Thursday, 13 April 2017

Locals 2017: Party Expectations

(Pic : Wales Online)

What should the parties (and Independents) realistically expect in May?


In order to make the position clearer, I've divided councils into four categories:

  • Retain – Councils a party will be expected to retain control over, whether outright control or as a minority.
  • Win – Councils a party doesn't currently control but should realistically be able to take overall control of by themselves.
  • Progress - Councils where a party could win a respectable number of seats, but not to the extent they could take control by themselves; at most they could become a partner in a ruling coalition or have a blocking vote.
  • Bin – Local authorities where any signficant success is unlikely, maybe no more than the odd seat here and there. I won't bother listing these.

Labour

(Pic : BBC Wales)
  • Retain - Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Swansea, Torfaen
  • Win - Flintshire
  • Progress - Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Vale of Glamorgan, Wrexham

There's been some management of expectations by Labour as the 2012 result was as good as it gets for them, so the only way is down. It's simply a question of how far down. Labour in Wales have been (somewhat) shielded from Jeremy Corbyn's electoral concrete shoes (which would make a great band name). I'd assume that within the party there's an expectation of a number of losses, but maybe not quite to the extent of a "disaster".

With that in mind, Labour will want to keep councils not necessarily seats – by that I mean they'd probably be willing to sacrifice unsafe seats they won with paper candidates in 2012 to shore up their safe ones and prevent authorities in the south going firmly to no overall control. This would enable Labour to run them as, at the very least, a minority.

There'll be a floor of around 520 seats. Anything less than that is straying into "bad night" territory if they lose councils too, while falling below 500 or losing their top dog position is "really bad night" territory. The only council you can see Labour winning outright that they don't currently control is Flintshire.

Independents

  • Retain – Pembrokeshire, Powys
  • Win - Wrexham
  • Progress – Bridgend, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Monmouthshire, Ynys Mon


It's difficult to set any real targets because there's no single "Independent" party, but you would expect Independents to want to maintain their position as the second largest grouping in Welsh local government and for former Labour councillors to take seats off their former party in places like Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot.

A number of local/county-specific parties have sprung up recently (Change for Bridgend, Newport Independents, Cynon Valley Party) and it's hard to tell what impact they'll have on the results. They may, in the end, simply split the opposition vote and enable the dominant party – whether Labour, Plaid or anyone else – to retain seats. Or, they could indeed take a sizable number of seats, becoming a more credible populist alternative to UKIP.

The onward march of Independents could be the big story from the elections, though one thing I can say that all of you reading this will agree with is I hope the (former) Gravell-Palmer "Independent Party" in Carmarthenshire is wiped out – proof positive that not all "Independents" are good news or well-intentioned.

Plaid Cymru

(Pic : Plaid Cymru)
  • Retain - Gwynedd
  • Win – Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Ynys Mรดn
  • Progress – Caerphilly, Cardiff, Conwy, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf

Plaid will want to finish top in Y Fro Gymraeg and make significant progress in a number of authorities in the south – particularly Cardiff and Caerphilly (RCT may be too much of an uphill struggle). I'd assume they'd want to retain the numbers to remain in ruling coalitions in Conwy and Denbighshire too.

I see no reason why they couldn't at the very least regain everything they lost in 2012 and add a healthy number of seats on top. So the target will probably be between 200-220 seats and/or winning outright control of all four of their key authorities: Gwynedd, Ceredigion, Anglesey and Carmarthenshire. That would be a good night.

220+ seats, with big gains in Cardiff, Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf - as well as being in a position to take minority control of Caerphilly (as in 2008) - would count as a great night.

Conservatives

(Pic : Welsh Conservatives)
  • Retain – N/A
  • Win – Conwy, Monmouthshire
  • Progress – Cardiff, Denbighshire, Powys, Swansea, Vale of Glamorgan


The Tories did pretty badly in 2012, losing more than 60 seats. The lack of competitive by-elections since than hasn't changed their position. They're down to their core so I wouldn't expect them to lose many more seats than they currently hold (it would be very bad news for them if they did).

A modest increase in the number of seats – perhaps to the 120-130 mark – will be a step in the right direction, even if it means only picking up an extra seat or two in places like Denbighshire, Bridgend and Cardiff.

I assume the Tories will want to retake overall control of Monmouthshire, be in a position to take control of Vale of Glamorgan and make big progress in (northern) Cardiff, Conwy and Swansea due to the number of candidates put forward. Other than that I don't think people should expect miracles.

Liberal Democrats

(Pic : BBC Wales)
  • Retain – N/A
  • Win – N/A
  • Progress – Cardiff, Ceredigion, Powys, Swansea


It's a big test for the Lib Dems. They usually run a pretty tight ship at a local level, but they're now also-rans and practically invisible in mainstream politics. Kirsty Williams has been neutered since becoming Education Secretary, while the party have been decimated in both the Assembly and Westminster. But, as one of the the most pro-EU parties, maybe they can harness the Remain vote in urban and student-laden areas to make a comeback in places they've traditionally been strong in like Swansea and Cardiff.

Last year it would've been a case of "don't get wiped out" but the picture has improved and you would expect the Lib Dems to keep what the currently have and make some progress to maybe around 80-85 seats. That would be a good showing all things considered. Nevertheless, they shouldn't be expecting to take control of any councils by anything other than a coalition arrangement.

Minor Parties

They're the big boys and girls thanks (mainly) to the electoral system. The following only have a combined 11 seats between them, with 7 of those going to Llais Gwynedd. Yes it was tempting to put the Lib Dems here too, but their predicament isn't funny anymore and like it or not they do still retain a major presence in some councils.

UKIP

Caerphilly or bust for UKIP?
(Pic : Guardian)
  • Retain – N/A
  • Win – N/A
  • Progress – N/A - Win any seats in Caerphilly, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan

This election will determine whether 2016 was a flash in the pan, or UKIP really are the fifth party in Welsh politics. Having AMs is fine, but they need the infrastructure on the ground to maintain their position and that means having a significant number of seats in local authorities. All the seats they won last May can be wiped out with a modest shift in regional votes and councillors often do the legwork on the ground.

The referendum vote is arguably the worst thing to happen to UKIP as a party. You've got to ask yourselves, "What's the point of UKIP?" That's a question worth returning to in its own right another time perhaps.

Clearly UKIP has a problem keeping members and resembles a zombie party – the body's dead but still tepid and nobody's willing to give them the peace of death.

It's not a case of wanting to win seats, they need to win them – 10 at a minimum I would say, spread around south Wales, particularly the former county of Gwent. Anything less than that or in single figures means UKIP are stuck where they are until the local government electoral system changes, or have become a complete irrelevance now Theresa May is the Brexit ringmaster.

Greens

  • Retain – N/A
  • Win – N/A
  • Progress – N/A - Win any seats in Cardiff, Ceredigion, Gwynedd, Swansea

They have a new leader, which I'm sure you all heard about....No?....I'll move on then.

I don't think the stakes for the Greens are quite as high as UKIP because they're not facing any existential threat. They can't point to something like the EU referendum and say "job done, we can pack up and go home" because they haven't achieved anything, at any level, at any time, ever. That doesn't mean they don't have good ideas, they just haven't translated it into any sort of success yet.

So in that vein, to be frank winning anything would count as an achievement; 3 seats at county level would be a pretty good night. There's nowhere you can point to and say the Greens will definitely win a seat (under STV things might be different), but you've got to assume counties/cities that contain wards with large student populations will be most likely.

Llais Gwynedd

Llaid Gwynedd are, by far, one of the most successful localist parties in Wales  and are still going, putting 16 candidates which -considering the number of defections from the party over the last five years (mainly to Plaid Cymru) - is actually not that bad going.

Plaid are already, by some estimates, guaranteed 18 seats through uncontested wards and by virtue of having two of three candidates in a 2 seat ward.

In most cases Llais Gwynedd are competing solely with Plaid, with Plaid even putting up former Llais Gwynedd members. This makes their task more difficult and - from the 14 seats they won in 2012 - you could only see them hanging on to, at best, 3 or 4 with the outside chance of a complete wipe-out. If they can keep what they've already got as of now (7 seats) that would be a good result - but you don't see them being able to prevent Plaid getting a majority.

With my look at the all-Wales picture over and done with, I'll take a break over Easter then turn my attentions exclusively to the local elections in Bridgend.



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