Scotland and Wales: Tory-free zones

Labour takes 34 of 40 Welsh seats
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The Independent Online
Amid loud cheers at 12.30pm yesterday, Wales became a Tory-free zone. The party's final humiliation in the Celtic parts came when the Liberal Democrat Richard Livsey spectacularly overturned a 130 Tory majority to win Brecon and Radnorshire by more than 5,000 votes. Fittingly, it was Mr Livsey's 62nd birthday.

"A wonderful present," he remarked as the inevitable media scrum descended on him outside Powys County Council Offices in Brecon.

In an historic turn of events a rampant Labour Party took 34 of the 40 Welsh seats. Plaid Cymru retained the four it held and the Liberal Democrats won Montgomeryshire and the marginal gain by Mr Livsey.

A husband-and-wife team will be sitting on the Labour benches. Julie Morgan, who won Cardiff North from the Tories, will join her husband, Rhodri, who comfortably retained Cardiff West. Four of Labour's 34 Welsh MPs are women.

The turn-round in Tory fortunes is unprecedented. In the 1983 election, when Margaret Thatcher's powers were at their height, the party held 14 seats in Wales and boasted that the Principality was turning blue.

Some 14 years later, as the dust settles, recriminations began. Sir Eric Howells, president of the Welsh Conservative Party, said bitterly: "We lost because we were divided and a party divided will always lose. And after 18 years people believed it was time for a change."

Ron Davies, who is expected to become Secretary of State for Wales, claimed that history was being rewritten. "This is the best result ever for us in Wales."

Plaid Cymru, which failed to live up to its forecast of gaining at least one extra seat, was subdued.

Marc Phillips, the party chairman, maintained that "the Labour tidal wave" had rendered the task impossible.

Plaid Cymru's leader, Dafydd Wigley, insists that the option of independence should be included in the referendum Labour proposes to hold.

Support for an elected assembly is finely balanced. A large number of people are undecided - some estimates suggest up to 30 per cent.

Electors still making up their minds hold the key, while opponents constantly refer to the result of the 1979 referendum, when Wales voted "no" by 4-1.

Mr Davies, the architect of Labour's proposals, stresses that a priority of the assembly would be to bring under control Wales's burgeoning quangoes, which account for about a third of the Welsh Office's annual pounds 6bn budget.

Calls for a cull of Tory placemen running the quangoes are being voiced sotto voce.

Tony Blair told a Wales Labour Party conference earlier this year that he would campaign for a "yes" vote.

That undertaking promises to bind him closer to party activists in Wales, who yesterday were basking in post-election euphoria as well as temperatures up in the 70s.