Can the Welsh Conservatives recover their momentum?
When this election campaign started, the nascent narrative was that the Tories would have a horrible night in Scotland but could well offset this with impressive advances in Wales.
One week out from polling day and the script has all but flipped. The dissenting view that the Scottish Conservatives could hold up, which we aired at the time, seems to be being borne out – even in the apparent absence of unionist tactical voting, YouGov’s MRP poll finds the Tories holding nearly all their seats and on-the-ground sources privately anticipate them even picking up a few.
Yet that same poll suggests that the Welsh Conservatives are on track for only a handful of gains, and local activists are dubious about one of these (Liberal Democrat-held Brecon & Radnorshire).
Whilst the Party would obviously be pleased to pick up long-term target Wrexham and Ynys Môn, not to mention retaking Vale of Clwyd, in numerical terms this would only get them back to where they were in 2015 due to missing out on Cardiff North and Gower.
A look at this week’s Welsh press suggests a campaign still struggling to find its feet after early setbacks. Alun Cairns, who would presumably have played a prominent role, is “keeping a low profile” after being forced to resign as Welsh Secretary even as the sound of the starting pistol was still ringing in our ears.
Wales Online has also highlighted several places where the Tories are campaigning in a Westminster election on devolved issues, such as the much-disputed M4 relief road. (Devocrats are very sensitive about UK politicians and institutions straying onto devolved turf; devolved politicians campaigning on reserved issues is, of course, de rigueur.)
Of course there is still a week to go, and as I pointed out in our battleground profile for Wales there are several close races where even a small uptick in Conservative fortunes could tip the balance. There is also still evidence that Brexit is still hindering Labour’s efforts to hold on to some of their traditional voters.
A small net increase of seats is nothing to be sniffed at – it’s certainly better than a surprise loss of three two years ago. But it will still pose the question of why the Welsh Conservatives are struggling to properly tap what seems to be a deep well of potential support.
Labour candidates revolt against pact with the SNP
A Labour-connected source reported to me last week that a senior campaigner in Scotland had claimed that the party had almost wilfully thrown away a serious haul of Scottish seats by making eyes at Nicola Sturgeon.
The logic of this was that Labour, like the Tories, was well positioned to hoover up pro-UK tactical votes, not just in the seven seats they won in 2017, but in plenty more where Labour is second-placed. Remember that the SNP’s hold on a lot of its current seats is less than firm – there are almost 20 seats where the Nationalist majority is smaller than the second-smallest Scottish Conservative majority.
Instead, Jeremy Corbyn has cut the legs out from under his own candidates by making it pretty clear that he will offer the SNP a second independence referendum in exchange for propping up a minority Labour administration. There is even talk that the Tories could pick up Labour-held East Lothian as a consequence, and squeezing the Labour vote sufficiently in Stirling to hold onto their most marginal seat.
So it possibly isn’t surprising that Labour candidates are staging a last-minute revolt against Corbyn’s strategy – with Martin Whitfield, the incumbent in East Lothian, at their head.
In this they are following in the footsteps of Ian Murray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, who has been dubbed the ‘Labour & Unionist’ candidate after his literature was found to bear endorsements from the Spectator and pro-UK campaign ‘Scotland in Union’… but make no mention of the Labour Party.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies handed these rebels some ammunition this week by declaring that implementing the Nationalists’ post-independence prospectus would require deeper austerity than under a Conservative Government.
But is it too little, too late? And even if a handful of Labour MPs can retain their seats this way, are there sufficient colleagues in England and Wales prepared to stand in solidarity with them and force Corbyn to abandon a pact with the SNP? Even if that’s the difference between government and opposition?