After the least restful Summer Recess in history, Senedd Members reconvened this week looking like they’d never been away. In many cases, they hadn’t. Government Ministers especially could hardly be said to be seeming refreshed. Well, at least the half that we see couldn’t. The other half seem to have all but disappeared since March. One of the real results of the Covid crisis is showing who is actually running government and who is there in the front line. Without naming too many names, it’s obvious that Lee Waters MS (Lab, Llanelli) and Jeremy Miles MS (Lab, Neath) are arguably the highest impact and most influential Deputy Minister and Counsel General that Welsh Government has ever produced.
Both of them are close to the First Minister – perhaps closer than most other Ministers – and it is clear they would have been delighted this week with a Welsh Barometer Poll that puts Labour out in front again. Their lead on the Conservatives points once more to them being the biggest party next May, but not perhaps by the same margin as presently. Labour knows it is under pressure, a feeling it always begins to experience acutely the autumn before a Senedd election. Certainly this week wasn’t the week back they would have wanted, with headlines dominated by a data breach by Wales’ most beleaguered public body, Public Health Wales, and a lockdown in Rhondda Cynon Taf let down by poor presentation and even worse fact checking.
Labour – and Plaid too for that matter – would much rather have been talking about the UK Internal Market Bill for the second week running. To be fair, they gave it their best shot, but there was always going to be a news cycle move away from the near hysteria of last week. Nobody died, the Senedd didn’t get bulldozed to the ground, and we don’t have to have chlorinated chicken for breakfast. Well, not yet anyway.
As reflected earlier this week, the Welsh Barometer Poll also pointed to some hardening facts. Not only does it look like the Lib Dems are heading for a worse Senedd election result than 2016 but the bluff and bluster of the anti-devolutionists doesn’t seem to be cutting through either. The Brexit Party, UKIP and Abolish the Assembly all seem to be languishing at the no seat mark. How on earth do they turn it around?
The same question must surely be worrying Plaid. The barometer poll put them on a very credible 24% of the constituency vote which would see them taking back the yo-yo seat of Llanelli, plus Cardiff West and Blaenau Gwent (neither of which are the same seats they were for Plaid in 2016). Which opens some really big questions which Plaid have still not provided answers to: why can’t they make the Covid crisis work for them politically and why are they still trailing the Conservatives (let alone Labour) by such a margin in Wales? Their digital conference in two weeks’ time has to change the dynamic or they might as well mint Plaid’s bronze medal well ahead of next May’s Senedd elections.