Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Look @: South Wales East (Part II)

The post looks at the four constituencies in the western half of this region. To find the eastern constituencies click here, and to find the list overview click here.




Swing Required

First Elected

GE2010 Result

Blaenau Gwent

Trish Law






LAB Lean


Jeff Cuthbert




LAB Hold

Too Close


Irene James




LAB Hold

LAB Lean

Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney

Huw Lewis




LAB Hold

LAB Safe

Blaenau Gwent is traditionally a safe Labour seat, with past incumbents including the former leader Michael Foot. However, in 2005 a row broke up after the party imposed an all woman shortlist on the CLP to replace the retiring MP. Peter Law was the Labour AM at the time and he led a campaign against the move which ultimately resulted in his election to Westminster as an Independent candidate. Law didn't exactly tow the party line before he left Labour and his surprise gain wasn't well received by his former colleagues. Law subsequently died in 2006 leaving vacancies for both his Welsh Assembly and UK Parliament seats. As a year had passed since the initial issue had angered the local electorate Labour were tipped to win back the seats from what was now called People's Voice. The people of Blaenau Gwent seemed to miss that memo as they elected Law's former election agent Dai Davies to replace him in Westminster and his widow Trish Law in Cardiff Bay. The latter struck a third blow to Labour in as many years when she managed to comfortably hold the seat at the full elections in 2007.

Now the movement appears to have lost its momentum and Labour are looking very likely to retake this seat in May. In 2010 Labour easily regained the Westminster constituency and Trish Law has decided not to seek re-election. Labour have nonetheless selected a strong candidate in the shape of Alun Davies. He was brought up locally and is currently an AM elected on the Mid & West Wales regional list. Trish Law is backing the Independent candidacy of Jayne Sullivan but it seems unlikely that she, or anyone else, will be able to prevent a Labour Gain here in May.

Labour's strength in Caerphilly at Parliamentary level hides the increasing competition they have come to face here in recent years. This is one of the few bright areas for Plaid Cymru in the South of Wales and, with a little help from some Independents, they took control of the Council in 2008. They also held the Council earlier in the last decade and won one of the Assembly seats in the 1999 election.

The Caerphilly constituency is likely to host the most interesting contest in this Council area, if not the Country. The seat was initially held by the First Secretary of Wales that never was; Ron Davies. In 1998 Davies beat Rhodri Morgan to become Welsh Labour's de facto leader for the first Assembly elections due to take place the following year. He then mysteriously resigned a month later relating to a 'moment of madness' on Clapham Common. Davies still comfortably won this seat in 1999 and was due to seek a second term before more revelations about his private life surfaced just two months before the 2003 Assembly elections. Jeff Cuthbert stepped in at short notice and he will be seeking a third term in May.

Cuthbert faces a tricky campaign to hold his seat as Plaid Cymru are likely to put in a strong performance. They hold almost two thirds of the Council seats within this constituency and so it is their better bet of the two Caerphilly seats. Furthermore, they have selected an interesting candidate in the form of…Ron Davies! [Yep, you read that correctly!] Since the shenanigans of the early noughties Davies has left Labour in protest at the Iraq War and then stood as an Independent in this constituency at the last election, managing a respectable third place. The combined Davies/Plaid vote in 2007 would have easily beaten Cuthbert, but politics is rarely that simple. Labour are polling around 10 points higher than their 2007 level and so Cuthbert is likely to better the 35% of the vote he achieved then. However, the national rise is likely to be at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and as they only polled 6.1% in this constituency there aren't too many votes for Labour to pick up. With Plaid's local strength and Davies' personal vote this could end up very close.

The Islwyn constituency covers the eastern wards of the Caerphilly Council, and Labour have a stronger base here than in the Caerphilly seat. However, as the incumbent Labour AM Irene James has decided to stand down they will be defending an open seat. They have selected the former Caerphilly Councillor Gwyn Price as their candidate and his competition is likely to come from Plaid Cymru. The Welsh Nationalists pulled of a few shock results in the 1999 elections and winning this seat was certainly one of them. The Westminster Constituency was held by Neil Kinnock until 1995, so when Plaid's Brian Hancock managed a 604 vote victory Labour were stunned. James won the seat back for Labour in 2003 and at the last election her closest rival was the Independent Kevin Etheridge, who was riding the coattails of Blaenau Gwent's People's Voice (see Blaenau Gwent above). Etheridge was a Councillor in Caerphilly but he resigned last year so he is unlikely to stand again. Plaid Cymru's have chosen their General Election candidate Steffan Lewis to fight this seat, and his disappointing third last May (behind the Conservatives) would suggest another shock win is unlikely. As this is a Welsh Assembly election they should beat the Tories in the race for second, but Labour should be favourites to hold.

Merthyr Tydfil has a tradition of electing Independent Councillors, but at constituency level Labour have consistently won here with ease. The Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney seat covers all of the MT Council area as well as a few wards from Caerphilly (the Rhymney bit, incidentally!). Huw Lewis has held the seat since the first Assembly election in 1999 and Labour are just as dominant in the Westminster seat. Having said that, in recent years the Liberal Democrats have managed to gain a foothold in this area in recent years. They won a few Council seats in 2008 and then produced a strong performance in the General Election. Amy Kitcher was the Lib Dem candidate who managed 17% swing last May and she has been selected to stand for the Assembly seat, having done so in 2007 as well. Unfortunately for them the party's Westminster situation is likely to hold them back, and so Kitcher will find it hard to make the desired breakthrough. Huw Lewis should be safely hold this for Labour.


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