The 2019 Election Battleground: Wales

The 2019 Election Battleground: Wales


There are 40 seats in Wales which, lest we forget, voted overall in favour of Leaving the EU at the 2016 referendum, despite the Welsh political establishment having rowed in en masse behind the Remain campaign. 11 seats were judged to have voted Remain while voters in 29 seats backed Brexit. Yet – like many parts of the Midlands and North of England – some of the areas that voted most emphatically for Brexit have also historically tended to return Labour MPs with some of the most substantial majorities. Indeed, for decades Labour has dominated the Welsh political landscape, so it was quite the eye-catching result at this year’s European Parliament election in Wales that (albeit on a 37% turnout) the polls were topped by the Brexit Party with Plaid Cymru in second place, leaving Labour to languish in third, only marginally ahead of the Lib Dems. At this election there is, in particular, a clutch of Leave-voting Labour seats in North East Wales which the Tories are eyeing up.

Leave voteshare at the referendum in 2016: 52.5%

2017 seat tally (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 8 (-3)
  • Labour: 28 (+3)
  • Lib Dems: 0 (-1)
  • Plaid Cymru: 4 (+1)

2017 voteshare (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 33.6% (+6.3)
  • Labour: 48.9% (+12.1)
  • Lib Dems: 4.5% (-2.0)
  • Plaid Cymru: 10.4% (-1.7)
  • UKIP: 2.0% (-11.6)
  • Green: 0.3% (-2.2)

Seats to Watch

Aberconwy (52.20% Leave)
Guto Bebb held this seat for the Conservatives at the last three elections but during the course of the 2017 Parliament he became increasingly hostile to the Government’s stance on Brexit, resigned as a minister in 2018, had the Tory whip removed in September 2019 and is not now seeking re-election. Leave-voting Robin Millar defends his 635 majority, while the defeated Labour candidate in 2017, Emily Owen, would need a swing of 1% to take the seat at this election.

Alyn and Deeside (58.05% Leave)
The first of a number of Leave-voting Labour seats in North Wales which is looking more precarious for them than has historically been the case. Mark Tami defends a majority of a little over 5,000 with Conservative candidate Sanjoy Sen needing a swing of less than 6% to take it this time.

Arfon (35.85% Leave)
A Plaid Cymru/Labour marginal since its creation in 2010 which has thus far always been won by Hywel Williams for Plaid. But his majority in 2017 was a mere 92 votes, making it Labour’s top target in Wales, with Steffie Williams Roberts donning the red rosette this time. Having won barely 600 votes last time, the Lib Dems are not standing and have backed Plaid Cymru as part of the Unite to Remain alliance.

Brecon and Radnorshire (51.86% Leave)
A Lib Dem/Tory marginal since the late 1980s, it was gained by Brexiteer Conservative Chris Davies in 2015 and he held it in 2017, but after pleading guilty to expenses fraud in early 2019 he was subject to a recall petition and lost the resulting by-election by 1,425 votes to Lib Dem Jane Dodds. Her victory was aided by the withdrawal of the Green and Plaid Cymru candidates in her favour, a move which became a template for the aforementioned Unite to Remain alliance elsewhere. Davies is now off the scene and there is a new Tory candidate in the form of Fay Jones, who wrote recently for BrexitCentral here. While Dodds again faces no Green or Plaid opponent, Jones’ cause is aided by the absence of a candidate from the Brexit Party, which notched up more than 3,000 votes at August’s by-election.

Bridgend (50.28% Leave)
The Tories have not won this seat their landslide victory in 1983. Madeleine Moon has been the MP here since 2005 and held it with a 4,700 majority in 2017. Stand Up for Brexit pledge signatory Jamie Wallis would need a swing of 5.5% to snatch it.

Cardiff North (39.15% Leave)
Of the four Cardiff seats, this is the Tories’ best prospect now, having held it most recently between 2010 and 2017 when Craig Williams lost it to Labour’s Anna McMorrin. Williams has returned to the safer climes of Montgomeryshire and seeking to overturn staunch Remainer McMorrin’s 4,174 majority for the Tories is Mohamed Ali, although it could be a tough ask in this Remain-inclined constituency.

Ceredigion (45.37% Leave)
In percentage terms, this is the most marginal of Plaid Cymru’s four seats, but there’s no Unite to Remain alliance deal here as it is the Lib Dems who are the challengers to incumbent MP Ben Lake. Indeed, the Lib Dem candidate is again Mark Williams, the MP who Lake ousted in 2017 by a mere 104 votes. But Lake won the seat with less than 30% of the vote, meaning there were barely 4,000 votes between him and the fourth-placed Conservative candidate (Labour came third), making it potentially one of the tightest races going.

Clwyd South (59.88% Leave)
In 1997 Labour won this seat by nearly 14,000 votes when the Conservative runner-up was a 32-year-old fresh-faced journalist by the name of Boris Johnson. Labour’s grip on the seat in recent years has not been what it was, and at this election Susan Elan Jones defends a majority of a little over 4,000. A swing of 6% to the Tories would deliver the Leave-voting seat to their candidate Simon Baynes, who was the runner-up in 2017.

Delyn (54.41% Leave)
Another of the North Wales Tory/Labour marginals that would fall to the Tories on a swing of 6%. David Hanson has held the seat for Labour since 1992, while Conservative candidate Rob Roberts is the one seeking to reverse his 4,240 majority.

Gower (49.31% Leave)
In 2015 Byron Davies became the first ever Conservative MP for Gower in its 130-year history, but his tenure was short-lived as his wafer-thin majority of 27 was overturned two years later by Labour’s Tonia Antoniazzi. Davies was ennobled in Theresa May’s resignation honours and now donning the blue rosette in an effort to gain the seat back is Francesca O’Brien, who would need a swing of around 3.5% to overturn the Labour majority of 3,269.

Montgomeryshire (55.84% Leave)
This seat was held by the Liberals/Lib Dems for all but four of the 130 years between 1880 and 2010. But in 2010 Conservative Glyn Davies put an end to Lembit Opik’s parliamentary career and by 2017 had increased the Conservative majority to more than 9,000 votes. He is retiring and passing the blue baton to Craig Williams – the former Cardiff North MP who hails from the seat and has lately been working for Steve Barclay at DExEU. Standing for the Lib Dems is Kishan Devani who has the backing of Plaid Cymru and the Greens as part of the Unite to Remain alliance (although between them they notched up less than 2,500 votes in 2017).

Newport West (53.66% Leave)
Following the death of long-serving Labour MP Paul Flynn earlier this year, a by-election took place here at which Ruth Jones was returned for Labour with a majority of less than 2,000 on the back of a voteshare of below 40% (down from the 52% achieved by Flynn in 2017). The Conservative candidate at the by-election, Brexit-backing former local council leader Matthew Evans, is standing again at this contest.

Preseli Pembrokeshire (55.32% Leave)
Although former Cabinet Minister Stephen Crabb enjoyed a majority of approaching 5,000 in this patch of West Wales in 2010 and 2015, he only held on by 314 votes in 2017 – although he did so on his highest ever voteshare. Labour candidate Philippa Thompson would need the smallest of swings in her direction to take it, although Crabb is odds on to retain the seat.

Vale of Clwyd (56.56% Leave)
In 2015 Brexit-backing Conservative James Davies snatched this seat by a couple of hundred votes from Labour’s Chris Ruane, who had represented it since 1997. In 2017 Ruane won it back by a couple of thousand votes, but Davies is standing again in this Leave-leaning North Wales seat and would need a swing of 3% to take it back.

Vale of Glamorgan (52.55% Leave)
The Westminster seat since 2010 of Alun Cairns who, in November, achieved the unlikely distinction of being the first Cabinet Minister to resign during a general election campaign for at least 120 years as he quit his post as Welsh Secretary. But he remains the Conservative candidate here to defend the majority of 2,190 he achieved in 2017, with Labour’s Belinda Loveluck-Edwards needing a swing of 2% to win the seat the party last won in 2005. Unusually, as part of the Unite to Remain alliance, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru have withdrawn to back the candidate of the Green Party, whose man came sixth last time round.

Wrexham (57.57% Leave)
On paper, this is the Tories’ top target in Wales, despite it never having returned a Conservative candidate in the 101 years that it has existed as a constituency. Labour’s Ian Lucas has stepped down after eighteen years as the MP here, leaving it to Mary Wimbury to defend the 1,832 majority he achieved in 2017. For the Conservatives, Sarah Atherton needs a swing of 2.5% to make history and take the seat.

Ynys Môn (50.94% Leave)
Otherwise known as the Isle of Anglesey, on paper this is Plaid Cymru’s top (and most would say only realistic) target seat, although in 2017 the Conservatives actually just beat Plaid to take second place to Labour’s Albert Owen. However, it’s an open race as Owen is retiring after eighteen years as MP here and handing the red baton to Mary Roberts to defend the majority of a little over 5,000 he secured at the last election. Virginia Crosbie stands for the Tories while Plaid are putting up Aled Ap Dafydd, who has the backing of the Greens and Lib Dems as part of the Unite to Remain alliance.

Estimated Leave votes by constituency have been calculated by Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia