Despite Labour’s woes elsewhere, the party exceeded even its own expectations in Wales, holding on to key Senedd seats the Tories had targeted and defeating one of the most well known figures in Welsh politics, the former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.
Mark Drakeford, whose cautious approach to the Covid crisis as first minister has proved to be one of the party’s bestselling points, said he would wait until all results were in on Saturday before he turns his mind to forming a new Welsh government.
Speaking after extending his Cardiff West seat’s majority by more than 10,000 votes, Drakeford said: “No party has ever won a majority in the Senedd. It’s very hard to find those extra couple of seats. But we will be far closer to it than I think anybody imagined we would be.
“I will want to sit down when we have a full suite of results in front of us to think about how we can achieve what we need here in Wales, which is a stable and progressive government.”
Drakeford said his party had “exceeded expectations” to end Friday’s constituency count with 26 seats, three short of the number held in the last Welsh Parliament and five short of a majority. The results of the Senedd’s 20 remaining regional seats are set to be announced on Saturday.
The Tories were delighted to take the seat of Vale of Clwyd in north Wales from Labour – as they did in the 2019 general election – and wrested Brecon and Radnorshire from the Liberal Democrats.
However, Labour held its ground in the other northern Tory targets of Wrexham, Clwyd South and Delyn and in the Vale of Glamorgan in south Wales.
The party toppled Wood spectacularly in the emblematic seat of Rhondda in the south Wales valleys, where community activist Elizabeth Buffy Williams won with a majority of more than 5,000.
Vaughan Gething, whose role as health minister has raised his profile, said Labour had fought hard to win back the trust of voters in north Wales.
Asked if he had a message for Keir Starmer about the direction Labour should go in, Gething said: “The message for all of us is keep on listening to what the public are saying.
“Don’t tell the public they’re wrong when they vote, try to understand why they’ve chosen to vote in a different way. You can’t simply assume that people will continue to vote for you as a result of old tribal loyalty.”
He added: “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.”
The Welsh Tory leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, suggested traditional Labour voters who voted Tory in some parts in the 2019 general election had “come home”.