Senedd election: things might not be quite as they look

"Minimal change" is how some see the result. But, as CLA Cymru's Robert Dangerfield explains, there's more change here than first meet's the eye

CLA Cymru Communications Manager Robert Dangerfield looks at the fall-out from the polls and detects signs of change in the wake of the Senedd election.

“Same-old, same-old” has been a common response to Welsh Labour’s Senedd election victory last week. Give-or-take a few coalitions and special arrangements, Labour has been in-charge since devolution began – by the next poll it’ll be a quarter of a century. Only three of 40 constituencies changed hands. Just one seat from a majority, Welsh Labour barely needs help from an independent or another party to carry its legislation through the Senedd. And, fought on a platform of continuity medical and economic recovery, at first sight it really does look like “as-you-were.”

In fact, many too might draw a degree of comfort from an apparent return to the cosy formula of four political parties represented in the Senedd - after seven (including various Independents) sitting in the Siambr – the Senedd’s debating chamber - until the end of April.

Welsh Labour not only won the most seats, but the First Minister is arguably one of the most recognised politicians in the country: not just Wales, the UK. This boils down to his regular appearances at the Covid-19 briefings reported on TV and online - Mark Drakeford has put himself, and Wales, on the map. He can also bring about more radical change in his choice of colleagues in the Cabinet. Several are guaranteed to remain, but there’s an opportunity to shuffle and introduce new faces – even some more radical policies. We will find out very soon.

The Welsh Labour Party appears to be distinct from its English counterpart and overtly green. While the Westminster government grapples with more intense devolutionary issues in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mr Drakeford may come-across as a reasonable face the Prime Minister can do business with about the Union and all it entails.

Arguably, the Senedd itself may be a different kind of force now. Some prominent retirees helped to make room for as many as 18 new faces there – some tipped as future minister-material – one-or-two relative unknowns may be leading party spokespeople before we know it. The Welsh Conservatives representation trebled from five to 16, Plaid Cymru by one. The Liberal Democrats may have lost a talismanic representative, but a new face maintains a presence which might again prove disproportionately influential. UKIP lost 7 seats, which could, perhaps, signal the end of an era.

Less-predictable and more challenging to interpret, the system proportional representation system which delivers our 20 regional MS threw-up more change. Interestingly, only 3 of the 20 regional seats are held by Welsh Labour. Could it be possible that the less-well understood regionals could form some kind of group opposition?

The real result is what kind of Welsh Government we get – who we’re dealing with at a ministerial level, what their priorities are and their programme is. We’ll start to hear something about that anytime soon. When that happens, the team at CLA Cymru will be looking to engage both with the government, and also with Members of the Senedd – restoring former working partnerships and, moreover, making new ones with the new faces.