Mark Drakeford’s Welsh Labour has declared its strong Senedd election performance as “an extraordinary set of results in extraordinary times” as the party look favourite to retain control of the Welsh government.
The party has exceeded expectations as counting for the Welsh parliament election continues, having so far lost just one of its seats and taking Rhondda from Plaid Cymru’s former leader Leanne Wood.
Polling at the start of the campaign suggested Labour was facing its worst-ever result and was at risk of winning as few as 22 of the Senedd’s 60 seats, a loss of seven from 2016, though later polls suggested a stronger showing.
After voting closed at 10pm on Thursday, party sources said retaining all of its seats in the Senedd remained “a massive challenge”.
Commenting on the “remarkable turnaround”, a Labour spokesperson said: “It is increasingly clear that people across Wales have put their faith in Welsh Labour and Mark Drakeford to lead the next Welsh government and lead Wales out of the pandemic.”
Health minister Vaughan Gething held his Cardiff South and Penarth seat with 18,153 votes (49.89%), an increase of 4,879 votes from 2016, and said Labour and Drakeford’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was a “major factor” in the party’s results.
He told the PA news agency: “We’ve had to make life-changing choices that affected every single family in the country.
“The pandemic has thrust the first minister in the spotlight, and most people like what they’ve seen in the way he’s handled the pandemic.
“What we now need to do is understand what that means for the future government for Wales, how we handle this next phase finishing up the pandemic response, and then the difficult task of recovery – one that I think we’re in the best possible place for.”
Drakeford said earlier that signs of a strong Labour performance reflected the “real enthusiasm” he had encountered on doorsteps.
Labour are on 25 seats, the Tories on eight, and Plaid Cymru on five with two more constituency declarations to go, including Mr Drakeford’s Cardiff West constituency.
Labour said Plaid Cymru had “imploded” in losing its Rhondda seat to Labour’s Elizabeth Buffy Williams and failing to take target seats Llanelli and Aberconwy.
Rhondda’s outgoing MS, Leanne Wood, told ITV Wales the result was “disappointing” but said her party ran a “clean and honest campaign”.
Labour’s strong results will minimise its reliance on other parties in order to form a government, with Plaid previously thought as the most likely to enter into a coalition with them were Labour some way short of a majority.
Only one of Wales’ so-called red wall seats, the Vale of Clwyd, fell to the Welsh Conservatives.
Wrexham, Clwyd South and Delyn, were all held despite being targeted by the Tories after they flipped them from Labour in the 2019 general election.
Welsh Tory leader in the Senedd Andrew RT Davies said his party’s taking of Vale of Clwyd from Labour was a “brilliant result”, but suggested traditional Labour voters who voted Tory in the 2019 general election had now “come home”.
Davies told the PA news agency: “It does seem from other seats that have been declared in other parts of Wales that the Labour voters have come home to it after the, shall we say, Brexit election of 2019.
The final make-up of the next Senedd will not be confirmed until the weekend with final regional results expected on Saturday.