PLMR Insights: the Welsh Elections 2021

Jamie Carter

Account Executive

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Party Roundup

The election campaign that will determine the makeup of the Welsh Parliament, the Senedd, is in full swing. The election is taking place in the aftermath of the 2019 General Election that saw record losses for Welsh Labour. This is important because, unlike the Scottish Parliament, Senedd constituencies are identical to Westminster constituencies – meaning the outcome of this election is a good indicator for how Wales will vote in the next UK general election.

Below is a summary of the campaign so far:

Labour

Welsh Labour have been in Government in Wales for 22 years but 2021 looks set to be the toughest election yet for the party. First Minister Mark Drakeford has benefited from being the face of the Welsh Government’s response to COVID-19. Polls show that more 59% of Welsh people prefer the pandemic approach taken by the Welsh Government over that taken by the UK Government. However, the 2019 General Election looms heavily here. It remains to be seen if Welsh Labour has done enough to prevent their Senedd constituencies falling to the Conservatives in a similar manner.

Major Labour policies include giving care workers the real living wage of £9.50 an hour, creating a new national park, building 20,000 low-carbon social rent homes, and providing young people with  a guaranteed place in work, education, training, or self-employment.

Conservatives

The Conservatives hope to replicate the success of the 2019 General Election where they won all but one of the North Wales constituencies and forced Labour to retreat back into their heartlands. Their campaign was disrupted when Leader Paul Davies was forced to resign for breaching COVID-19 regulations. He was replaced by his more popular predecessor who previously led the party from 2011-2018, Andrew RT Davies. The Conservatives have been very critical of the Welsh Government’s response to the pandemic and a good deal of their campaigning has focused on this.

Major Conservative policies include freezing council tax for at least two years, building a new M4 relief road, creating 65,000 new jobs, and restoring right to buy in Wales.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid has failed to emulate the success of its Scottish sister party, the SNP, but has continued to grow in popularity in Wales in recent years. Polls show that Welsh Independence is increasingly popular, with one recent survey showing that as much as 40% of Welsh people are in favour of independence while one in three would support a referendum in the next 10 years. Plaid is looking to cut into Labour’s support and Leader Adam Price has said that Plaid would not be a “junior partner” in a coalition with Labour, although a Lab-Plaid coalition remains the most likely outcome of the election.

Major Plaid policies include holding an independence referendum in the next five years, banning non-essential single use plastics, providing free bus travel for 16-24 year olds, building 50,000 new homes and introducing a Welsh Language Education Act.

Abolish the Welsh Assembly

Abolish is a single issue party that campaigns for the abolition of the Senedd and the return of devolved powers to Westminster. It currently has 1 MS in the Senedd who defected from the Brexit Party. Although an Abolish MS has never been elected before, they have a relatively large base to secure votes from with polls showing that around 24% of the Welsh are in favour of abolishing the Senedd. In practice, Abolish has largely replaced UKIP in Wales and secured much of its former supporters. For a new party, the polls are encouraging, and they are currently on track to secure a handful of regional seats.

Liberal Democrats

The Welsh Liberal Democrats only hold one seat in the Senedd, Brecon and Radnorshire. This seat has been held by the party since its establishment, but the Conservatives won the Westminster constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire in 2019, which has the same boundaries, with a healthy majority of over 7,000. Despite this, polls suggest they are still on track to retain the seat, but it is unlikely they will be able to increase their representation in the Senedd any further.

Major Liberal Democrats policies include spending £1billion on tackling the climate emergency, trialling universal basic income in Wales as well as freezing and reforming business rates.

Polls

Regional Vote

Lab – 31%  Con – 28%  Plaid – 22%  Abolish – 7%  Lib Dem – 4%  Green – 3%  Others – 4%

Constituency Vote

Lab – 32%  Con – 30%  Plaid – 23%  Lib Dem – 5%  Reform UK – 3%  Green – 2%  Others – 5%

Seat Projection

Party 2016 Result At End of Term  2021 Projection Seat Change
Labour 29 29 22 -7
Conservative 11 10 19 +8
Plaid Cymru 12 10 14 +2
Abolish the Welsh Assembly 0 0 4 +4
Liberal Democrat 1 1 1 No Change
UKIP 7 1 0 -7

Source: YouGov and the University of Cardiff (March 2021)

Analysis

The campaign in Wales has largely focused on COVID-19, the economy and Labour’s record in Government. After 22 years in office, Labour’s remarkable longevity is being tested by both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. In the aftermath of the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives are hoping to replicate their success while staving off the emerging threat of the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party. Abolish has largely secured the support of former UKIP voters in Wales and is looking to win seats in the Senedd for the first time. Meanwhile, Plaid hopes to syphon off support from Labour through eye-catching progressive policies and harnessing support for independence that is mostly found among young people. Labour look set to lose a significant number of seats and since Plaid has ruled out working with Conservatives, a Lab-Plaid coalition remains the most likely outcome of the election. Although, with Plaid having said they would not act as the “junior partner” in a coalition, it remains unclear what the next Welsh Government will look like.

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