ASSEMBLY ELECTION 2003: 5am SPECIAL: It's Labour!; # Rhodri Has Overall Majority in His Sights on Night of Regains from Plaid # Turnout Hovers below 40% as Fall Questions Assembly Mandate # Outcast Marek Wins Seat to Gain Revenge on Party That Ditched Him
Byline: Martin Shipton and Kirsty Buchanan
RHODRI MORGAN was today heading towards an overall majority as Labour crushed Plaid Cymru's vote in heartland seats and comfortably fought off Tory challengers.
Labour stormed to victory in Islwyn and Rhondda, shattering the Plaid vote in the process, while Plaid's President Ieuan Wyn Jones saw his comfortable majority slashed in Ynys Mon.
But it was a disastrous night for democracy with turnouts collapsing in most seats to an overall average of just below 40%.
And ousted Labour maverick John Marek wreaked revenge by holding Wrexham and condemning the ``smears and lies'' which he claimed had driven him from the party.
First Minister Rhodri Morgan said Labour had been punished at the polls in 1999 following the party's bitter leadership battle but it was Plaid's turn to feel the voter backlash.
He added, ``The Valleys seats are reverting to type, whenever people are upset about something they give Labour a kick up the backside and that is what happened in 1999.
``At that time they were annoyed about the Labour leadership in Wales and the councils. People use Plaid as a protest valve and that has been going on in the Rhondda since the by-election in 1967.''
Caerphilly was comfortably held by Labour candidate Jeff Cuthbert after Ron Davies' was forced to quit and Health Minister Jane Hutt defied her critics to not only fight off a challenge by Tory rival David Melding but treble her majority to 2,600 in the process.
Party insiders within Plaid were this morning conceding a ``disastrous'' night with key seats lost, majorities slashed and a drop in the party's overall share of the vote.
But Conservative leader Nick Bourne remained upbeat despite his party's failure to take its prime target seat of the Vale of Glamorgan. …