What we can learn from the success of Welsh Labour in the ‘Covid election’

Mike Hedges
© JSvideos/Shutterstock.com

In an article following the 2019 general election, I described that contest as the ‘Brexit election’. In the same way, the Senedd election last week was the ‘Covid election’. The handling of the health crisis in Wales, and the vaccination programme, was the major issue during the election in the many discussions I had with voters.

Mark Drakeford’s careful handling of the lockdowns and our coming out of them may not have played well with the keyboard warriors on social media, but it was immensely popular with most of the electorate. People wanted to be safe, and they wanted their families to remain safe and for us to come out of the pandemic. Having the best vaccination rate in the four nations and the lowest number of cases per 100,000 people was a positive electoral asset.

Following the science and keeping people safe in Wales was endorsed by the Welsh people at the ballot box, or in many cases at home as they filled out their postal vote. People were stopping me on the street during the election to say that they were glad they had lived in Wales over the last 12 months, because they felt they had been kept safe.

The Conservative campaign revolved around building roads to deal with traffic jams, which no longer occur due to the substantial growth in home working. If the election had taken place in 2019, it may have worked. But by 2021, it no longer resonated with the electorate – the traffic jams had gone and are, I believe, following the growth and success of home working, gone for ever.

Plaid Cymru’s campaign, saying that it was ‘time for change’ failed to get the support of the electorate, because people wanted a continuation of the way Covid was being dealt with – not a change. And the presidential way that Plaid Cymru fought the election was also off-putting to voters.

The many far-right parties, some of which came from the UKIP split, failed to gain a seat in the Senedd and that is something that must please all Labour supporters. When UKIP won seven seats in 2016 it came as a shock and it was so pleasing to see them, and the other far-right parties, disappear from the Senedd.

It was an excellent result for Labour, returning to the 30 seats won in 2011. The party gained back Rhondda. Vale of Clwyd was lost, but replaced by a North Wales regional seat giving a net gain of one and, importantly, Labour now holds half the seats in the Senedd. Although you would not think it from the media, it was a better result in terms of seats than the SNP in Scotland.

Positive lessons to be learnt include that candidates matter, and incumbency is a huge advantage. Across Wales, only one sitting Senedd member was defeated – and that was Leanne Woods in Rhondda. Rhondda was won by Buffy Williams a well known local community activist who lives in the Rhondda. Ticking the three boxes: Labour, local and active within the constituency. This can be observed by her action on Sunday, the day after being elected, taking up flooding problems in the area.

There are a substantial number of Labour loyalists, who know that Labour is the party which best represents their interests and are prepared to continue to vote for it. The campaign slogan of “if you value it, vote for it” enthused people to believe that voting Labour was important to them and keeping them and their family safe.

The one constituency seat loss, Vale of Clwyd, although made up by winning a regional seat in North Wales, must obviously be a disappointment. The Conservatives continually pointed out the many failings of Betsi Cadwalladr (North Wales Health Board), but for the wider electorate its importance was mainly overridden by their view of the vaccine roll-out.

I am looking forward to another five years of Labour controlling the Senedd in Wales. Thursday was a very good result for Labour, matching the heights of 2003 and 2011, but we must not be complacent. We must keep on campaigning and, more importantly, listening to the electorate.

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