A bit of everything

So how would you sum up prospects for the general election in Wales?

I was asked by Jeremy Vine to sell the election earlier during his Radio 2 broadcast from Cardiff as he travelled the UK ahead of the vote.

I accept it's not the most exciting answer in the world but the one I came up with was "we've got a bit of everything."

Let me explain. Above all, Wales will play its part in the battle for Number 10. Labour have 26 seats out of 40 but the thumping big majorities are not what they once were.

Take Merthyr Tydfil, where the Labour majority is currently just over 4,000. In 1997 it stood at 27,000.

Heartland

Conventional wisdom would suggest that if Labour fail to win more seats in their Welsh heartland then they're going to struggle elsewhere, and as a result find it difficult to get the 5% swing they need for a majority.

Their best chance of picking up seats is probably in Cardiff. They'll be pushing the Conservatives hard in Cardiff North where the Tories are defending a majority of 194, and they'll be pushing the Liberal Democrats hard in Cardiff Central.

Incidentally, Cardiff North is the best bellwether seat in Wales. Since 1983, it's the only seat where the local MP has been from the same party as the Prime Minister.

The Conservatives have eights seats, the same as in 1987 under Margaret Thatcher. If they can return the same number after five years' worth of cuts then they'll feel they're in a good position.

Neck and neck

As well as the existing eight, the Tories have set their sights on Lib Dem-held Brecon and Radnorshire.

The challenge they have is persuading people that they are responsible for meaningful economic improvements.

The fact that they are still neck-and-neck with Labour, despite reductions in unemployment and inflation and higher growth, would suggest they're struggling to do that.

The Conservatives say a bounce in the polls hasn't happened yet because most people won't start thinking about the election until after Easter.

And in keeping with the "bit of everything" theme, Wales has a nationalist story playing out.

Recent polls suggest the Scottish referendum has not led to any increase in support for independence.

Game changer

But Plaid Cymru believe the television debates, which will give their leader Leanne Wood the opportunity to speak for Wales at the top table, could be a game-changer, and for the first time ensure everyone finally gets to grips with multi-party elections.

The three seats held by the Liberal Democrats will come under attack from the Conservatives, Labour and Plaid and will be a huge test for the party as it seeks to persuade voters it has made a difference with policies and as a moderating influence in coalition.

And then there's the UKIP factor. Last year's European elections was the moment when people stopped describing the party as primarily an English phenomena.

Many realised UKIP has been generating significant support as a result of concerns over immigration, despite the fact that levels are comparatively low in many parts of Wales, and concerns over the EU, despite the fact that billions of pounds of EU-aid has been spent in Wales.

It will be difficult for UKIP to win any seats under the first past the post system in Wales but the key question is where their votes are coming from.

Unknown factor

Nobody can give a definitive answer. In the meantime UKIP are targeting Alyn and Deeside, Delyn, Merthyr and Cardiff South and Penarth.

The killing grounds for general elections, where governments are made or broken, are of course the marginal seats.

The unknown UKIP factor in particular has thrown many people's perceptions of what a marginal seat is in Wales.

Traditionally it has been where a party has a majority of less than 10% so it requires a swing of 5% to remove the incumbent. In Wales a whopping 45% of seats fall into that category.

In reality the great majority of seats don't change hands. That will inevitably be the case this time round but it's possible to construct scenarios where there could be some surprises.

So my "bit of everything" scenario absolutely includes a bit of the unknown as well.

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