Wales: Conservatives finally loosen Labour’s grip

If it wasn’t a total washout for Labour in Wales, it certainly was a massively disappointing night.

Yes, Labour managed to cling on to a majority of Welsh seats, but only just. With the exception of Alyn and Deeside, all their seats north of the South Wales Valleys fell to the Tories.

The Conservatives, constituency by constituency, began dismantling Labour’s “Red Wall” in North East Wales – and, with it, a Welsh political hegemony that has prevailed for over a century. Wrexham, Delyn, Clwyd South: all have all been talked up as Conservative targets for years – but last night they finally turned blue. In total, the Conservatives won six seats from Labour and one from the Liberal  Democrats, doubling their total of Welsh seats to 14.

Alun Cairns, whose campaign started in controversy when he was forced to resign his Ministerial post over the Ross England rape trial affair, hung onto his seat with an increased majority. Another South Wales seat for the Tories, Bridgend, also flipped to blue. The Conservatives’ strong performance in Wales resulted in the election of the Party’s first ever Welsh female MPs – Sarah Atherton (Wrexham), Fay Jones (Brecon & Radnorshire) and Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Mon).

But not everything went to plan for the Tories. Francesca O’Brien, the Tories’ candidate in Gower, failed to capture the seat from Labour’s charismatic Tonia Antoniazzi. Matthew Evans, a well-regarded local councillor, narrowly missed out on capturing Newport West. Labour’s Anna McMorrin comfortably retained Remain-backing Cardiff North with an increased majority, while Mark Tami clung to Alyn & Deeside by a couple of hundred votes.

What’s more, the majorities in most Conservative gains were small – meaning there will be no space for complacency amongst the Tory high command. Calls have already begun for the Conservatives to have a dedicated leader in Wales – of similar status to the Scottish Tory leader – to ensure that these gains can be built on beyond Brexit, and giving the Party a distinct Welsh identity going into the 2021 Assembly Elections.

For the Liberal Democrats, it was a total Welsh wipeout. In Brecon and Radnorshire, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds’ brief tenure as an MP was brought to an ignominious end.  Dodds’ party suffered further humiliation when they were pushed into third place in Ceredigion by the Conservatives; a seat that has always been a Lib Dem/Plaid marginal.

It was a better night for Plaid. Ben Lake in Ceredigion increased his majority substantially, as did Hywel Williams in Arfon. Liz Savile-Roberts won convincingly in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and Camarthen East was retained. But Plaid were denied victory in one of their top targets – the three-way marginal of Ynys Mon. The “Remain Alliance” – the electoral pact struck between Plaid, the Lib Dems and the Green Party – comprehensively failed to deliver.

As for Welsh Labour, the post-mortems will now begin. Questions will be asked about the apparent disconnect between Welsh Labour and the national Party, which amplified confusion over the Party’s Brexit position and led to Jeremy Corbyn paying little attention to Labour-held Welsh seats. The strong performance of the Brexit Party in Leave-supporting Welsh Valleys seats will give particular cause for concern. It will be hoped that Jeremy Corbyn’s stated plan to resign this morning will go some way towards kick-starting Labour’s political comeback.

A few months ago, Adam Price proudly claimed that Wales had returned to being “a Remain Nation” after voting Leave in the 2016 referendum. This morning, that claim far looks shakier than many in the Welsh political establishment would like.

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