Wales politics

Vote 2011: Views from the campaign frontline

Image caption BBC Wales has had reporters following the main party leaders in Wales - Ieuan Wyn Jones, Nick Bourne, Kirsty Williams and Carwyn Jones.

During the past four weeks of the Welsh assembly election campaign BBC Wales has had a reporter following each of the four main parties.

The party leaders and their candidates have been campaigning across Wales ahead of polling day on Thursday.

Labour's Carwyn Jones, Plaid Cymru's Ieuan Wyn Jones, Nick Bourne of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats' Kirsty Williams have all been under close scrutiny as they aim to get into government.

With voters about to go to the polls, here are the thoughts of those reporters from the campaign frontline.

Carl Roberts with the Conservatives

His party is in government in Westminster and Nick Bourne wants the Conservatives in power in the assembly.

And he's been to all corners of Wales to get the message across - often with me following - to places like Llandudno, Skewen and deepest Monmouthshire.

The Welsh Conservatives have had some help from the party in London - David Cameron was the first UK party leader to visit Wales before the campaign had officially kicked off - a trip to Swansea on April Fool's day - which feels a long time ago now.

He was back in St Asaph last week, but the message was the same: remove Labour from power in Cardiff Bay and get the Conservatives in.

I've followed the Welsh Conservative campaign from the start and - prime ministerial visits apart - it's been a low-key affair.

Could the party which almost formed a "rainbow" coalition with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats back in 2007 be keeping a low profile so as not to alienate future coalition partners this time round?

Nick Bourne told me that thoughts have drifted to what life might be like as an assembly government minister - first minister even - but he's not getting carried away just yet.

Tomos Livingstone with Labour

Whether he's eating chips in Pembrokeshire, chatting with the market traders in Cardiff or taking on the other party leaders on live TV, Carwyn Jones has cut a relaxed figure on the campaign trail.

His down-to-earth demeanour doesn't give much of a hint as to the pressure he must be feeling.

In his first campaign as Welsh Labour leader the party's cherished goal of an assembly majority is within sight - and with Labour struggling in Scotland a good result in Wales is of crucial importance to the party's leader Ed Miliband.

Welsh Labour have fought this campaign by putting Carwyn Jones left, right and centre stage. His face is on the party manifesto and he's featured prominently in the media.

Not everything has gone according to plan, of course.

One London newspaper managed to change Mr Jones's name to Williams halfway through an otherwise glowing profile and Labour had a spell-check disaster of its own when the party's name was spelled wrongly in the Welsh language version of its manifesto.

It was Mr Jones himself, of course, who started the campaign by saying Labour was aiming to win 31 seats. If he hits that target, the rest of the party can start to relax too.

Mark Hannaby with the Liberal Democrats

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams has taken to repeating something of a mantra over this election campaign. Have you noticed it?

I've lost track of the times I've heard her say the following words, or a variation on them:

"Labour and Plaid have left us with a weak economy, under-funded schools, and an NHS that costs more but delivers less."

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been keen to direct attention to alleged failures of the outgoing Labour-Plaid assembly government.

They know their poor showing in recent Welsh polls is related to disaffection with cuts being made outside Wales by the UK coalition government.

Given that, they've had to show a degree of novelist Ernest Hemingway's definition of "guts" - "grace under pressure".

They haven't distanced themselves from UK leader Nick Clegg and his MPs.

Both Mr Clegg and Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander have been part of their Welsh campaign.

Ms Williams hopes voters will realise that protests against a government which doesn't control Welsh schools won't necessarily do anything to improve the performance of the government which does.

She believes her party's policies - targeting education spending to the most needy and giving grants to businesses to take on unemployed young people - can do that.

Arwyn Jones with Plaid Cymru

More so than anything else, Plaid Cymru has concentrated its efforts on emphasising two fields; education and the economy.

Yes, the ambition of an independent Wales in Europe is still there in the bowels of the manifesto. But the party is more concerned with bread and butter issues these days.

On education, plans to halve the number of children leaving primary school unable to read or write to acceptable levels by 2016 seems simple enough. But during the course of the campaign Plaid is seen by some to have struggled somewhat with the details in terms of the numbers involved and the exact cost.

The same goes with the big plan for the economy.

Plaid wants to create a company, at arm's length from the government. This company, Build for Wales, would borrow money from the financial markets and lend it to build schools, hospitals and roads - pretty much anything the government builds.

Plaid says it will raise £500m and create up to 50,000 jobs over the course of the next Assembly.

But here again, the devil lies in the detail.

To set up such a company may well need the Treasury's permission, and that's not guaranteed.

The party has also, it seems to me, focused on a series of "local" battles, rather than a national campaign.

Visiting different constituencies where they face different challenges it's clear they're tailoring their messages and campaigns differently.

So, to an extent, it may well be that the party has local highs and lows that may buck national trends.