The Prospects for Change at the Euro-elections on June 4th

What are the prospects for change in Wales at the European Election on June 4th?

The European Elections treat Wales as a single constituency with four seats. Each voter has one vote for the party of their choice who then allocate any seats they win to those on their party’s list of candidates. Current Welsh MEPs are Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru), Jonathan Evans (Conservative), Glenys Kinnock and Eluned Morgan (both Labour). The last three of these are stepping down at this election.

The numbers of voters in such a large constituency are so huge that it’s very difficult for any change to occur. In the last Euro-elections in 2004 Labour scored almost 300,000 votes. This was a massive 120,000 votes above their nearest rival, the Conservatives, with Plaid Cymru 20,000 votes behind and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) a further 63,000 votes behind them. The rules of the election, whereby the first placed party’s votes are halved and put back into the ranking for further seats, gave Labour a second seat in fourth place, some 52,000 votes ahead of UKIP.

A drop in the Labour vote is all but certain because of the unpopularity of the UK government but the drop would have to be truly huge for anyone else to make up the kind of ground required to grab Wales’s fourth seat. If Labour did suffer an absolute meltdown, who is most likely to do this?

Although UKIP’s profile will rise during the Euro-election campaign, they have been quiet in recent years, partly due to internal turmoil, and the issue of Britain’s status in Europe has, in any case, slipped down the political agenda. So it’s likely that the last Euro campaign was their high watermark and won’t be repeated. The next-placed party last time, the Lib Dems, have performed poorly since their change of leader from Charles Kennedy and the European election, where their policies are out of line with the majority of the public, is never their strong point. The Greens, with my friend Jake Griffiths as lead candidate, look to have too much ground to make up from their 32,000 votes in 2004.

The two parties most likely therefore to benefit from a Labour meltdown, by possibly winning their second seat, could be Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, both of whom are performing well in opinion polls, Plaid from their credible performance in the Assembly government and the Tories as the main UK opposition to an unpopular Westminster government.

The Conservatives are doing well in the polls but may be hit in this election by bizarrely choosing people who don’t live in Wales as their top three candidates. An advantage for Plaid is that Jill Evans, widely acknowledged on all sides as a superb MEP, is the only current incumbent to be contesting this election. The retirement of all three other sitting MEPs leaves her competing with lists of unknowns. Again in Plaid’s favour, the next best known politician in the new party lists is their second-placed candidate Eurig Wyn, who was himself a Euro MP from 1999-2004 when a low turnout helped the party to almost match Labour’s vote in the 1999 election.

The likelihood is that Labour’s huge residual south Wales vote will still be enough to see them retain their second Euro-seat, despite a significant loss of support. However a really seismic plunge in their vote coupled with a significant rise in the vote of either Plaid Cymru or the Tories, could see one of those two parties grabbing Wales’s fourth Euro-spot.