Wales’ rural voters might have a message for all UK

In this blog we discuss how Wales' Senedd elections in May will send signals beyond Offa's Dyke in our very different post-pandemic world.
With much at stake in the Welsh countryside it's important that rural votes play their part

A UK general election next month might excite the pollsters, exasperate the electorate but certainly focus politicians’ minds. Wales does go the polls to elect their 60-strong Senedd. From that a new Welsh Government will emerge. It’ll be very interesting beyond Offa’s Dyke for three reasons: it’s the first judgement on government’s Covid 19 management, and the first judgement on Brexit. Above-all, it should offer us a first taste of future politics, now that so much is so different. Things have changed in the past 12 months: different ways of working and social engagement, new perspectives about green growth and critically for us, new attitudes about how farming, land management and the economy works.

The election’s outcome is less predictable than any of its five predecessors. Large parts of Wales are traditionally firmly Labour – and this party may well win the most Senedd seats. However there’s a possibility of a minority government, a confidence and supply agreement with one-or-more parties, or a coalition. Outside Wales it is often forgotten that the current Welsh Government is shored-up by Liberal Democrat and Independent support.

If English voters are critical of how their Conservative government’s handled the pandemic, some Welsh voters have posed questions about the nature of Welsh restrictions by their Labour counterpart. This appears to have had some polarising effect on attitudes to devolution. This is set to resurface as scant post-Covid resources are distributed by Westminster in regional funding.

From whom might the new Abolish the Senedd Party draw support? This single-cause movement has some roots in the former Brexit politicians. Back in 2016, Wales voted to leave the EU. The Welsh Government has consistently defied the electorate displaying no small degree of chagrin. Could this affect the outcome?

For Welsh rural people there’s lots at stake: the White Paper on agriculture, controversial farm pollution regulations and a flurry of proposals which directly affect rural communities. Fuels to heat the home, taxing private renewable energy, the alienation of older rural dwellings by energy efficiency standards, and potentially controversial proposals for increased countryside access – these are all on the table.

There’s also much at stake for the candidates. Some Members of the Senedd (MS) seats are vulnerable. Seven have already withdrawn candidature, and one of the four main political parties could no longer be represented at all.

The rural vote may seem to be a minority, but, as the First Minister said to us himself, “You’d be surprised how much sympathy there is for the rural community” – and as Senedd Member for Cardiff Central, he couldn’t be more urban. Between 15-20 of the 40 constituency seats can be called “rural”, but Welsh voters have a second vote for their regional MSs who make up one-third of the Senedd. They’re there to see the big-picture rather than focus on smaller constituency-units. In theory rural opinion could be a strong force.

We’ll be using the usual channels to share our election messages: the future of farming and the rural economy, connectivity; an improved planning system, simpler tax and investment in rural innovation and skills. Look out for an online hustings event with the four main political parties. No need to be Welsh to take part!