Labour’s Welsh headache shows how much trouble the party is in

It was on the second day of the 2017 election campaign that Labour figures started to define a “good result” as one where they only lost one-fifth of their seats.

As soon as the shock had worn off, the party’s sole priority was avoiding a total meltdown — though some think it’s inevitable, and a handful even embrace it as the only way to end the current crisis.

The obvious comparison is with 1983, Labour’s worst post-war election — until now. Labour got 28% of the vote, and 209 seats. If they can match that on June 8th, there’d be cause for celebration.

Instead, Labour figures hope to limit losses to 40 seats — dropping to around 190.

Labour were thrashed in 1983, but they retained some strength in their heartlands — the north, the West Midlands, parts of London, south Wales and Scotland.

In 2017, it seems every part of the UK previously loyal to Labour will turn against them. It’s going to be a painful campaign.

Labour’s already been routed in Scotland, but to see the Conservatives become the opposition to the SNP will be especially galling. That won’t in itself worsen the party’s position at Westminster, but a collapse in support in Wales definitely will.

The warning signs were obvious last year. UKIP made gains in the Welsh Assembly, then a month later Wales backed Brexit. Now it seems UKIP support has been a gateway for voters to switch to the Conservatives, previously a toxic brand across much of Wales.

In January, one-third of Leave voters told pollsters they’d vote Conservative in future. Now two-thirds say they’ll back the Tories.

It could see places like Bridgend, Wrexham and Newport lost to Labour. The Lib Dems hope to pick up at least one seat in Cardiff.

Labour’s Scottish leaders have worked hard to distance themselves from Jeremy Corbyn — but it’s not clear their Welsh leadership has done the same.

This election campaign will take Tory campaigners into places they wouldn’t normally risk. The campaign has a long way to go, and if we’ve learned anything in the last two years it’s to expect surprises. But right now, it seems there’s nothing Labour can do to stop the rot in the places they used to feel safest…