Wales at that time. An English Conservative being the most popular politician in Wales was unprecedented.”

“But her personal ratings fell substantially.”

Professor Scully said an interesting feature of the campaign was how traditional British party politics had been partly submerged by very distinctive campaigns in Wales and Scotland.

While Welsh Labour pushed its own agenda driven by its First Minister, the focus in Scotland was on independence and the possibility of a second referendum.

“I think we saw the hollowing out of a genuinely British party politics,” added Professor Scully.

The most important election for a generation

But one issue that cannot be ignored is Brexit. The true significance of the election may hinge on whether it has irrevocably affected the UK Government’s approach to exiting the EU.

Professor Scully said a large majority for Theresa May would have been interpreted as an endorsement of a hard Brexit. However he said the hung parliament that resulted may now force the Prime Minister to change course and accept a more “gentle” exit.

“Every general election is called the ‘most important election for a generation’ by the politicians fighting it. But if the outcome of the 2017 election leads to a fundamental change of course on Brexit, it will actually deserve that title,” he said.

Cardiff University’s theme for the 2017 National Eisteddfod is Cardiff Connected – how Cardiff University and its students, staff and alumni are connected to Wales and beyond.

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