It’s not often you see a party leader campaigning and dedicating valuable time to a seat held by a rival party with more than 50 per cent of the vote. But Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood isn’t your traditional party leader – and in Aberystwyth the Welsh nationalists smell blood.
The town is at the heart of the vast mid-Wales Ceredigion constituency, currently held by Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams. But Plaid Cymru insiders say it’s a top target seat and one they need to win to have their anti-austerity and devolution demands heard in the next Westminster parliament.
Yesterday, at the party conference in Caernarfon, Ms Wood went so far as to tell The Independent on Sunday that Wales “would be left behind” if her party failed to win more seats in May, and was making Ceredigion and its 8,000-vote Lib Dem majority a key battleground.
Ms Wood, who has led Plaid Cymru since 2012, was in the constituency recently to meet candidate Mike Parker. Non-conformity and fierce intellectualism run deep in the area that boasts two universities and the Library of Wales, and sent the first Green MP to Westminster in 1992 after a joint Plaid and Green campaign. It’s also home to many English retirees and students. Mr Parker moved to Wales from Kidderminster before joining the party and learning Welsh (now speaking it better than his party leader).
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
“The Lib Dem majority is a mountain, but it’s a soft mountain and it’s crumbling in the face of austerity,” said Mr Parker, visiting a local food bank with his party leader. For her part, Ms Wood agrees that “the level of disillusionment with the Lib Dems is huge”, pointing to the fact the party is sitting at just 6 per cent in the polls in Wales, behind all the other major parties.
She said: “This is a town of two universities and anger here over tuition fees is still very real. It’s part of an anger felt across Wales that the Lib Dems are propping up a Tory government wedded to austerity.”
This message is mixed with Plaid Cymru’s desire to win enough MPs to renegotiate an end to what Ms Wood describes as a “third-rate devolution settlement” and a “third-rate financial settlement”.
“The key issue has been being disadvantaged in terms of our funding since 1978, when the Barnett formula was invented, so we’ve lost out every year in comparison with Scotland. We want to be funded in the same way, which would be an extra £1.2bn a year in public services and job creation to end Wales’s dependency on Westminster,” she argues.
The problem for Plaid is that there is little appetite for more devolution in Wales, with support for independence as low as 6 per cent, according to a BBC poll last week. The party has just three Westminster MPs, is no longer the official opposition in the Welsh Assembly, and is polling at around 10 per cent, behind Labour, the Conservatives, and even Ukip.
But though the electoral maths nationally seems tight, it might not matter. That’s because, Plaid Cymru has already committed to working with the SNP and any Greens it finds in Westminster in May. Tantalisingly, Ms Wood says she speaks to the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon most weeks, but those talks are “private”.