Labour left reeling in Wales as Plaid Cymru takes Rhondda

Leanne Wood

Welsh Labour has been dealt a bitter blow in one of its heartland valleys seats where one of its most respected politicians was beaten by the Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.

After losing his Rhondda seat, former minister Leighton Andrews said problems within the UK party were having an impact on Wales. “You can’t mobilise voters at a local level if the party is divided at a UK level,” he said. “There are lessons to be learned.”

There was also an extraordinary result in nearby Blaenau Gwent, another traditional Labour stronghold in south Wales, where the party’s majority was cut from more than 9,000 to just 650.

The former Welsh secretary, Lord Peter Hain, said: “You would have expected us to be doing better in our heartland seats. There are questions for UK Labour. There’s no question that the UK Labour party hasn’t been a plus for us.”

Labour’s leader in Wales, Carwyn Jones, accepted the party may need the co-operation of other parties to govern. He also acknowledged Ukip was likely to win seats at the election. But Labour is cheered by a disappointing night for the Conservatives, who failed to make progress in seats for which they had high hopes, including the Gower and Wrexham.

Jones said: “We are confident we will be by far the largest party so it will be up to us to look to form a government.” He ruled out a deal with Ukip or the Tories, who “are far too much to the right of where we stand”, but added: “We have worked with Plaid and the Lib Dems before ... but let’s wait and see what the final figures show.”

The Labour leader was frustrated that the antisemitism row impinged on the final days of campaigning and has sought to keep the problems of the national party at a distance, though he welcomed the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to Wales earlier this week.

Forty Welsh assembly members are being elected for constituencies and the other 20 via another vote to represent five larger regions.

Labour has governed since the first assembly in 1999 and went into the election holding 30 of the assembly’s 60 seats. An ITV poll of people who had voted predicted that Labour would end up with 27 seats this time, Plaid Cymru, 12, the Tories 11, the Lib Dems two and Ukip eight.

A Labour spokeman said: “The Rhondda result is a really tough for us – we’ve lost a great minister and one of the most respected politicians in Wales. Clearly the huge national profile afforded to Leanne Wood has had an impact, and Plaid seem to have won this seat at the cost of making progress anywhere else in Wales.

“The other results so far have been good. In particular, where we are fighting the Tories, it shows the local campaigns have been successful. However, the close result in Blaenau Gwent and now the defeat in Rhondda shows that our politics continues to be extremely volatile. We are not taking anything for granted, and know there’s a long way to go.

“We have always said that this would be our toughest ever assembly election, but we’ve campaigned really hard all over Wales to show we’re listening. We are hopeful of a solid night.

“Carwyn has been the standout leader in the campaign, and looks like the only serious candidate for first minister. Even on the eve of poll he was meeting with Tata Steel and fighting for steel industry. The Tories and Plaid went into this election saying it was the big change election. It doesn’t feel like that now.”

Asked about working with Labour, Leanne Wood said: “I’m not a tribal politician. I have said all the way through the campaign that Wales will only progress when we have a change of government. We put together an amazing programme. I want the opportunity to implement that manifesto. We don’t know the results yet, we don’t know how much of a role Plaid Cymru would be able to have in the next government. Its a bit premature to be talking about what kind of coalition we could be looking at. I wouldn’t work with the Conservatives and Ukip are beyond the pale but everything else is on the table.”

The Ukip national leader, Nigel Farage, said the party would have a “breakthrough night” and joked that the money spent on the Severn Bridge tolls had paid off. “I’ve been going back and forth to Wales paying those ridiculous tolls, looks like it’ll be worth it,” he said. Ukip used to call for the abolition of the assembly but it appears to have become the party of protest. Former Tory MPs Neil Hamilton and Mark Reckless are standing.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Steven Morris, for theguardian.com on Friday 6th May 2016 06.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010