Target practice

With a string of marginal seats, Wales can be at the forefront of electing a Labour government in 2015, says Nick Smith

The 2010 general election marked the low point of a period of poor election results for Labour in Wales since 2007. Although we won the most seats, Labour’s share of the vote was the lowest since 1918. Of 40 parliamentary seats, the party holds 26, the Conservatives eight, with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru having three each.

The Conservatives won 26 per cent of the vote, taking seats from Labour in Cardiff North and Vale of Glamorgan, which contains Barry and commuter villages to the west of Cardiff, as well as Aberconwy and Carmarthen West. They also took Montgomeryshire from the Liberal Democrats, while Plaid Cymru gained Arfon in the north winning 11 per cent of the vote across the country as a whole.

But, following Labour’s performance in assembly and local elections since then, a number of marginal seats are now in play.

Tory Jonathan Evans has announced he is standing down in Cardiff North at the next election. In Cardiff Central, a university seat, Jenny Willott will struggle after the Liberal Democrats took a pasting in the last council elections. Labour will also hope to recapture Carmarthen West and Aberconwy. We will need to push Plaid Cymru hard in Arfon and Carmarthen East, and overturn chunky Conservative majorities in Vale of Glamorgan and Preseli Pembrokeshire – a tough ask, but achievable. A further stretch, but after the bad publicity over his beloved ministerial car, even Clwyd West, the constituency of Welsh secretary David Jones, could be winnable.

One of the opportunities that Labour must grasp is the weakness of Plaid Cymru. Its assembly leader, Leanne Wood, has had a dreadful first few months, barely creating a blip in Welsh politics. The party is irrelevant to UK politics as a whole (an ICM poll last year found that just seven per cent of Welsh people favoured independence) and, despite their protestations, it is clear that Labour is the only party of progressive politics in Wales.

From independence to independents, last year’s police and crime commissioner elections saw individuals outside the main political parties elected. There have been Labour splinter candidates, and ‘shy’ Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates calling themselves independents in Wales for a long while. We cannot take them lightly, particularly when turnout is low. Having said that, I managed to see off the independents in Blaenau Gwent in 2010 by running a strong, very local, campaign and highlighting the likely dangers of a Conservative government.

We will need to target students, wealthy commuters working in Cardiff and retired professionals along the north Wales coast in order to win all eight target seats in Wales. Peter Hain has said that Labour in Wales had swept up most of the ‘progressive’ vote but had not done enough to win over those who voted Tory. I tend to agree, but the Conservatives have certainly given us plenty of ammunition.

George Osborne’s failed austerity agenda has hit Wales hard. Campaigning for consumers, as Ed Miliband has done on ‘rip-off’ pension charges, and as I have been doing in my own constituency on private car parks, really chimes with voters, particularly in tough times when they are struggling to make ends meet. We need to show that we can make a difference even in opposition.

The government has shown extraordinary incompetence – on the public accounts committee I see many examples of the government wasting taxpayers’ money. Its current internal warfare over the leadership, Europe and gay marriage will help voters see that the Tories may think they were born to rule, but they are not actually very good at it.

However, we cannot just rely on Tory own goals to win the next election. In Wales we can highlight the successes of a Labour government in Cardiff Bay, providing dividing lines between us and the coalition government in Westminster.

Other Welsh Labour strengths include a strong leadership team in Carwyn Jones, Wales’ first minister, and Owen Smith, the shadow secretary of state for Wales. Smith gave a strong speech at last year’s Labour party conference, setting out how the party used devolution to bring the country together while the Tories and nationalists try to use it to tear us apart.

With its fair share of marginal and target seats, we can ensure that Wales in 2015 is at the forefront of electing a One Nation Labour government.

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Nick Smith is MP for Blaenau Gwent and a member of the Progress strategy board

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Photo: GeeHock

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