Britain Votes: Plaid Cymru victorious as the valleys turn against New Labour

Welsh Nationalists
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PLAID CYMRU made dramatic inroads into Labour heartlands in the valleys as traditionally Labour voters delivered a massive snub to Tony Blair.

They either stayed at home in their droves or switched in huge numbers to Plaid, which arguably made it the most successful party in yesterday's elections for the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and local councils throughout England and Wales.

Senior Labour figures contended that the slump in support among Welsh voters was simply prompted by "mid-term blues", but most observers argued that it was a reaction to Mr Blair's New Labour philosophy and his decision to "parachute in" Alun Michael as leader of the party in Wales.

Overall, Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales as it calls itself, recorded its best ever result attracting well almost 30 per cent of the "first- past-the-post" vote compared with 9.9 per cent in the general election in 1997. The nationalists won 17 seats in the 60-strong assembly.

The most dramatic results of all were Plaid's victories in Islwyn, Rhondda and Llanelli, all previously rock-solid Labour seats. At Islwyn, Neil Kinnock's former constituency, the nationalists' vote rose by a huge 35.7 per cent, which propelled it from fourth to first place. In Rhondda, Wayne David, Euro MP and Mr Blair's favourite to become leader of the assembly if Mr Michael lost, was beaten into second place, falling victim to a swing of 35.4 per cent towards Plaid.

In North Wales, Plaid quadrupled its vote to take Conwy from Labour.

Other swings towards the nationalists among industrial seats in the south were: Cynon Valley 31.9 per cent, Neath 27.6 per cent and Pontypridd 26.8 per cent. Conversely, Labour lost 34.7 per cent of its general election votes in Islwyn, 33.9 per cent in Rhondda, 32.7 per cent in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, 31.1 per cent at Torfaen and 29.8 per cent in Swansea East.

A running battle over whether Plaid was a "separatist" party seemed to have little impact on its performance at the polls. The other three main parties constantly ridiculed the assertion by Dafydd Wigley, president of Plaid, that his party had "never, ever" supported independence. However, whether voters will be prepared to risk a vote for the nationalists in the next election was considered to be a moot point.

Mr Wigley said that attacks on his party had rebounded on his opponents. He said that he would be prepared to work with other parties to make the Assembly, which meets for the first time next week, a success for the sake of Welsh people.

Peter Hain, the party's campaign manager, said: "We have become too used to beating the Tories. We need to reorganise". Mr Hain argued that Plaid 's success was more to do with a protest against Labour than true support for "separatism".