“[P]erhaps the biggest polling movement in recent UK history that almost no-one has heard of”, is how Professor Roger Scully, a leading authority on Welsh politics, describes the decline since 2012 in support for the Labour party in Wales.
I can’t speak for others’ knowledge of Welsh politics, but Prof Scully might be right:
The chart above shows voting intention in Wales from 2012 to 2015, according to YouGov, a polling company. As you can see, Labour’s tally has fallen since 2012.
On a longer timescale, Labour’s performance in Wales doesn’t look too bad. This chart from Prof Scully begins in 2010, the year of the last general election.
In this slightly longer view, the pattern might be easier to explain. Labour gained early in opposition and when it was campaigning for the Welsh Assembly elections in 2011, but has fallen back due to a combination of familiar Miliband-related problems and the perceived failures of the Labour-led Assembly, especially on the NHS.
A mere repeat of its 2010 performance, when Labour won 26 of 40 seats in Wales would not be a good result. Nor would picking up an additional two seats, as a uniform swing currently predicts. Labour’s base is eroding in Scotland; it needs Wales, together with the north-west and north-east of England to remain resolute.
“Labour’s Welsh citadel had not fallen yet, but the ramparts were visibly trembling”, writes Prof Scully, deploying a suitably Arthurian metaphor. Here’s where the simple explanation above is shown to explain only so much. Parts of Wales are displaying similar trends to areas of England where the United Kingdom Independence party is picking up voters whom the Labour party would traditionally expect to attract.
At the local elections last year, Ukip came first or second in every local authority in Wales. No other party did so. It came within 0.6 percentage points of Labour’s share of the vote in the European elections. There is more to Ukip than an English nationalist party. Prof Scully cites the familiar but resonant analysis that Nigel Farage’s outfit wins support among socially conservative working-class voters, of which there are a lot in Wales, many with “long-standing antipathy” to the Tories.
It is therefore fortunate for Labour that the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru does not pose a similar sized threat to Ed Miliband as the SNP does in Scotland. It seems incredible now but in the first devolved elections of 1999, Plaid won a higher share of the vote in Wales than the SNP managed north of the border.
The polls still suggest that Labour will continue its electoral dominance in Wales in 2015. It was won the highest share of the vote in Wales since the 1922 general election and a majority of Welsh seats every time since 1935. But Prof Scully’s analysis suggests that Labour is not as strong in Wales as it looks. Whether Labour’s decline from 2012 is cyclical or structural matters not only for Mr Miliband’s party but also for how we understand the broader void in British democracy.
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