Last week, this column looked at the challenging situation facing the Scottish Conservatives as voters prepare to go to the polls for next month’s general election.
Whilst highlighting a possible path to a good night – which Labour blogger Ian Smart has now expanded on in a full post on his own blog, which is well worth your time – it nonetheless seems likely that the Party will lose seats north of the border next month.
Heading into the election, the Tories’ best hope is that gains in Wales “counter or exceed Scottish losses”, in the words of James Kanagasooriam. A strong campaign in the second Leave-voting Home Nation, it is thought, could help to offset losses in more Remain-inclined parts of the country such as Scotland and London.
Early polling suggests that CCHQ may well have grounds for optimism here. According to the first ‘Welsh Political Barometer’ poll of the campaign, the Conservatives are currently on course to gain nine seats from Labour in the Principality: Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Cardiff North, Clwyd South, Delyn, Gower, Newport West, Vale of Clwyd, and Wrexham. They are also forecast to regain Brecon and Radnor from the Liberal Democrats.
Drawing its predictions from a broader set of polls Electoral Calculus is, if anything, even more bullish. It projects not only all the Conservative gains outlined above but also a surprise win in Ynys Môn (Anglesey), which Roger Awan-Scully’s figures show going Plaid Cymru.
For what it’s worth my sources in both the national leadership and the Welsh Tories are less optimistic, predicting instead around six gains – albeit with some variation as to what they will be. There is a consensus that both Delyn and Alyn and Deeside are out of reach, despite the Party nearly always appearing within striking distance there, and that the odds of recapturing Brecon and Radnor are slim. One also suggested the Tories had a better shot in Newport East than West.
But of course, we have been here before. In 2017 too the Conservatives started the campaign projected to make some historic gains, only for a disastrous campaign to see them go backwards. The total shambles that has been the national campaign launch, and the local twist in the resignation of the Welsh Secretary, is the last thing the Welsh Tories needed – although we may well be too early in the campaign to judge the impact of such things.
One interesting outcome, if my sources’ pessimism about Delyn and Alyn and Deeside is correct, is that the the majority of any Tory gains will be in South Wales. It will be interesting to see what impact this has on the balance of debate inside the Welsh Conservatives: South Wales tends to be more ‘devocrat-y’, whilst North Wales much more devosceptic.
If the Party does do well, it will put the spotlight once again on the problem I identified during their leadership contest last summer: the fact that hundreds of thousands of voters who turn out for the Tories at Westminster contests stay at home for Assembly elections. This creates a strategic dilemma between ‘leaning in’ to devolution in the hopes of striking some kind of deal with Plaid and trying to motivate a broader but less devo-enthusiastic Tory electorate to go to the polls.