A new poll has revealed Welsh Labour is “on course to make sweeping gains” in Thursday’s local elections.
In 2008, Welsh Labour suffered a disastrous performance in the local elections. In the Wake of the 10p tax debacle the party took a massive blow with the loss of 122 council seats, losing control of Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Newport and Torfaen councils, whilst losing outright control of Flintshire and Wrexham.
Labour had, said Rhodri Morgan, leader of the party in Wales at the time, taken a “belting”.
Fast forward to today and as voters go the polls on Thursday, things could not be more different, with mounting expectations, as outlined in new research published today.
Asked about voting intentions in local elections, Labour were on 48% (an increase from the 21% Welsh Labour polled in 2008); the Conservatives, despite a disastrous few weeks, remain steady on 17% (1 point up from their 2008 vote share); Plaid Cymru are down 3 points to 14%; whilst the Liberal Democrats continue to be seen as the punch bag for the coalition in Westminster, polling just 7%, a 6 point drop in support from 2008.
Significantly, however, some 15% of respondents indicated an intention to vote for an independent.
In terms of voting intentions for the General Elections, Labour across Wales find themselves on 50% (up 14 points from May 2010); the Conservatives have fallen 3 points to 23%; Plaid are up 1 point to 12%; whilst the Liberal Democrats again have taken a pasting with support across Wales at just 7%, a fall of 13 points from where they were in 2010.
It’s a similar picture for voting intentions for the Assembly with Labour enjoying comfortable leads in both the constituency and regional list ballots.
• Vote 2012: A tale of two Labour parties 18 Apr 2012
• Vote 2012: Welsh local council elections preview 7 Apr 2012
• Preview 2012 – Wales 29 Dec 2011
Welsh Labour leader and first minister, Carwyn Jones, remains the most popular leader in Wales, with Leanne Wood coming second, a sign of the progress she has made since being elected Plaid leader; Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies, however, languishes behind both his Lib Dem opposite number, Kristy Williams, and David Cameron.
Indeed, Davies is the only one of the party leaders in Wales who’s own supporters disliked him more than they liked him.
Arguing that the results point to “sweeping gains” being made by Labour on Thursday, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Wales Governance Centre, explained:
“These findings are great news for Welsh Labour and suggest that they are on course to make sweeping gains in this week’s local elections. Whatever their problems elsewhere in Britain, and despite a rocky period in recent years, Wales retains its status as a Labour bastion.”
Meanwhile, as the Silk Commission looking at future powers for the Assembly and Welsh government prepares this autumn to publish its report on how to improve the financial accountability of the devolved institutions in Cardiff, the poll findings point to their being strong support for the notion of devolution as well as for at least some powers to be devolved over taxation.
Asked how Wales should be governed, just 16% argued it should be without any form of devolved government; 5% felt the Assembly should have fewer powers; 31% said it would be best to leave things as they are; 30% argued the Assembly and government should have more powers; whilst just 10% favour the idea of outright independence.
Fifty one per cent, meanwhile, said they felt the Assembly should have most influence over how Wales is run compared with 26% who believed it should be Westminster.
Asked about whether and how many powers should be devolved to Cardiff over taxation, 24% agreed it should be responsible for all of them; 31% support the idea of some taxation powers being devolved; whilst 34% felt the Assembly should have no powers over taxation at all.
Meanwhile, despite Carwyn Jones’s call for a referendum on devolving taxation powers, 44% of respondents felt the issue should be dealt with by politicians, with 41% believing a referendum would be required.
Sixty two per cent of respondents disagreed with the idea that if Scotland were to become an independent country so should Wales, a demonstration of the struggle Plaid Cymru will have to re-assert its raison d’etre, not least after Leanne Wood’s assertion she felt an independent Wales would be achieved in her lifetime.
It is likely to re-ignite the debate once again over how the party gets its independence message across more clearly after its director of policy, the former AM, Nerys Evans, warned Plaid needed a new strategy on the issue.
Reacting to the findings, Professor Roger Scully of the Governance Centre noted:
“Some of the most interesting findings of this survey concern public attitudes to future referendums on devolution.
“There is clear majority endorsement of the idea that referendums should be required for major constitutional changes, like abolition of the Monarchy, Welsh independence, or even the devolution of all taxation powers. But most people do not support having referendums for smaller-scale changes, including those that would give the National Assembly limited tax powers.
“Those insisting that any further steps in devolution would require referendums might want to bear in mind that the public don’t seem to agree with them.”
Laurence Janta-Lipinski, of YouGov, added:
“In many ways, the Welsh provide a balancing voice to the more extreme opinions on devolution aired in both Scotland and England. Support for the Union appears strong across Britain however, limiting those in support of independence to a vocal minority.”