.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Labour European campaign flatlines

There is a fascinating insight in the Wales on Sunday today into Wales Labour's campaign to hold their two seats in the European Parliament.

Matt Withers reports from Brussels that everybody, MEPs, support staff, and the Brussels press corps, believes that the forthcoming poll is going to be an absolute disaster for Labour, not only across Britain as a whole, but here in Wales.

Labour, he says are concerned about the impact of a low turnout on their vote, about the fact that they are 20 points behind the Tories in the polls and that their lead candidates are largely unknown amongst the Welsh electorate, though to be fair that seems to apply to all of the four main parties:

This wouldn’t be such a huge problem if the Labour election machine of old could be cranked into action, but the murmurs of discontent about the efficiency of the party’s operation, based in Cardiff’s Transport House, are threatening to become deafening.

“People talk about the Labour election ‘machine’,” one high-ranking Welsh Labour figure said to me last week. “I tell them – machine? It’s six people.”

The party launched its campaign last week by slicing a cake – because by voting Labour, Wales will get a bigger slice of, er, Europe or something – but behind the scenes all is not well, even leaving aside the fact Rhodri Morgan couldn’t speak at the launch because he’d cut his lip (allegedly on a bread roll).

At least one candidate is complaining of having to spend all their weekends and evenings, around a day job, preparing and planning campaigning material and events, such is the lack of central assistance.

Allied to this is the baffling assertion among some that Labour don’t want to campaign. There is a growing frustration in party circles, both inside and outside the Assembly, that too many in Welsh Labour are nervous about going on the attack, especially if it involves taking off the gloves against their Assembly coalition partners, Plaid Cymru.

Not surprisingly, many people think this is bonkers. During the negotiations over the make-up of the coalition cabinet in 2007, I reported here how one Labour AM had told me how Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones must not be given the economy portfolio as “he’ll take credit for everything that goes right and blame Westminster for everything that goes wrong”.

Said AM turned out to be quite the soothsayer: the financial crisis has allowed Mr Jones to play to the media gallery while Labour campaign with all the vigour and swagger of a Trappist monk. Officially, the coalition agreement means that Labour will be as robust in their campaigning at other levels as ever – in reality, few can remember the party so timid in its fighting.

What is surprising however is Matt Withers view that Labour will not lose their second seat. He says that most people find it difficult to believe either Plaid or the Tories will get more votes than Labour in June, giving them two seats. In that he is right. The Tories were 120,039 votes behind Labour at the last European elections, whilst Plaid have a bigger mountain to climb of 137,922 votes. But that is not the only scenario in which Labour may lose its second seat.

There is a very real likelihood that Labour will lose votes in June, most probably due to people staying at home, though many will switch. There are also 96,677 UKIP votes, many of which will not stay with that party. I think it is realistic to assume that Labour will lose 60,000 of its votes, leaving it with a total of 237,810. Some might say that is a conservative estimate. That would leave the Welsh Liberal Democrats needing another 22,790 votes to win the fourth seat.

Frankly, I could dream up a lot of scenarios in which Labour lose their second seat to any one of three parties but I would not want to pre-empt what the voters do. I suggest that political columnists do the same. After all they have been wrong before, notably about Ceredigion at the last General Election, and they can be wrong again.
Peter: Why did you elect to re-run the article with this crucial paragraph missing?

"Who is going to make the effort to trek to their polling station just to vote in a European election? Conservative and Plaid Cymru voters, that’s who, as Labour well know (the Liberal Democrats have all but raised the white flag in selecting as their number one candidate the dryly academic Alan Butt Philip)."

Any particular reason?
You didn't post the bit about the Lib Dem candidate... wonder why : )
Well yes, even Matt Withers used that paragraph as an aside. It is just not relevant to the main point of the article, which is that Labour's campaign is a shambles. I cannot quote the whole article in any case but I did put in a link to it so that people can read it for themselves.

Even though it was an aside it is of course untrue and I responded to the point by pointing out that none of the lead candidates are well known and demonstrating that it was possible for the Welsh Liberal Democrats to win a seat. I pointed to Ceredigion as an example of where the media have got it spectacularly wrong about our prospects. We believe that it possible to win a Euro seat in Wales and we intend to campaign as such.
I'd wouldn't quite call it a "fascinating insight" but it's passably interesting.

The assumption that Labour will drop as compared with the 2004 vote seems plausible at first save when you consider that 2004 and 1999 were dreadful shares of the vote for Labour in Wales - the two lowest all Wales shares since 1918

It might be argued therefore that Labour is already down to its hard core vote and won't sink lower.

The most likely destination for the fourth seat would still be Labour therefore.

If, as you say, and almost certainly corectly, the UKIP vote from 2004 won't hold then the Tories would seem set to be the main beneficiaries of that shift and they would be next best placed for the fourth seat.

If there are half decent bookies' odds on the Tories taking two seats in Wales I would take them, it seems worth a punt.

The other point about turnout is of course very relevant also.
We can all point to elections where our parties suceeded against expectation. (Islwyn and Rhondda in 99 spring to mind). But the sad fact is that the media only occasionally get things wrong.

In a european election with appaling turnout getting out the core support is going to be key. Although the Lib Dems are very good at local campaigning and "only the Libs can win here" campaigns you do not have a strong base. Without local elections to get your voters out you really will struggle to win.

Remember you came 5th last time and in 1999 when you didn't have local elections you only managed 8%of the vote.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?