May is a hugely important time for anyone who cares about politics in Wales. Since 1999, the Senned has undergone significant change. Power has been passed down from Westminster over the course of the Welsh Government’s inception, though not as rapidly as some would like. The new Welsh government will have more power than any before it, with increased powers over income tax, transport and energy.
The way Wales is responding to its housing pressures, by focusing strongly on social housing above other types of affordable tenure and even looking to abolish the Right to Buy, is a vivid example of how it is doing things differently.
The political makeup of the Welsh Assembly stands at Labour 30, Conservative 14, Plaid Cymru 11 and Liberal Democrat at five. Labour, traditionally dominant in Wales, are now 1/6 to win under 30 seats. Coming into this year’s election with disappointing polling figures, Labour faces smaller parties eager to take advantage of their struggle.
UKIP and the Green Party are confident of gaining their first assembly seats, while Conservatives are ready to capitalise on strong performances from 2011. While the Liberal Democrats, if current polling is correct, could face further losses. Despite Plaid Cymru’s national exposure to the leader’s debates before the General Election last year, the party has not become Wales’ answer to the SNP.
The electorate’s priorities for those seeking to occupy the Assembly have never been clearer. Health and the NHS saturate political discourse, with jobs and immigration coming close, according to a BBC Wales poll. Labour have been constantly criticised over their handling of the NHS and Health Boards have insisted that ‘radical changes’ are needed to tackle an ageing and increasingly obese population. All parties claim to have a solution, which they would be keen to put to the test.
House prices are the only thing moving quicker than Gareth Bale at present, with the average asking price leaping 1.3% this month alone. A chronic housing shortage is to blame and a figure of 20,000 new affordable homes is being pledged by Labour and the Lib Dems. Welsh Conservatives take scrapping stamp duty for first time buyers and protecting the right to buy as the solution. The Greens, Conservatives, and Lib Dems all propose ‘Rent-to-Own’ as an alternative method of home ownership.
Plaid Cymru take a step further, with plans to create a National Development Framework, overseen by a National Planning Inspectorate. Plaid would also continue to oppose Right to Buy and abolish letting fees. This is a gutsy set of plans for a party potentially holding the balance of power in the new Welsh Government.
Whilst wading through the murky waters of the EU referendum, this election seems all but irrelevant to the average voter. Yet, this election remains the most important since the Welsh Government’s inception. We have never had so much power over how we govern ourselves and more power could be coming our way.
Whether people feel that their vote will make a difference will be of crucial importance. In such an election, every vote counts.