BBC NEWS VOTE 2001      > High graphics
VOTE2001 | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales |

High graphics only: Main Issues | Features | Crucial Seats | Key People | Parties | Results & Constituencies | Candidates | Opinion Polls | Online 1000 | Virtual Vote | Talking Point | Forum | AudioVideo | Programmes | Voting System | Local Elections |

Monday, 7 May, 2001, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK

The first post-devolution election

By BBC Wales's political editor David Williams

The first general election post-devolution in Wales promises to be more interesting than some commentators have led us to believe.

It will result, they tell us, in nothing more than Labour losing a few seats, which will not make much difference to the overall political arithmetic anyway.

That very likely scenario masks much more complex and intricate possibilities.

Largely unnoticed, the Welsh are going to have their own hwyl(fun) at this poll.


" It may all become a little fuzzy in the minds of the voters as they try and puzzle out the overlapping areas of responsiblities "

No-one quite knows how it is going to work. The presence of the National Assembly means that the electorate will have to re-think their calculations.

Overall financial and legislative control remains with Westminster, but domestic issues are now controlled from Cardiff Bay and there is little doubt that Assembly matters, and Assembly members, will find their way into the UK campaign.

What happens if the Assembly is sitting for part of the general election campaign?

How will the politicians respond to the Presiding Officer's clear warning: "I do not wish to have a surrogate Westminster election campaign in this chamber."

Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas will have his work cut out enforcing that edict, come the day.

The unruly in the National Assembly may be reined in, but outside the chamber all things are possible.

When it suits them each party will capitalise on their successes in the new forum and, when it suits them, they will seek to distance themselves from the perceived failures of the fledgling institution.

In the case of Labour and the Liberal Democrats there will be moments, (in their traditional strongholds,) when it does not suit either of them to be reminded of their partnership in the coalition administration.

All parties claim credit for Assembly successes, the most identifiable being the appointment of a Children's Commissioner, but this is a UK election and although this time more decisions will be made in Wales about the way the campaign is run there will be tensions.

Some politicians may be concerned about the need to educate the electorate about the way constitutional changes impact on their lives.

But once they are in the thick of the campaign it is unlikely that this noble thought will remain at the forefront of many minds.

There will be a temptation to take advantage of the contradictions and pander to people's misconceptions.

It may all become a little fuzzy in the minds of the voters as they try and puzzle out the overlapping areas of responsiblities.

Of course, there will be reminders of those key political questions before entering the confines of the polling booth: Who do you want to be Prime Minister? How much money do you want to go on public services? How much tax are you prepared to pay?

As the politicians circle around the uncertain and try and excite the down right apathetic the fun will begin.

The Liberal Democrats, with two parliamentary seats in Wales, will want to signal up their successes in the coalition partnership with Labour - there are two Lib-Dems in the Cabinet.

Their role in government will be seen as a positive asset in trying to win target seats like Cardiff Central, but their close association with Labour may present them with difficulties as they fight to retain the rural seat of Brecon and Radnor.

Watching all this with interest are the Tories who were wiped off the electoral map in Wales at the last election.

At their spring conference in Swansea there was a clear signal that they were switching their attention to the Liberal Democrats in seats like Brecon and Radnor.

Regain seats

The Tories believe that they have identified their opponent's soft underbelly here.

Coupled with their determination to regain seats like Clwyd West and Monmouth, the Tories are clearly expecting to have Welsh MP's at Westminster again.

Labour, with 34 of the 40 seats, will be fighting on all fronts in an attempt to minimise losses rather than make gains.

Job losses in the steel industry, the current foot and mouth crisis, and delays in settling miners' compensation claims will make the task harder.

And there is real concern in the party that people in the heartlands, which have sustained the party for so long, will register their disillusionment by staying at home.

Apathy could be Labour's biggest enemy in Wales.

There is another threat to Labour's dominance of the valleys and urban south Wales and it comes from Plaid Cymru.

Political earthquake

The party's Assembly election successes in seats like the Rhondda and Islwyn rocked their opponents.

If Plaid replicate those results in this general election - and that is their aim - then there really will have been a political earthquake in Wales and the tremors will be felt in Westminster.

More modestly, the party, currently with four seats, will be hoping to capture Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and increase their overall share of the vote.

For all the parties in Wales this campaign is as much about the next general election in Wales in 2003 as it is about Westminster.

For that reason the tensions between MP's and AM's, Westminster and the Welsh Assembly will be evident.

That is why it will be much more interesting than we thought.

Let's hope that at the end of it the hwyl remains.


^ Back to top©BBC