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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 14:14 GMT
Labour dominates Welsh polls

The opinion polls suggest that Wales will not provide many changes in the forthcoming election.

Although there is no regular series of polls taken in Wales one recent survey, from February this year, suggested there might be just one of the 40 Westminster seats swapping hands, from Labour to Conservative.

And despite all Labour's troubles in Wales since the last general election - and there have been many - the party has held a massive lead over the Conservatives of between 20%-46%, so few shocks are expected here.

For Labour this strong lead comes against the background of the difficult birth of the Welsh Assembly, first secretary Alun Michael's resignation and cuts in manufacturing jobs.

The recent NOP/HTV poll remains fairly close to the actual result in Wales in 1997, although Plaid Cymru has traded third place with the Liberal Democrats who are now in fourth.

Plaid's challenge

But how badly the foot-and-mouth outbreak will have affected the government's standing in Wales remains to be seen, as does Plaid Cymru's ability to translate its success in the 1999 assembly elections to Westminster.

But on the positive side for Labour, even if its worst set of Westminster poll results since 1997 - taken in November 2000 - were mirrored in the ballot boxes Labour would lose approximately only four seats in Wales, with the Conservatives picking up two, and the Liberal Democrats and Plaid taking one a piece.

But for Labour turnout may be a key issue if it is to ensure that its heartlands - some of which were overrun by Plaid in 1999's assembly elections - are retained.

The fight for second place

As far as Plaid is concerned the polls on voting intention for Westminster and the Welsh Assembly tell two very different stories.


Polls for the National Assembly put Plaid as the main opposition to Labour in Wales, while for Westminster polls, the Conservatives tend to look a more likely bet for second place even though they currently have no MPs.

For Plaid it will be the first time Ieuan Wyn Jones will have led his party into a general election campaign.

The Conservatives - in the shape of William Hague - are also testing a new leader in a general election. And the party is also under new management in Wales, as Nick Bourne replaced Rod Richards.

A chance to re-build

Re-building their position in Wales - and Scotland - is a must for the Conservatives as the party has at present no Westminster seats outside England, a situation that badly damages its claims of support across Britain.

But the Tories will have to battle hard not just against Labour but also Plaid if they are to be sure of benefiting from any falling off in support for the government.

The Liberal Democrats - who consistently come last in voting intention polls for Westminster and the National Assembly - will be hoping that their entry into a coalition government with Labour in Wales will have helped boost both their profile and their credibility with the voters.

Although their standing in the polls in Scotland - where the Lib Dems are in another coalition with Labour - has also dropped since 1997.

But after having spent much of the period since the last election becalmed at around 8% they can take some comfort from what seems to a slight climb in support over the last 12 months or so.

One poll at least has put the Lib Dems as high as 13% - a level similar to the 12% share of the vote they scored in 1997.

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