Welsh Labour defies adverse tide to retain dominance in Cardiff

The Labour party maintained its grip on the Welsh parliament as it hit an election record by capturing 30 of the 60 seats in the senedd.

The centre-left party, which has held power in Cardiff since devolution took effect in 1999, put in a stronger performance in Wales than in England.

Labour lost a seat to the Conservatives in the senedd but held on to several other Tory targets in the “Red Wall” that turned blue in the 2019 election and gained one seat from Plaid Cymru.

Labour had ruled with the support of the centrist Liberal Democrats, but the party lost its only seat to the Conservatives.

Some 40 senedd members are elected from constituencies on a first-past-the-post basis. Another 20 are elected from party lists in five regions, with results in some not known until Saturday. Voters often split their vote to support minority parties, who can win election more easily via the list.

The Conservatives, who went into the election with 11 seats, look set to become the second-biggest party, surpassing Plaid, which had 12. Leanne Wood, Plaid’s former leader, lost her Rhondda seat in a swing of 19 per cent to Labour.

The Tories took Vale of Clwyd, in north-east Wales, from Labour by just 366 votes. As significant, they took Brecon and Radnorshire from the Liberal Democrats.

Chart showing the overall state of the parties in the 2021 Welsh parliament election

Mark Drakeford, the triumphant Labour leader and first minister, has won plaudits for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic as first minister, a crisis that has highlighted the role of the Welsh government.

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Vaughan Gething, Wales health minister, told the Financial Times that incumbent parties had done well across Great Britain, including the Conservatives in England and SNP in Scotland.

But he added that Welsh Labour had preached a positive message, eschewing attacks on Boris Johnson. “It is about listening and understanding why people cannot support us. The prime minister has many faults but he is still quite popular. Many people do not believe Labour is the party they want us to be.”

Welsh Labour had managed to attract some former supporters of the UK Independence party, the pro-Brexit movement. The three parties on the right — Reform UK, Ukip and Abolish the Assembly — were making few inroads.

Map and chart showing the breakdown of the 2021 Welsh parliament election by constituencies and regions.

Drakeford said Labour had “exceeded expectations”. His party said: “Our Welsh Labour manifesto was very popular, offering a credible answer to the key issues facing our country as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Plaid’s poor performance is a setback for a growing campaign for independence. It increased its vote in most of the seats it held but lost Rhondda, a south Wales valley that is a traditional Labour stronghold. Support for Welsh independence is rising but is far lower than in Scotland, at 28 per cent, according to the FT’s poll of polls.

Graphics by Cale Tilford, Max Harlow, Joanna S Kao and Steven Bernard


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