Thursday, 17 March 2011

National Assembly Elections 2011 Guide : Liberal Democrats

          You would think that being the founders of the concept of devolution (or as it was called in the early 20th century “home rule”), the Liberal Democrats would have had a devolution bounce in the elections for the National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. In reality, they seem to have been stuck in a bit of a groove. The 1999 elections started off very promising indeed, with Jenny Randerson gaining Cardiff Central from Labour on a swing of 16% and they solidified their position in Powys with Brecon and Radnorshire recording a 20% majority (on a 4% swing from Con to Lib Dem) and Montgomeryshire recording a 26% majority (on a 3% swing from Con to Lib Dem).

       This was backed up by three regional members (Christine Humphreys in North Wales, Michael German in Wales South East and Peter Black in Wales South West) most experts agreed that it was a good base to build from and a year later that proved to be the case when Alun Michael resigned as First Minister and following the election of Rhodri Morgan he asked the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition (putting Liberal Democrats at the heart of Welsh government for the first time since David Lloyd George (Liberal, Caernarfon Boroughs) had been Prime Minister). The only downside to the whole thing was the announcement of Christine Humphreys’ resignation from the Assembly on health grounds, which meant that the number two on the Lib Dem list in North Wales, Eleanor Burnham, was elected.

          The 2003 elections, however, were not quite as successful as the Liberal Democrats had hoped for. They held their three constituencies (Cardiff Central on a 11% swing from Lab, Brecon and Radnorshire on hardly any swing to Con, and Montgomeryshire despite a 7% swing to Con) and their three regional seats as well, but didn’t seem to make much headway anywhere else. There was a 9% swing from Plaid to Lib Dem in Ceredigion (but that still left a 18% majority to overturn), and despite getting second in Swansea West (23% behind Lab) and Blaenau Gwent (59% behind Lab), it is safe to say that when the Lib Dem grouping arrived back at the Assembly the coalition between Labour and themselves was left behind as Labour now had 30 seats and as the Presiding Officer didn’t have a vote, in effect a Labour majority of one.

          By the time the 2007 elections had rolled around, the Liberal Democrats were feeling very chipper about their prospects. They had gained Ceredigion from Plaid at the Westminster election of 2005 and had high hopes of doing the same at the Assembly level (and making a concerted effort on Swansea West and Newport East) and indeed as the election counts came in, things were looking promising. Cardiff Central was held with only a 3% swing to Labour and Brecon was safely held with a 1% swing to Con. However, things started to turn as reports came in of a potential recount in Newport East between Lab and the Lib Dems and Betsan Powys noted “If the Lib Dems do win Newport East, Mike German could lose his seat” and from that moment on, it is almost as if the Lib Dems reined back. Montgomeryshire was a Lib Dem hold the majority was now only 9%, Ceredigion remained in Plaid hands with a meagre 2% swing from Plaid to Lib Dem, Newport East remained Labour by 4%, Swansea West remained Labour by 7% which meant that for the third election in a row, six Liberal Democrats returned to Cardiff Bay.

          As the Assembly elections roll ever closer, Liberal Democrats must be in two minds about whether to watch the results programme or not. Since the Westminster election the Liberal Democrat poll rating for the Assembly Elections (15% in the constituencies in 2007 and 12% in the regionals) has gone into freefall. The most recent poll conducted last week suggested that they would only get 6% in the constituencies and 5% in the regionals (and suffer the possible ignominy of finishing behind UKIP in Mid and West Wales, the Greens in South Wales Central, and tying with the BNP in South Wales West). At their recent conference in Cardiff, the Lib Dems said they hoped not to return to the Assembly with six seats again and rather sadly for them, that could well happen (but in a negative fashion)

Liberal Democrat Battleground : Assembly Elections 2011

AM / Candidate
% Majority / % Swing
Cardiff Central
Nigel Howells
Brecon and Radnorshire
Kirsty Williams AM
Wyn Williams
Newport East
Ed Townsend
Swansea West
Rob Speht
Elizabeth Evans


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