In memory of Rhodri Morgan, the only person who saw this result coming.
On a night of many surprises, the one thing that wasn’t really a shock was that Labour won our 26th election in a row in Wales. Despite earlier polls causing some shock and fear that June 8th may not be our night (including a hot take from me a few months ago) Welsh Labour increased our share of the vote, won 3 seats back from the Tories, increased majorities across the board and came damn near to taking Arfon (92 votes), Preseli Pembrokeshire (314 votes) and Aberconwy (635 votes). The polls eventually predicted a good night for us in Wales but I think few expected the resounding success we eventually got.
So why then did we do so well? Did the UKIP vote in Wales return to Labour? Did progressive voters band together behind the Labour banner to oust the Tories? Did we run an absolutely incredible ground campaign, buttressed by clear messaging and passion? Yes to all three, but did any play a more significant part than the others?
Firstly, the UKIP vote.
The UKIP vote collapsed in Wales last Thursday, going from 13.6% in 2015 to a mere 2% in 2017. Meanwhile the Labour vote increased by over 12%, going from 36.9% in 2015 to 49% in 2017. The Conservative vote share also increased from 27.2% in 2015 to 33.7% last week. As such it is unclear whether the whole of the former UKIP vote went to Labour or whether it was split between Labour and Tories. What however is very clear is that in areas with a previous substantial UKIP vote (usually Labour Constituencies) the majorities in those seats were vastly increased in favour of Labour.
This goes completely against the theory prominent prior to the election that UKIP had started the process of converting former Labour voters into Conservative voters. Whilst I personally found this occasionally on the doorstep what occurred more often was a straight Labour to Conservative switch. Life time Labour voters, voting against the Party due to the leadership. Attempting to send a message. Perhaps in many of those occasions faced with the realistic prospect of voting Tory and for the Maybot, many lifelong Labour voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote Conservative and plumped for what they knew. Although the campaign produced many complex results it is clear that a significant proportion of the UKIP vote went to Labour in Wales, and it certainly helped the final result.
Secondly, progressive vote lending.
I know from personal experience this happened right across Wales and I want to say thank you to all members and supporters of Plaid, the Greens and the Lib dems who backed Labour in order to keep the Tories out. We must be modest enough to realise that although we think we’re the best option for the country others do not. They merely think of us as a better alternative to the Tories and we should not as a consequence of vote lending criticise other parties for having a bad night. I am sure in many instances people have been genuinely inspired to vote Labour after supporting another party and that is wonderful but there are many instances in which a lent vote will not be lent again if we take for granted that which is borrowed.
It is not just my anecdotal evidence which confirms this vote lending but the figures back it up too. Plaid, the Lib dems and the Greens all lost around 2% of their vote between 2015 and 2017 and the decision of the Greens not to stand in the Gower and Cardiff North (Two Labour gains) will have played a part in the now sizable majorities in those two seats.
Thirdly, our campaigning.
The work on the ground in Wales was phenomenal. Inspired by the fantastic manifestos in Wales and the UK, our activists covered lots of (very hilly) ground talking to thousands of people. It is the cornerstone of our election style and we mustn’t let it be forgotten. Compared to the chaotic, cruel campaign run by the Conservatives, we offered real hope. If there is another election soon we must remain hopeful and positive. Our manifestos must deal with the problems of modern Wales and modern Britain, but not talk down to people or take them for granted whether they support us or not. We did incredibly well last week but over confidence on the precipice of something fantastic will lead to disappointment and disaster. Last week we remembered to respect the voters, let’s not forget so soon.