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19 May 2011

People of Wales cast their votes

People of Wales cast their votes

The Welsh Assembly elections on 5 May produced a night of high drama - for some one of shock and horror, for others one of elation. When the counting was done and dusted, Labour had increased its number of seats by four to 30, just one short of an overall majority. In short, it was a good night for Labour and the Tories and a bad one for Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems.

Labour had successfully shaped much of its campaign around failings in Westminster, much to the chagrin of Plaid and the Lib Dems, who wanted the election to be fought on local issues. Labour's performance can be credited in part to the leadership of First Minister Carwyn Jones, who took over the party reins in 2009 from Rhodri Morgan, and its seat tally equalled their highest number, reached in the 2nd Assembly. Among new Labour AMs are Julie Morgan, wife of the former first minister Rhodri, and Vaughan Gething, who, at 37, is one of the Assembly's youngest AMs as well as its first black one. 

The Conservatives had an excellent night and are now the second party in Wales, with a total of 14 seats, bettering their previous high of 12 seats in the 3rd Assembly. Their elation, however, was tempered by the loss of their leader Nick Bourne's regional seat in Mid & West Wales. A Tory gain in Montgomeryshire (Lembit Opik's former Westminster constituency seat and a solid Liberal enclave for much of the last century), coupled with the retention of two existing seats in West Wales, meant that the Tories received none of the region's four seats in this election. Bourne had served the Conservatives as leader since 1999 and will be sorely missed by the party faithful. Paul Davies AM is currently acting as interim leader. A further blow was the loss of Jonathan Morgan, widely tipped as a future party leader, who lost Cardiff North to Julie Morgan.  

Plaid Cymru slumped to its poorest Assembly election performance since the institution's inception in 1999, and there will be much soul-searching as to why the party was unable to translate the past four years' experience as coalition partners with Labour into electoral success. Unexpected casualties were Dai Lloyd, who had served faithfully in the Assembly since 1999 and had been expected to retain his South Wales West regional seat, and deputy leader Helen Mary Jones, who lost in Llanelli to Labour, having overturned Labour's 21 majority in 2003 to win the seat by more than 4,000 votes in 2007. Another blow to the party was the loss of policy director Nerys Evans, who had relinquished her safe Mid & West Wales regional seat in order to contest the Carmarthen West constituency seat in a three-way marginal, ultimately losing to Tory incumbent Angela Burns. 

The Lib Dems are down from six to five seats, losing two of their constituency seats - Cardiff Central and Montgomeryshire - and seeming to suffer a backlash from their party's performance in Westminster. Particularly painful was the loss of Cardiff Central to Labour by a margin of 38 votes, with spoiled ballot papers numbering more than 300. 

This 4th Assembly sees 23 new faces and 37 old ones. There will be a noticeable lack of Christian presence in this Assembly with the loss of Plaid's Janet Ryder (who stepped down), Dai Lloyd and Chris Franks (who lost his South Wales Central regional seat). Former Lib Dem AM Jenny Randerson, created a life peer in January, will also be missed. Other friends, such as Nick Bourne and former minister of social justice Brian Gibbons (who stepped down), were regularly supportive of the work of Christian groups such as the Evangelical Alliance and Gweini.  

Among those returning are the Assembly's first AM from an ethnic minority, the Conservatives' Mohammad Asghar, who shocked many by crossing the floor to the Tories from Plaid in 2009. The furore surrounding his defection owed to the fact that, as a regional list AM, the electorate had voted for Plaid rather than him personally.  

Familiar faces appearing in this election included Labour's former first minister Ron Davies, who failed in his attempt to win Caerphilly as a Plaid candidate, with Labour incumbent Jeff Cuthbert winning the expected marginal seat comfortably with a 5,000 majority. Former high-profile Plaid MP for Ceredigion, Simon Thomas, also fought this election and is in from the political cold after a six-year hiatus, now representing the party as a regional AM for Mid & West Wales. 

This election was being touted as one where the minority parties - particularly the Greens but also, to the concern of others, the BNP - had a chance of breaking the monopoly of the four main parties. Despite clever campaigning in raising awareness of how to make strategic use of the second vote, this failed to materialise. The Welsh Christian Party fielded candidates in all five regions and received 9,000 votes, or 0.9 per cent of the electorate.  

Although there was speculation that Labour would seek to form a coalition government with either Plaid or the Lib Dems, on 10 May Carwyn Jones announced that Labour would go it alone, and on 13 May he unveiled his team of ministers in the new Welsh Government (as the Welsh Assembly Government is now called).  

Meanwhile, Ieuan Wyn Jones has since announced that he will be stepping down as leader of Plaid Cymru sometime during this Assembly term while the bid to become the next leader of the Welsh Conservatives has developed into a two-horse race between Nick Ramsey and Andrew RT Davies.