Wales has spoken – sort of…

Photograph: 'Voting' / Justin Grimes

Wales voted on the 5TH of May to elect new members to the Welsh Assembly. Welsh Labour looked like it was in for a real fight with the Welsh Conservatives attempting to take their marginal seats in the South, growing support for Plaid Cymru and the fact that UKIP were, for the first time, fielding candidates in every constituency. Despite this challenge, Welsh Labour managed to only lose one seat, leaving them with an overall total of 29. That said, their national vote share did fall by 7.6% and their 29 seats means they do not have a majority within the Assembly. Perhaps what is most interesting about this set of elections however is what has followed in the days after the ballot.

The new make-up of the Welsh Assembly is intriguing. The Liberal Democrats retained only one seat – that of their leader in Wales, Kirsty Williams. The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, managed to comfortably defeat former Labour minister, Leighton Andrews, in the Rhondda. Perhaps the biggest story of the night however was the insurgence of UKIP who managed to pick up 7 regional seats. Considering UKIP are essentially a party representing a form of English nationalism, this is quite a feat in Wales. The ‘Kippers responded in their typical unpredictable style, with Neil Hamilton (the disgraced former Conservative MP involved in a cash-for questions scandal in 1994) challenging UKIP’s leader in Wales, Nathan Gill, for leadership of UKIP’s group in the Welsh Assembly. Only UKIP could embroil themselves in a civil war having made significant gains in an election! Let’s not forget that Neil Hamilton appears to have a somewhat patchy relationship with Wales. On the 6TH May, during an interview with Good Morning Britain, he declared that he had a strong affiliation with Wales, stating: “cut me open…I’d be like a Blackpool stick of rock”. I look forward to hearing the views of the WELSH Assembly member for Blackpool.

UKIP aside, Wednesday brought yet more drama in the Senedd during the election for First Minister. Carwyn Jones, leader of Welsh Labour, and Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, put their names forward for the position. Despite Labour accruing over 100,000 votes more than Plaid Cymru nationally, Leanne Wood’s candidacy was supported by UKIP, Welsh Conservative and Plaid Cymru AMs. Welsh Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams supported Carwyn Jones’ candidacy, causing a stalemate result of 29 votes a piece. Following party discussions with the newly-elected Presiding Officer, Elin Jones, the session was adjourned as she surmised that the outcome of a second vote would be the same should one have been held on the same day.

This leaves Welsh politics in a confusing situation. Whilst opposition parties have every right to vote against the current First Minister, would it be justifiable for a First Minister to be elected with a far smaller mandate from Welsh voters than the incumbent? Just one abstention from either side would result in victory for the other. Failing this, if no decision can be made within 28 days another Welsh Assembly election could be triggered. Would Plaid voters be content with their leader becoming First Minister on the back of UKIP and the Conservatives, two parties which she has previously denounced. Either way, Welsh voters are likely to be growing increasingly frustrated that the pressing issues facing Wales are not being dealt with whilst this political power-grab is being attempted. Whatever happens, the next week is going to be a very interesting time for Welsh politics.

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