With just eight months to go until the scheduled date for the next Senedd election, it is surprising how few slates of candidates are already in place. When it comes to constituency seats, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru seem to have at least been busy putting candidates in place, with Mabon ap Gwynfor the most prominent selection in the safe seat of Dwyfor Meirionnydd. This can’t be said for the Welsh Conservatives, who still have only selected in two seats they do not currently hold (Cardiff North and the Vale of Clwyd). Labour is clearly ahead of the game, however, not least because so few of their elected members are actually planning on standing down. Only Carwyn Jones MS has confirmed he is off from Bridgend while their only realistic target seat appears to be the Rhondda, both of which have new candidates in place.
It is in the regional lists that the parties seem to be engaged in the most interesting selections right now. Looking first at Plaid Cymru, in three regions there seem to be very interesting contests taking place. The most likely to result in at least one or two new Members of the Senedd is South Wales West where not only is Bethan Sayed MS standing down completely but Dai Lloyd MS has indicated he will not contest the list but will fight Swansea West only. Plaid has won two list seats in that region in every election bar one since devolution began, so the contest to represent the greater Swansea Bay for Plaid is clearly one to watch with prominent local campaigners like Tim Thomas and Luke Fletcher looking for the top spot. In neighbouring South Wales Central, Neil McEvoy MS is obviously not running as a Plaid candidate so his former party knows that it can win a list seat if it gains no additional constituencies next May. At the front of the queue for selection in a very competitive contest are Rhys ab Owen (not to be confused with his twin brother, Positif’s own Rhodri ab Owen), Heledd Fychan, Elin Fflur and Sahar Al-Faifi. Meanwhile in North Wales incumbent Senedd Member Llyr Gruffydd MS looks to be facing a serious challenge for top spot from Wrexham activists Carrie Harper. In all three of these selection contests, the outcomes at the moment are far from clear.
It would make sense at this point to turn to the Welsh Conservatives, but their regional selection processes have yet to commence properly. Their selections have yet to begin properly but we do know that one sitting regional member, David Melding MS, is not standing again in South Wales Central. The Conservatives have always won two seats here (even when they managed to take Cardiff North in 2007), so it’s quite clear this looks to be one of the best chances they have to get a new face into the Senedd (something they failed to do in 2016). Leading contenders are the incumbent Andrew RT Davies MS, as prominent a Member of the Senedd now as when he was Conservative group leader, while it is rumoured Cardiff Councillor Adrian Robson and former AM Jonathan Morgan also want to get selected. All of which sounds very male so the Conservatives will be conscious of this in their selection process in the region as well as in the constituency selection in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire following the decision of Angela Burns MS to stand down next May.
From social media the most fervent and slickest selection battles seem – quite peculiarly – to have been within Welsh Labour for list seats, especially South Wales Central. A whole string of names you’ll never have heard of have been putting themselves forward to lead the list in a region that has never come close to electing a Labour list member since 1999, and where the chances of success for Labour on the list would be tied to the odds on them losing several of their existing constituencies. Excepting Rhondda, Labour holds all the constituencies in the region and they’d need to lose at least two more to claw a list seat. So what to make of this sudden interest in contesting a region that looks unlikely to return a Labour member on the regional list? One interpretation is that the potential candidates are lining themselves to try and get elected not in 2021 but in 2026, while at least a few people are speculating that Jane Hutt MS and/or Julie Morgan MS might not actually contest the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff North next May.
More muted as yet, but surely more realistic in terms of returning a new face, are the North Wales regional list selections for Labour. After last December’s virtual wipe out of Labour MPs across North Wales – when once they held the whole coast from Bangor to Buckley – the odds must definitely be better for Labour in terms of winning a regional list seat there. Yet the selection battle does seem to be rather quieter in Labour than in Plaid.
A final factor to weigh into the mix is how the broad populist parties will fare next May. Nobody realistically expects any of them to match UKIP’s seven seats achieved in 2016, but it would be a weird outcome if neither a Brexit Party nor an Abolish the Assembly Party were not returned somewhere. The Neils also still fancy their chances of getting returned too, though there is little that unites the politics of McEvoy and Hamilton other than a taste for populism and a distaste for the current way in which the Senedd is configured and operates. Only an amateur would try and predict regional list elections this far out from the actual ballot, but as a rule of thumb you tend to need between twelve and fifteen thousand votes to get elected based on historical turnout and constituency voting patterns.
So far, five Members of the current Senedd have said they will not stand again – the aforementioned Carwyn Jones MS, David Melding MS, Angela Burns MS, and Bethan Sayed MS as well as Dafydd Elis-Thomas MS. What unites the five of them is they are most definitely amongst the most prominent Members of the Senedd. Nobody seems to believe that will be exhaustive list of departures, however, even from amongst those who are seeking a voluntary rather than an involuntary departure.