Dave Baxter is a trainee newspaper journalist at the Cardiff School of Journalism. He writes about devolved politics for the Theory of Devolution blog.
By Dave Baxter
Those feeling glum in austere times may have perked up over the news of Prince William’s engagement to long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton last month. The couple has been together for eight years, and will bring the glamour of a royal wedding to 2011 as spending cuts begin to bite across Britain.
But some brows may be furrowed over the announcement of the wedding’s date, 29 April. Apart from the very real possibility of a beautiful spring marriage and a confirmed extra bank holiday for the public, this also means the big day will fall less than a week before the Welsh Assembly Government elections.
Is this a bad thing? In the midst of a frenzied election campaign, voters may be happy for a break from the slogans and calls to arms. It may allow politicians to relax before the final pre-ballot push. And it is not unlikely Wales’ very own First Minister Carwyn Jones will be invited to take a day off from canvassing to attend the royal ceremony at Westminster Abbey, allowing London and Cardiff to put aside various differences for a brief moment.
And the thrill of royal nuptials may bring some life to an otherwise stale campaign.
But there are worries that as Prince William ties the knot with Ms Middleton the election could almost pass by unnoticed, affecting turnout and the already meager profile of the WAG.
This is not just a question of door-to-door campaigners getting lost, or enthusiastically involved, in the street parties bound to hit 29 April.
Media coverage is a bigger question.
Take for example November 16, when the couple’s engagement was announced. Did anyone miss it?
News channels were saturated with coverage of the royal event, and a number of meaty stories from the world of politics sunk under the weight of this. David Cameron’s decision to remove his personal photographer Andrew Parsons from the Downing Street payroll, updates on disqualified Labour MP Phil Woolas’ legal appeal and news of compensation pay-outs to former Guantanamo Bay inmates all disappeared from the bulletins.
So when stories from the heart of Westminster are dwarfed by the media’s royal obsession, how does the WAG, already obscure compared to its London neighbours, get any attention at its most critical moments?
If the election loses vital coverage in its final days, turnout could sink to a record low. This could damage the Welsh Assembly Government’s attempts to be seen as a credible force in politics, and skew the way the Welsh are represented by their assembly if only a select few reach the ballot.
But how influential is the media in this?
Some trumpet the strength of their own hand in elections, though this is dubious. The Sun, a popular red top, famously attempted to influence the 2010 British election by loudly switching their support from Labour to their rivals. But this was less bold than it seemed, because it reflected the general trend of public opinion.
Similarly, Welsh readers tend to read British nationals rather than Welsh rags such as, say, the Western Mail or the South Wales Echo. So there already seems to be a greater interest in the United Kingdom, rather than a number of devolved ones.
Whether any of this will affect the usual, and less avid, voters among us is yet to be seen. But don’t expect Carwyn Jones to grace many front pages on Kate and William’s big day.