Monday, 8 June 2009

Right place, right time

A surreal night spent in a tin barn just outside Haverfordwest.

The location of the national Welsh European election count was not perhaps the best advert for 21st century Wales - no broadband and the results read against an anonymous grey backdrop that passed up the opportunity to advertise the delights of Pembrokeshire.

For once, given my recent luck, it felt as if I was in the vicinity of the story. Twelve years ago, when the Tories were wiped off the map in Wales, no-one would have predicted a comeback that would see them as the largest party.

Labour will take some consolation that the low turn-out suggests their voters disproportionately stayed at home, but the Conservatives will also hope to reclaim some Euro-sceptic votes from UKIP at the next general election.

There was a long wait for the results, filled by spin from the political parties. Plaid Cymru, assuming they'd come second, tried to persuade us that this was a significant development as they would be the leading party of the left. They stopped spinning this analysis when the votes came in and they came third.

Labour blamed the expenses scandal for their woes, although tales of duck houses, moats and dog food on the taxpayer don't appear to have damaged the Tories. The silver lining for Labour is that they can more credibly warn voters of a Conservative threat at the general election - the danger for Labour is that the electorate may not longer be scared by that prospect.

UKIP's success appeared to take them by surprise, their winning candidate struggling to give the impression that gaining election to the European Parliament was a lifetime's ambition achieved.

UKIP may have swept up the anti-politician vote after the expenses scandal but it also suggests that not every voter in Wales views politics through a Welsh prism.

But it's the Tories who are wearing the biggest smiles today after the collapse of the Labour vote allowed them to claim victory with only two per cent more of the vote than last time. As I write, David Cameron is heading for Cardiff to join in the party.

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