Wales is dominated in Westminster elections by Labour, as it has been for most of the 20th century. At the 2005 election, Labour won 29 out of 40 seats. The Liberal Democrats won four seats, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalist party) and the Conservatives each won three seats and one seat was won by independent Peter Law.
Labour won almost every seat in South Wales, with the exception of the Lib Dem seat of Cardiff Central, the Tory seat of Monmouth and the independent seat of Blaenau Gwent. Labour also hold most seats in the North, while mid and western Wales are dominated by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.
Since the 2005 election, a by-election in 2006 following the death of independent MP Peter Law saw his former campaign manager Dai Davies elected to his seat of Blaenau Gwent. In 2007, Labour lost its majority in the Welsh Assembly, and formed a coalition government with Plaid Cymru, the second largest party in the Assembly. At the 2009 European elections, the Conservatives topped the poll in Wales, their first victory in a Welsh election in many decades.
At the last redistribution, constituencies in southern and central Wales were largely left intact. Three constituencies in northwestern Wales were dramatically redrawn such that a Plaid seat was abolished and replaced with a notionally Labour seat, giving Labour a total of 30 seats.
- 1987 – 24 LAB, 8 CON, 3 LIB, 3 PC
- 1992 – 27 LAB, 6 CON, 4 PC, 1 LD
- 1997 – 34 LAB, 4 PC, 2 LD
- 2001 – 34 LAB, 4 PC, 2 LD
- 2005 – 29 LAB, 4 LD, 3 CON, 3 PC, 1 other (Peter Law)
Labour held the bulk of seats in Wales during the last Conservative government, with the Tories winning 8 Welsh seats in 1987 and 6 in 1992. At the 1997 election, all six Conservatives were defeated, with Labour winning a clean sweep of seats in the south. At the 2001 election, Labour lost one of its seats, Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, to Plaid, but offset that loss by gaining Ynys Môn off Plaid.
At the 2005 election, Labour lost five of its seats. The Tories won three seats off Labour. The Liberal Democrats won Cardiff Central off Labour and Ceredigion off Plaid. Labour also lost Blaenau Gwent to independent Peter Law. Law had been a Labour member of the Assembly for the same constituency since 1999, and had been a prominent backbench critic of the Labour administration in Wales. When sitting Labour MP Llew Smith retired in 2005, Law’s ambitions were hindered by Labour’s use of an all-woman shortlist to choose a candidate for the seat. Law resigned from Labour and won the seat as an independent. He died in 2006, and both his Assembly seat and his Westminster seat were won at by-elections by fellow independents.
The key seats
- Aberconwy, Cardiff North, Vale of Glamorgan, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire – these four Labour seats sit high up on the Conservative target list, at 5th, 20th, 32nd and 46th respectively.
- Vale of Clwyd, Newport West, Gower, Bridgend – these Labour seats sit further up the Tory target list, but would be vulnerable if the Tories are on track for a small majority. Having said that, none of these seats were held by the Tories at the 1987 or 1992 elections when they were last in power. They sit at 138, 145, 166 and 170 on the target list.
- Delyn, Clwyd South, Cardiff West – in the case of a large Tory majority, these three seats could be vulnerable.
- Brecon & Radnorshire – this Lib Dem seat was won off the Tories in 1997. It had previously been won off the Tories by the Liberals at a 1985 by-election and lost back to the Tories in 1992. It was held by a 2% margin at the 2001 election, but this widened to 10% in 2005.
- Ceredigion – this seat lies on the western coast, and is held by the Liberal Democrats. It had a long history of being held by the Liberals. From 1880 to 1992 it was held by the Liberals, with the exception of two terms in the 1960s and 1970s when it was won by Labour. It was won by Plaid Cymru in 1992, who held it until 2005, when it was lost back to the Lib Dems by a slim margin. A swing of 0.7% would see Plaid win the seat back off the Lib Dems at the coming election.
- Arfon – this seat was won by Plaid with an 18% margin in 2005, but the boundaries of the seat have been radically redrawn to make it a very marginal Labour seat. You would expect Plaid to retain the seat in 2010.
- Swansea West – Labour holds this seat with a 13% margin over the Lib Dems. Should the Lib Dems do particularly well, this seat could be vulnerable.