Thursday, 1 May 2008

Senedd Circular: Local Election Special, 2008

This article appears in The Wardman Wire:

Today is not only Miss Wagstaff’s birthday, but also - by strange coincidence - a day for local elections. I bet some of you thought it would never arrive!

Senedd Snippets:

  • Who runs Wales at a local level?
  • Decline and fall of Labour?
  • What a turn up for the books.
Acting Local

Yesterday saw the last full day of campaigning in the local elections, and many will be wondering whether there will be a sting in the tail for the coalition partners in Cardiff Bay. Will the electorate hold them to account over their performance since this coalition emerged from the ashes of last year’s Assembly election? Will this be an opportunity for a warning shot across the bow of a Labour Government at Westminster? Or will we all vote as usual and wake up with the results not even changing one single part of our lives?

As it currently stands, Labour holds or shares power on nine Welsh county councils, Liberal Democrats on six, Plaid Cymru on five, Conservatives on four, and independent or other groups on 11.

In the not too distant past a decrease in Labour’s vote in Wales would’ve seemed as plausible as a man becoming pregnant [Doesn’t count! Well, I suppose he did ‘used to be’ a woman].

No longer...

Who runs Wales at a local level?

(Map thanks to Matt Wardman . Will need updating. )

Blaenau Gwent: Labour
Bridgend: Liberal Democrat / Conservative / Plaid Cymru / Independent
Caerphilly: Labour
Cardiff: Liberal Democrat
Carmarthen: Labour / Independent
Ceredigion: Independent / Liberal Democrat / Labour
Conwy: Independent / Conservative / Plaid Cymru / Liberal Democrat
Denbighshire: Independent / Conservative / Plaid Cymru
Flintshire: Labour
Gwynedd: Plaid Cymru
Merthyr: Labour / Independent
Monmouth: Conservative
Neath Port Talbot: Labour
Newport: Labour
Pembrokeshire: Independent
Powys: Independent
Rhondda Cynon Taf: Labour
Swansea: Liberal Democrat / Independent
Torfaen: Labour
Vale of Glamorgan: Labour / Plaid Cymru / Independent
Wrexham: Liberal Democrat-led Board
Ynys Mon: Anglesey Forward / Radical Independents

Decline and fall of Labour?

There was a time in Welsh politics when it was said that even a sheep under a Labour banner would get elected in Wales. Times have changed! Before devolution in 1999, Labour remained in control of well over half of Wales' 22 county councils, and was a significant force in a handful of others.

This dominance of ‘red’ councils was dramatically knocked back in 1999, as Plaid Cymru won control of both Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf in the Valleys. A successful campaign to regain these councils in 2004 was deflated with Labour losing control of Bridgend, Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham to the Liberal Democrats and their coalition buddies.

In Wales, the Conservatives returned from no-man’s land to control Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan (for a short period). This was an age that brought an alternative option to Labour in Wales, even if it was to the regular chant of ‘Coalition is King’.

What a turn up for the books

This has been a typical election campaign with the usual nit-picking, back biting, tooing and froing of political ‘worn and new’ tennis balls, with the odd cannon ball thrown in for good measure and extra effect. There’s even been mixed messages from UK party leaders on their election visit to Wales.

We’ve all been expecting this, but what haven’t we been expecting?

Former MP, AM, and Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies is hoping to return to politics and is standing as an independent for the third time. Mr Davies is hoping to represent the area - Bedwas and Machen ward - where he was born and where he was first elected as a councillor 39 years ago. The ward elects four councillors. Together with his Independent running mate Colin Hobbs – another former Labour councillor – Mr Davies is up against one Plaid and four Labour candidates.

Popular Lib-Demmer, Vince Cable MP, was in Cardiff rallying the troops this week. Mr Cable said the party had won power four years ago in Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham and Bridgend on the back of the Iraq war which had disillusioned voters with Labour.

He said: “I think even holding our position will be a good result. Four years ago we were very strong. The Iraq war effect was a factor. If we do make advances that will be a tribute to the way the work of our councils is perceived across Wales. We are starting in a difficult position this time. Four years ago we were in a very strong position on the back of the Iraq effect.” A true definition of ‘fighting’ talk if ever I heard one.

At a more local level, Peter May, a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate and councillor has been accused of printing election leaflets for his party’s opponents. Today, he will be defending his council seat in the Uplands ward of Swansea, however, an organisation he runs next to his home in the city is printing election literature for independent candidates across Swansea, some of whom are up against Liberal Democrats. You couldn’t make it up.

Usually you have to wait until you’re 18 to cast your first vote, for some it comes surprisingly early. At the other end of the age scale, it seems that certain golden oldie councillors can’t stay away from the ballot box and front line politics. A former councillor who received money to retire under a ‘golden goodbye’ scheme is standing for election again. In 2004 Eunydd Thomas (formerly of the Labour party) accepted a payout designed to encourage long-serving councillors to make way for new blood. He told a newspaper that supporters had persuaded him to stand again this year for Carmarthenshire Council. He will be attempting to spring back into local politics under a different banner – Independent.

An Assembly Government spokesman said: “...However, for legal reasons it was not possible to include in the regulations a provision which would prevent a recipient of an award from standing in a future election."

Keeping an eye on bigger fish, Plaid’s Chief Engineer and bridge builder, Adam Price MP, has outlined Plaid’s greater ambitions in suggesting that “There’s no veto as far as talking to the Conservatives” in the off chance of there being a hung parliament at the next general election.

But at least one AM who opposed Plaid going into a “rainbow coalition” involving the Conservatives following last year’s inconclusive Assembly Election yesterday said she thought Mr Price was right not to rule anything out. Mid and West Wales AM Nerys Evans said: “He is completely right. We need to be keeping all our options open.

I guess power can be an aphrodisiac - Once you’ve tasted it, there’s no going back.

And finally…

Taking a few minutes out and looking at the situation objectively, while taking into account the goings on of UK and Welsh politics over the last year, I predict that the Welsh Conservatives will be the big winners in the local election stakes:

1) They’re doing well at UK level, even if it is partly down to a tired Labour Government.
2) They have the most to gain at local government level in Wales (in terms of improvement).
3) They didn’t enter into a coalition in Cardiff Bay and won’t suffer from the backlash.
4) Even if they had entered into a Cardiff Bay coalition, core members probably wouldn’t have turned against them.
5) They’re generally seen as being an effective opposition in Cardiff Bay and Westminster.
6) The other parties in Wales have more to lose and less to gain after the events of the last 6-12 months (short-term memory of the indecisive voter).

The question is whether the electorate as a whole take this into account, and let those parties that fizz during their campaign go flat overnight.

As a final thought... While we’re all tucked up in our beds with our warm milk and being read a bedtime story by our chosen partners, spare a thought for those tired officials having to count your vote, whether that vote counts or not in your constituency.


jj 1 May 2008 at 23:01  

Decline and fall of Labour. You having a laugh?

Baht At 1 May 2008 at 23:53  

not wishing to seem naive but aren't the conservatives, well, a bit english for the yakki-dahs?

PS I have welsh friends ;)

Caerphilly miner 2 May 2008 at 00:12  

Fairplay to Ron Davies, he doesn't give up.

Anonymous 3 May 2008 at 18:51  

Labour was given a good kicking at council elections

john boy 3 May 2008 at 18:55  

Only four of Wales' twenty two councils are held outright by one party: Monmouth (Conservative), Vale of Glamorgan (Conservative), Rhondda Cynon Taf (Labour) and Neath Port Talbot (Labour). Coalition is certainly king!

Anonymous 6 May 2008 at 19:17  

Labour down from 471 to 343


Anonymous 6 May 2008 at 19:18  

P.S. Plaid did badly in Gwynedd and Swansea but both were for local reasons. It appears the coalition hasn't affected them yet

Frazer 6 May 2008 at 19:21  

Independents gained 348 seats, 5 more in total than Labour in Wales. Add on small parties, an extra 26, and say 50% of the other parties, for those that vote for other parties as a way of getting or keeping labour out. That makes an extra 53, total 427, as opposed to labours 343 votes. That is a majority of at least 24% of the seats in this election were chosen by people who don't want either a Labour administration or the long term one party system to continue.

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