What the Alyn and Deeside by-election tells us about Welsh politics

Tuesday’s win for Labour was expected, but what does it tell us about Welsh politics more generally.

Last Tuesday’s Welsh Assembly by-election was called following the death of government minister Carl Sargeant. The winner of the seat earlier this week was his son, Jack Sargeant, who is still seeking answers around the death of his father, as reported by the BBC.

Sargeant Junior won the safe-Labour seat with ease, and while caution should be urged when trying to find national meaning in local results, a couple of points can be observed:

Firstly, even though turnout was low (29.1%), Labour dominated the election and continue to dominate Welsh politics in general. Of course, factors other than Labour’s recent resurgence will have played a part in the party winning 61% of the vote (up from 46%), but the boost in support does reiterate the party’s strength.

Labour has run Welsh politics since the advent of devolution, and while there were signs that the party was losing ground to the Conservatives ahead of last June’s general election, the eventual election outcome in which Labour won 49% of the vote across the country, and last week’s by-election, highlight the party’s persistent grip on the country.

Secondly, UKIP did not stand in the election. According to the Neil Hamilton on the BBC, “this was out of respect to the late Carl Sargeant.”

It’s impossible to know for sure how UKIP would have performed in a by-election, but in 2016, the party came a close third, with Michelle Brown winning 17.4% of the vote compared to the Conservatives’ 21%. However, since Brexit UKIP’s ratings in the polls have fallen considerably, something compounded by the 2017 general election in which they were bull-dozed by Labour and the Conservatives. The party may have not stood out of respect, but by not doing so they also saved themselves from an embarrassing loss, one in which they could have lost their deposit.

Thirdly, turnout in devolved politics is strikingly low. At the 2016 election, the Alyn and Deeside seat had the lowest turnout across the country. Furthermore, turnout for Welsh Assembly votes is consistently low, and while turnouts are usually low in by-elections, the low turnout in this month’s vote highlights the issue of low turnouts all round. In 2016, turnout across Wales was just 45.3% while in 2003, it stood at a low of 38.2%.

Something needs to be done to engage the other half of Welsh voters in their devolved institution.

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