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Torygeddon: The Welsh version

By Tim Rogers
02 July 2024
Public Affairs
general election 2024
Into the final week of campaigning, this could be a grand slam for Labour in Wales.

The headline in the County Times, a local newspaper in Mid Wales, read last week, ‘Welshpool is hotter than Portugal.’

You can say that again – but not just because of the searing weather.

Temperatures and tempers amongst local Conservatives have been soaring since their hope for a narrow win at the General Election next week appear to have been seriously undermined thanks to ‘Gamblegate’.

Craig Williams, the Prime Minister’s former close aide – until recently his Parliamentary Private Secretary – has been dumped by his party in what might have been the Conservatives best hope for a general election win – possibly their only one in Wales.

His name is still on the ballot paper. And with days to go – there it will stay. But not with official Conservative support.  

While the party originally seemed prepared to wait for the outcome of an investigation by the Gambling Commission when the story first appeared, it dropped Mr Williams last week, signalling that he will have to go into the election on Thursday as an ‘independent’.  

And if that wasn’t bad enough for the Welsh Tories, it seems Mr Williams' colleague Russell George MS, who represents the same constituency in the Senedd, is also being investigated by the Gambling Commission. Both men share a constituency office, but Mr George told the BBC that he laid his bet a week before the election was called. Nevertheless, while an official inquiry continues, Mr George has agreed to stand down from his roles as Chair of the Senedd’s health committee and as the Shadow Minister for Mid Wales.

Polling in Wales has shown for months that the Conservatives gains in Wales in 2019 are under threat. If predictions are correct, Wales might not have a single Conservative MP come 5th July. Some hope that there might still be wins in two constituencies, Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe and Clwyd West. But even the most optimistic Tory would have to agree it’s a long shot.

Across Wales, Labour is resurgent. If the polls are correct, come Friday morning, it will dominate government at every level in Wales. This, despite the attack from the other parties – Conservatives in particular – which has focused on local issues and their claims of Welsh Labour’s ‘failings’ – the performance of the Welsh NHS, the introduction of 20 mph speed limits across the country, poor standards in education and the recent Senedd vote of no confidence in First Minister, Vaughan Gething. All of these are pressure points, but they are unlikely to be enough to stop Labour’s march – or to stem the Conservative collapse.

Labour has enjoyed a majority share of votes in Wales since 1922. All the indications are that from 4th July it will be a bulwark for the UK party.

In the Senedd, the First Minister is going to have to fight hard to hold on to his job. The rumour mill has it that the odds are stacking up against him and this could be the first big test for a Starmer government.

Will Sir Keir continue to back Vaughan Gething after 5th July – and will Welsh Labour fall into line if he does? Or will calls for the FM to step down force a schism between Cardiff and Westminster if he does not? The two men are thought to be close. But how will the chips fall after the general election? Mr Gething was forced to face – and lost -  a vote of no confidence for accepting a £200,000 donation for his leadership campaign from a businessman with criminal convictions for breaching environmental laws. Two former Labour Ministers were absent for the vote, because of ill health. In a finely balanced Senedd – it was enough to ensure Mr Gething lost. And while he seems determined to carry on regardless, he is now facing another, potentially fatal challenge to his leadership, as he tries to see through his budget plans. The numbers ‘for’ are not adding up.

Back to this week, and the chase for second and third overall, the polls suggest that Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalists, hoping to return three or possibly four seats in the Welsh speaking heartland and the Liberal Democrats have their sights set on Mid Wales, traditionally their strongest area of support.

Reform is not expected to break through although Nigel Farage chose to launch his ‘Contract’ (Manifesto) for the UK in Merthyr Tydfil. A constituency where Reform is fighting hard. As in other parts of the UK, Reform’s arrival on the scene could split the Tory vote, with ‘end of days’ consequences for some high-profile Conservatives, particularly in Monmouthshire.

‘Torygeddon’ is likely to be the big story in Wales on 5th July. One sitting member of the cabinet, and three former Secretaries of State are expected to be looking for new jobs the morning after the vote before.  

Labour candidates hesitate to celebrate in advance – and the party Iine is clear. “Don’t take anything for granted.” But whispering it quietly and amongst themselves they certainly are. If there is going to be a grand slam anywhere – it will be here.