How Britain voted: Rows cost us seats, says Hain

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The Independent Online
LABOUR FAILED to win an overall majority and its leader struggled to find a seat in the Welsh Assembly election which saw the turnout fall miserably below the critical 50 per cent mark.

Much to the relief of Labour, Alun Michael, leader of the party in Wales, secured a seat as part of the top-up list in Mid and West Wales, but as First Secretary of the Assembly he will need to seek an accord with the Liberal Democrats.

Labour won 28 out of the 60 seats, just three short of the 31 necessary for overall control. However, the results showed an unprecedented growth in backing for Plaid Cymru which took 17 seats. The Conservatives performed worse than in the 1997 general election, winning nine places. The Liberal Democrats took six places - a presence which Labour might be forced to make use of.

Since the general election, Plaid Cymru attracted 18 per cent more first- past-the-post votes, Labour's support declined by 17 per cent, the Liberal Democrats nudged up by 1 per cent and the Conservatives declined by 4 per cent. The only constituency in which Labour's vote increased was Rhodri Morgan's Cardiff West seat - albeit by just 1.3 per cent. Mr Morgan was seen as the "people's choice" for the leadership of the party in preference to Mr Michael, the Prime Minister's favourite.

Peter Hain, Labour's election campaign manager, said he believed that his party had suffered from "mid-term blues" and complacency. He conceded that the battle between Mr Morgan and Mr Michael for the leadership in Wales had been bad for the party.

Labour's "message" had not got through to its "core" voters, who were present in disproportionately large numbers in Wales. "This is a watershed for local Labour politics - we have to regenerate our party in our heartland urgently, we have to adopt a much more campaigning approach, we have to modernise and we have to get up to scratch," he said.

Mr Michael said he was disappointed, and was particularly sad that Wayne David MEP had lost to Plaid Cymru in the Labour area of Rhondda. Mr Michael added, however, that the elections had been "historic" for the people of Wales. "All those who have been elected will have the responsibility to make sure it works."

Dafydd Wigley, Plaid Cymru president, said the election result amounted to a "political earthquake" that had been gathering momentum over several weeks. "People didn't think it was happening. Even we didn't realise it was happening to such an extent." He added that the Government's social agenda had disappointed its own supporters.

Mike German, leader of the Liberal Democrats, indicated that his party would be prepared to enter into a partnership with Labour.

"The people of Wales have made it clear that they don't want one party to enjoy a monopoly."

He said it was now time for "round-table politics".

His Conservative opposite number, Rod Richards, failed to win in Clwyd West but was elected through the top-up process. Mr Richards said that the poor turnout was not "auspicious" for the Assembly.

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