Labour deputy leader backs North Wales voters to 'confound the polls' at General Election

Reporter:

David Humphreys

Labour’s deputy leader has shrugged off suggestions that the party could lose four of its North Wales seats.

On a visit to Connah’s Quay and Wrexham, Tom Watson said voters are “brilliant” at confounding the polls and his party had candidates that would provide “powerful voices” in Westminster.

Prof Roger Scully, professor of political science at the University of Cardiff, told the Leader earlier this month that Labour’s seats in Alyn and Deeside, Delyn, Wrexham and Clwyd South were all “in play” and “potentially losable”. 

Bookmakers have also issued odds indicating the Tories are favourites to win seats in the region.

Speaking to the Leader, Mr Watson rejected the suggestion North-East Wales would turn blue next month.

He said: “The fantastic thing about voters in North Wales is they are brilliant at confounding the polls.

Tom Watson visits the Labour office on King Street, Wrexham

“Last month, polls said Labour would lose Flintshire Council and actually they made gains and that’s because they’ve got the community at the heart of their thinking, they’re innovative and creative.

“The leader of the council, Aaron Shotton, said this was a Labour authority that’s building homes for families and I think they can defy the polls again and I hope my party UK-wide defies the polls.

“I’m not running away from the fact that there's a very big, wide, poll gap.

“We've got a lot to do but we have been slowly closing that gap and I hope we can do that. 

“Certainly I’d just say to people, the reason we’ve got this unexpected General Election is that Theresa May saw that poll lead and she thought she would come home, home and dry.

“I think no matter what people think of Theresa May, they need powerful voices representing their communities in Westminster and Mark Tami [Alyn and Deeside Parliamentary candidate) has always been that.”

Mr Watson also took aim at the Conservatives for seemingly imposing candidates on constituencies.

Members of the Alyn and Deeside Conservative Association have expressed their disappointment at the selection of 2015 candidate Laura Knightly, a county councillor in Conwy, to fight this election as they felt she was “imposed” by the Tory central office.

Mr Watson said it was “a common picture around the country”.

“It seems to me that the Conservative central office have taken the opportunity of a snap General Election that Theresa May called to impose people rather than allow local activists to be given a fair hearing by the membership,” he said.

“I think you're going to end up with a lot of Theresa May-placed people rather than individuals from a local area and I don’t know if that’s causing difficulty for them because local activists don’t want to campaign for people they don’t know.”

Mr Watson, who is hoping to retain his seat in West Bromwich East, said he had high hopes for Labour holding on in Wrexham and Ian Lucas remaining in post for another term, despite increasing pressure from Conservative candidate Andrew Atkinson.

“All I'd say about Ian is he’s Mr Wrexham,” he said. “He’s dragged me up to Wrexham and I was there 18 months ago when the government- imposed cuts meant they wanted to close the tax office there, with local people facing redundancy.

“He campaigns very, very hard and actually there’s a lot of people in Wrexham losing out on the Tory manifesto.

“The pensioner winter fuel allowance cuts will effect thousands of people in Wrexham and I’m sure that will give Ian an opportunity to ask older voters, who people think the majority of whom are going to vote Conservative, to take another look.”

Mr Watson, who entered Parliament in 2001, also underlined his high hopes for Labour’s candidate in one of the UK’s most marginal seats.

He said: “In Chester, the very interesting thing is there, I’ve never known a candidate with only two years in Parliament have such recognition.

“Chris Matheson [Labour] is known by everyone in Chester and there’s a similar episode [to elsewhere] where the Conservative candidate was imposed from London.”

“Chris has got one of the most marginal seats in the country and on paper you would say it’s a tough call to re-elect him. But if anyone can defy the odds, Chris can,” he added.

Mr Watson said of Mr Matheson: “He asked one of the last questions in Parliament before we went into election mode and I visited him early in the campaign with dozens of local people out for him. He’s a very popular MP.”

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