Since the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999, Wales has only known Labour-led governments. The party’s grip over Wales has never really been threatened, with their worst election result in 2007 still seeing them only five seats shorts of an overall majority. The fight between the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru to be the Senedd’s second largest party is perhaps then the better barometer for gauging the lay of the political land. Though UKIP and the Liberal Democrats also feature in the political arithmetic, it’s Labour, the Conservatives, and Plaid Cymru who run the board.
The Current State of Play
In the 2016 Welsh Assembly election, Labour secured 29 seats despite suffering a near 8% drop in votes to remain the largest party in the Senedd. Plaid Cymru claimed 12 seats under Leanne Wood after winning 20.5% of the vote, while the Welsh Conservatives saw their tally drop to 11 following a surge in support for UKIP. Led by Nathan Gill, UKIP managed to return seven members to the Assembly with a 12% vote share, while the Liberal Democrats had to settle for a single seat after claiming just 7.7% of the vote.
The results saw Labour forming a minority administration under the leadership of Carwyn Jones, though sole Lib Dem AM Kirsty Williams joined the cabinet to form a working majority.
The Picture in 2021
This year’s Welsh election revolves around two key questions: who offers voters the best vision for Wales’ post-coronavirus recovery, and will the growing support for the independence movement spark a push for the further devolution of powers? These two questions have contributed to wildly changeable polling throughout the campaign, making it difficult to accurately pinpoint how the results will pan out.
Despite initial warnings they could be on course for their worst ever Welsh election result, Labour’s numbers have gradually steadied and hint at Mark Drakeford’s party being the largest in the Senedd, though short of a governing majority. The Conservatives have tried to capitalise on dwindling support for UKIP by unveiling a raft of policy pledges including new hospitals, council tax freezes, and the oft-proposed M4 relief road. Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, also have high hopes heading into the ballot as the Welsh independence movement hits record levels of support. Though Plaid are unlikely to flip enough seats to form a government, their leader Adam Price could play a crucial role as kingmaker once results start to trickle in.
Here’s our selection of the 15 key seats which will help to decide the outcome of this year’s Welsh Parliament election and form its political landscape for the next five years.
1. Aberconwy (Con – Janet Finch-Saunders)
2016 Result: 754 majority, 34.7% vote share
Conservatives narrowly held the seat ahead of Plaid Cymru in 2016 with a reduced majority. Labour and Plaid are both expected to mount strong challenges here in 2021.
2. Blaenau Gwent (Lab – Alun Davies)
2016 Result: 650 majority, 39.7% vote share
Labour defend another wafer-thin majority in a key Plaid Cymru target seat. Area returned most leave votes in all of Wales in the Brexit referendum.
3. Brecon & Radnorshire (LD – Kirsty Williams)
2016 Result: 8,170 majority, 52.4% vote share
Kirsty Williams was the sole Liberal Democrat candidate elected in 2016 and stands down having served the constituency since 1999. A Lib Dem safe seat, a loss here would be nothing short of catastrophic and raise serious questions about the party’s future in Wales.
4. Cardiff Central (Lab – Jenny Rathbone)
2016 Result: 817 majority, 38.4% vote share
This is a key target for the Liberal Democrats, who held the seat until 2011. Former Cardiff Council leader Rodney Berman runs for the Lib Dems.
5. Cardiff South & Penarth (Lab – Vaughan Gething)
2016 Result: 6,921 majority, 43.8% vote share
Current Health Minister who has helped to lead the coronavirus response. Seen as a potential future First Minister.
6. Cardiff West (Lab – Mark Drakeford)
2016 Result: 1,176 majority, 35.6% vote share
Leader of Welsh Labour and the current First Minister defends his seat. Majority has reduced consistently since 2011 and is now a key target seat for Plaid Cymru.
7. Carmarthen East & Dinefwr (PC – Adam Price)
2016 Result: 8,700 majority, 48.5% vote share
Leader of Plaid Cymru. The region is a Plaid safe seat and has been since 1999, but Price will likely prove crucial once talks over the formation of a new government begin.
8. Gower (Lab – Rebecca Evans)
2016 Result: 1,829 majority, 39.7% vote share
Conservatives hope to pick up some of the constituency’s 3,300 UKIP voters from 2016 to unseat the incumbent finance minister.
9. Llanelli (Lab – Lee Waters)
2016 Result: 382 majority, 36.5% vote share
A Labour-Plaid battleground seat as Lee Waters defends the smallest majority from the 2016 election. Seat regularly changes hands between Labour and Plaid.
10. Monmouth (Con – Nick Ramsay)
2016 Result: 5,147 majority, 43.3% vote share
Nick Ramsay seeks re-election as an Independent candidate this year after resigning from the Conservative Party. Former UKIP MP Mark Reckless runs for the Abolish the Assembly Party.
11. Preseli Pembrokeshire (Con – Paul Davies)
2016 Result: 3,930 majority, 39.2% vote share
Former leader of the Welsh Conservatives, who resigned in January over an alleged breach of COVID-19 rules, defends his seat. Labour likely to mount a strong challenge.
12. Rhondda (PC – Leanne Wood)
2016 Result: 3,459 majority, 50.6% vote share
Former leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood snatched the Labour heartland seat in 2016, defeating former government minister Leighton Andrews. A key target for Labour.
13. Vale of Clwyd (Lab – Ann Jones)
2016 Result: 768 majority, 39.5% vote share
Another important target seat for the Conservative Party after a narrow loss here in 2016. Labour have held the seat with a majority of less than 1,000 votes in two of the last three elections.
14. Vale of Glamorgan (Lab – Jane Hutt)
2016 Result: 777 majority, 38.8% vote share
Narrow Labour hold in 2016 through Jane Hutt, who has represented the constituency since its creation in 1999. Arguably the main target seat for the Conservatives in 2021; the Tories lost here by just 83 votes in 2007.
15. Wrexham (Lab – Lesley Griffiths)
2016 Result: 1,325 majority, 37.1% vote share
Another key target seat for the Conservatives who have consistently reduced Labour’s majority here since 2011. Both Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer have been deployed here by their parties to help in the campaigning.