- There are 40 parliamentary constituencies in Wales. Currently Labour hold 26, the Conservatives eight, and the Liberal Democrats and Welsh nationalists three apiece.
- Wales has been a Labour stronghold since the Great War but recent evidence suggests their grip is loosening, according to the LSE. UKIP appears to be winning over working class voters in what were previously impregnable Labour positions, and Wales’ projected contribution to Ed Miliband’s fightback has fallen from seven seats to only two, both in Cardiff.
- Although for a long time part of the ‘Celtic fringe’ that provided a lifeline to the Liberals, the Liberal Democrats have also seen a gradual weakening of their position in the country. Lembit Opik lost the previously safe seat of Montgomeryshire in 2010, and with both Brecon & Radnorshire and Cardiff Central vulnerable the party could be reduced to just one seat (Ceredigion) in May.
- Plaid Cymru, the nationalists, have failed to replicate the broad-based appeal of the SNP in Scotland. Their support is limited both by cultural constraints and their openly left-wing position. Their representation in the Welsh Assembly has been on the wane since 1999.
- There are at least two Tory attack seats here: a Conservative Future ‘Road Trip’ a couple of weeks ago visited Brecon & Radnorshire and Labour-held Gower. The Conservatives slashed majorities to within competitive range in several others in 2010, and if the LSE are correct about Labour falling back some of these may be in contention in May.
- Healthcare: The travails of the Welsh NHS have become a key Tory line of attack in a policy area where Labour command a strong in-built advantage. CCHQ hopes to highlight the problems in Wales, which has been run by Labour since the advent of devolution, to try to neutralise Ed Miliband’s attempts to ‘weaponise’ the health service. David Cameron has described Offa’s Dyke as “the line between life and death”
- Education: Although less high profile than health, education is another front on which the UK Conservatives have attempted to turn Wales into Miliband’s vulnerable flank. Welsh Labour have used devolution to stall and even roll back education reform, with dire consequences for the country’s schools, some of which have started to voluntarily opt in to English reforms such as the new, exam-focused GCSEs.
- Devolution: Distinct from the above issues, yet intimately bound up with both of them, is the constitutional question. Whilst Plaid’s hopes that the Scottish referendum would kick-start separatism in Wales have come to nothing thus far – at one point it slumped to three per cent in polls – the constitution is still a live electoral issue. Cameron, Clegg and Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Secretary, recently unveiled a fresh settlement for Wales and Paul Goodman has described Crabb’s need to fend off attempts by the Jones administration to turn criticisms of their government (particularly on education and health) into a ‘war on Wales’.
Battleground Rating: 4/10
Targets by party:
(NB These are our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent has a relatively small majority, or local factors are at play which may open the seat to change. As we reported in our analysis the accidentally leaked CCHQ “non-target seats” list is ambiguous, hence the fact that some of those seats appear here as potential battlegrounds.)
Alyn and Deeside: Labour’s Mark Tami MP has seen his majority slashed to just under 3,000 after suffering an 8.1 per cent swing against him in 2010, and the Conservatives enjoy a strong second place despite having never held the seat before, coming closest in 1983. His Conservative opponent is Conwy councillor Laura Knightly, a North Wales candidate with a background in manufacturing, finance and her family’s tourism business. Yet Labour held the Assembly constituency by a comfortable 5,581 majority in 2011. Although Wikipedia suggests Alyn and Deeside was on the list of non-target seats leaked by CCHQ, it does not appear in the versions published on this site or by Dr Mark Pack.
Brecon and Radnorshire: This Liberal Democrat seat must present the best potential Conservative pick-up in Wales: Tory held from 1979 to 1985 and then from 1992 to 1997, the party fell just 751 votes short of capturing it when the current MP, Roger Williams, first contested it in 2001. Williams now enjoys a majority of 3,747 and his Conservative challenger is Chris Davies, a former auctioneer and manager of a veterinary practice. He was selected in February 2013 and previously contesting the mirroring Assembly constituency in the 2011 Welsh elections, so he has had plenty of time with the seat, and his campaign has the local NHS front and centre. Electoral Calculus predicts a 48 per cent probability of a Conservative gain in May, although a Lord Ashcroft poll in November 2014 found the Lib Dems ahead.
Bridgend: Another strong Conservative performance in 2010 cut Madeleine Moon’s majority from over 6,500 to just 2,263 after a six point swing against Labour in the seat whose Assembly counterpart is held by Carwyn Jones, the First Minister. Hoping to close that narrow distance in May is locally-born IT entrepreneur and Birmingham councillor Meirion Jenkins, selected in July of this year. However Jones enjoys a 6,775 majority in the Assembly seat, undoubtedly boosted by his position as First Minister. Jenkins will have to beat the odds to win here, and his was one of the seats on CCHQ’s leaked “non-target” list.
Clwyd South: Yet another seat where 2010 saw a comfortable Labour majority slashed (from 6,348 to a tantalising 2,834), the headline figures suggest that Labour’s Susan Jones has a fight on her hands to see off London-based barrister and councillor David Nicholls, selected in September of last year. However the late selection only reinforces the evidence of CCHQ pessimism regarding this seat, best evidenced by its inclusion on the leaked list “non-target” seats. Despite that, in this instance the Assembly constituency is much more competitive than in Bridgend which suggests a stronger Conservative base.
Delyn: Tory-held from 1983 to 1992, this north-eastern Welsh constituency has seen a strong recovery in the Conservative vote in recent elections and Labour incumbent David Hanson’s majority is now just 2,272 (down from 6,644). Running against him is Mark Isherwood, a Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly for the North Wales region whose campaign emphasises hospital closures, rural broadband and a European referendum
Gower: Since its creation in 1885 no Conservative has ever represented Gower, yet a recent sortie by CCHQ’s Team 2015 strike team suggests that the party is bullish about its chances in this West Glamorgan constituency. After seeing his majority slashed along from 6,703 to 2,683 in 2010 (a remarkably consistent range across many of these seats), Labour’s Martin Caton MP is standing down in 2015. Aiming to succeed him is Swansea-born Liz Evans, an elected negotiator for the Public and Civil Service Union whose secretive selection from an all-female shortlist was criticised by Michael Crick of Channel 4. Her opponent is Byron Davies AM, who represents the South Wales West region in the Assembly. He was selected in March 2013 and was the candidate in the 2010 general election, so he has had plenty of time to build a strong local profile.
Newport West: Only ever held by the Conservatives once, by a mere 581 votes on its creation in 1983, this seat has been moving back into contention in the last few general elections as Labour’s 14,000 majority from 1997 has fallen to just 3,544. Hoping to oust Paul Flynn is Nick Webb, the Welsh director of a “growing public relations business” and a trustee of the Welsh Refugee Council. He previously fought Newport East in the 2011 Welsh elections, taking the Conservatives into second place from third, and the Gwent Police and Crime Commissioner election.
Vale of Clwyd: Chris Ruane fought off the Conservatives by just 2,509 votes in 2010 after a 3.6 point swing away from Labour, and his majority has fallen at every general election since 1997. His Conservative opponent in 2015 is local councillor Dr James Davies, an NHS GP and clinical champion for dementia. However whilst at one stage this area looked to be on the very cusp of going Tory – the Assembly seat was held by Labour’s Ann Jones by an eye-watering 92 votes in 2007 – the 2011 Welsh elections saw a strong swing back to her and she was re-elected with over 50 per cent of the vote. As with many of the seats mentioned above, Davies’ chances may well hang on the veracity of the LSE’s prediction that Labour have shed a third of their vote since the early days of the Coalition.
Aberconwy: The first of a number of Labour-Conservative marginals whose capture would give Miliband an effective two-seat swing, Guto Bebb won this new seat in 2010 with a 7.6 per cent swing and a majority of 3,398. The Labour candidate is Mary Wimbury, a former charity organiser who currently works with Welsh social care organisations. Aberconwy is a new seat but its predecessor, Conwy, was Labour from 1997 until the 2010 general election – although before that it had been held by the Tories since 1970. Electoral Calculus gives her a 45 per cent chance in May.
Arfon: Another new seat created in 2010 by the redrawing of the North Wales constituencies, this was a notional Plaid Cymru gain from Labour last time and incumbent Hywel Williams (who represented the predecessor seat of Caernarfon in the previous parliament) enjoys a majority of just 1,455. His Labour opponent is Alan Pugh, who represented Clwyd West in the Welsh Assembly from 1999 until his ousting by the Conservatives in 2007, during which time he served as Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport. He contested this seat in 2010 so has had plenty of time to build a local profile, but Electoral Calculus predicts the nationalists will hold on and in 2011 they held the Assembly seat with 56.7 per cent of the vote.
Cardiff Central: Labour’s contribution to the three-front attack on the Welsh Liberal Democrats, incumbent Jenny Willott captured this seat in 2005 on an impressive 8.7 per cent swing, and enters 2015 defending a majority of 4,576. Her Labour opponent is Swansea-born trade union solicitor Jo Stevens. Even on the LSE’s low predictions Labour are projected to take this seat: a Lord Ashcroft Poll in September 2014 found the party eight points ahead and they won the Assembly constituency in 2011, albeit by only 38 votes.
Cardiff North: The other of the LSE’s two predicted Labour pick ups, Welsh Conservative chairman and former Brecon and Radnor MP Jonathan Evans won this seat by just 94 votes in 2010. This was the first time a Tory had represented the constituency since 1997, although prior to that it was reliably Conservative. Aiming to succeed him is Craig Williams, a transport adviser to the Conservative opposition in the Welsh Assembly. His Labour opponent is former deputy headteacher Mari Williams, whose campaign focuses on local issues such as libraries, post offices and the Green Belt. Two Lord Ashcroft Polls in May and July of last year showed respectively Labour leads of seven and 11 point and the party retook the Assembly constituency in 2011. However Electoral Calculus gives the Conservatives a 30 per cent chance of defending.
Carmarthen East and Dinefwr: Another Labour-Plaid Cymru seat, the party held this for only a single term in 1997 before losing it to Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards. At the last election Labour cut his majority from over 6,700 to 3,481, and hoping to finish the job is Welsh-speaking trainee barrister and local councillor Callum Higgins, selected in October 2013. Electoral Calculus give the nationalists an almost three in four prospect of seeing him off in May, although Plaid’s majority in the Assembly constituency was cut in half in 2011.
Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South: Simon Hart won this seat for the Conservatives in 2010 on a handsome 6.9 point swing, and enters the next election defending a majority of 3,423. Aiming to unseat him is Delyth Evans, director of a charity which helps young women back into work. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in December 2014 showed Hart enjoying a four-point lead, and more good news for the Conservatives came in 2011 when Angela Burns AM increased her majority in the Assembly seat, won for the first time in 2007, from 98 to 1,504. Electoral Calculus has the race as neck and neck.
Preseli Pembrokeshire: This Labour-Conservative marginal was held by Labour from 1997 to 2005, when it was seized by Stephen Crabb, now the Welsh Secretary. In 2010 he turned his majority of 607 into one of 4,605, which suggests that 25-year-old consultant Paul Miller, selected in May 2015 faces an uphill struggle to retake the seat – especially as Labour managed to secure only a 1.6 point swing away from the Conservatives in this seat at the 2011 Assembly elections. Iain Dale predicts a Conservative hold, although points out that Nick Ainger overturned a larger majority to unseat a Conservative minister in the area in 1992.
Vale of Glamorgan: Alun Cairns secured a 6.1 per cent swing to win this seat in 2010, and is defending a majority of 4,307 in May. Aiming to take it back for Labour is full-time local councillor Chris Elmore, who was selected in July 2013 but as yet has no working website. This seat is subject to conflicting predictions: Iain Dale reports a consensus amongst pundits that this will be a Conservative hold, and a Lord Ashcroft Poll announced yesterday showed the Tories six points ahead. The Tories fell 83 votes short of winning the accompanying Assembly constituency in 2007, although in 2011 Labour extended their lead to 3,375 after securing a 5.6 per cent favourable swing.
Montgomeryshire: Captured for the Conservatives by Glyn Davies in one of 2010’s shock results, this was previously considered one of the few Liberal Democrat safe seats. Davies overturned Lembit Öpik’s majority of over 7,000 to win by 1,184 votes, and if the Liberal Democrats do have aggressive intentions in May they must surely hope to win back some of this rural seat’s old liberal voter base. Their candidate is social worker Jane Dodds, who was born into a Welsh-speaking Wrexham family and studied at Cardiff University. All signs point to an uphill struggle, however: a 2011 Ashcroft poll found the Conservative vote in Liberal Democrat targets, including Montgomeryshire, to be solid and in that same year the Tories captured the Welsh Assembly constituency too.
Newport East: Labour incumbent Jessica Morden saw her majority slashed from 6,838 to just 1,650 by two-time candidate Ed Townsend in 2010. Paul Halliday, a retail development manager and minister, is the party’s new candidate who hopes to finish the job. However Electoral Calculus gives the party only a one per cent chance of winning here, with the third-placed Conservatives viewed as a more likely (but still relatively remote) prospect. It bodes ill that Townsend, in his final run for the area, slipped to a poor third in the 2011 Assembly elections which gave Labour a commanding lead.
Swansea West: This was a painful near-miss for the party in 2010, when a Labour majority of over 4,000 was cut to just 504. Seeking to unseat first-term Labour Co-operative incumbent Geraint Davies this time is Cllr Chris Holley OBE, former leader of Swansea Council and Lord Mayor of the city. Unfortunately for him the Liberal Democrats slumped into third place in the 2011 Assembly election for this constituency, and Electoral Calculus predict that the Conservatives will retake second place in 2015.
Ceredigion: With Brecon and Radnorshire in Tory sights and Cardiff Central in Labour’s, this is the seat where the Welsh nationalists might effect the complete Westminster wipe out of the Liberal Democrats in Wales. A surprise win for Plaid (in a joint ticket with the Greens) in 1992, Liberal Democrat incumbent Mark Williams recaptured this seat in 2005 by the slender margin of 219 before securing a majority of 8,324 in 2010. More bad news from Plaid, whose candidate is travel writer Mike Parker, comes from the Assembly: the nationalists have held this Assembly seat since 1999 but in 2011 the Liberal Democrat vote held up well and they secured a strong second place. Electoral Calculus gives Plaid a 30 per cent chance of unseating Williams.
Ynys Môn: Memorably captured by the Conservatives in 1979 “for the first time since 1722”, this island seat has been something of a four-way marginal. The Westminster constituency – formerly known as Anglesey – has been held by Labour since 2001 and they managed to increase their margin over Plaid in 2010 during an 11.5 point increase in the Conservative vote. Despite the Tory challenge Plaid’s candidate, former journalist and Environment Agency employee John Rowlands, will be optimistic here: they have held the Assembly constituency since 1999 but stormed a 2013 by-election with 58.24 per cent of the vote, with Labour slumping to 15.88 per cent and barely seeing off UKIP. However, using 2013 local election results (which may precede the slump described by the LSE) Electoral Calculus predict a Labour hold.