The Labour party continued its dominance in Wales in early election results on Friday but it may need to form a coalition to continue to govern effectively.
The centre-left party, which has held power in Cardiff since devolution took effect in 1999, put in a stronger performance in the country than in England.
It lost a seat to the Conservatives in the Welsh parliament, or senedd, but held on to several other Tory targets in the “Red Wall” that turned blue in the 2019 election, and gained one seat from Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party.
Labour had 29 seats in the 60-strong parliament before the election and ruled with the support of the centrist Liberal Democrats. With 37 results declared by 9.15pm on Friday it had no net change.
Some 40 senedd members are elected from constituencies on a first-past- the-post basis. But much will depend on the 20 elected from party lists in five regions, with results not known until Saturday. Voters often split their vote to support minority parties, who can win election more easily via the list.
The Conservatives, who went into the election with 11 seats, look set to become the second-biggest party, surpassing Plaid, which had 12. Plaid’s former leader, Leanne Wood, lost her Rhondda seat in a swing of 19 per cent to Labour.
The Tories took Vale of Clwyd, in north-east Wales, from Labour by just 366 votes. As significant, they took Brecon and Radnorshire from the Liberal Democrats, making it hard for the current government to achieve a majority.
Mark Drakeford, leader of the Welsh Labour party, has won plaudits for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic as first minister of Wales, a crisis that has highlighted the role of the Welsh government.
Vaughan Gething, the health minister, told the Financial Times that incumbents had done well across Great Britain, including the Conservatives in England and SNP in Scotland.
But he added that Welsh Labour had preached a positive message, eschewing attacks on Boris Johnson. “It is about listening and understanding why people cannot support us. The prime minister has many faults but he is still quite popular. Many people do not believe Labour is the party they want us to be.”
Welsh Labour had managed to attract some former supporters of the UK Independence party, the pro-Brexit movement. The three parties on the right — Reform UK, Ukip and Abolish the Assembly — were making few inroads.
Drakeford predicted that Labour would make it into the “top of the 20s” in its number of senedd seats.
“We have exceeded expectations,” Welsh Labour said. “Our Welsh Labour manifesto was very popular; offering a credible answer to the key issues facing our country as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Plaid’s poor performance is a setback for a growing campaign for independence. It increased its vote in most of the seats it held but lost Rhondda, a south Wales valley that is a traditional Labour stronghold. Support for Welsh independence is rising but is far lower than in Scotland, at 28 per cent, according to the FT’s poll of polls.
Graphics by Cale Tilford, Max Harlow, Joanna S Kao and Steven Bernard