Monday, 7 November 2011

Ruffled blue feathers

News reaches me of a bad tempered spat on Facebook between a local man and Ms Henrietta Hensher, who has stood as Conservative and Unionist candidate (or as a supporter of "David Cameron's Conservatives" as they appeared on one ballot) in various elections, including a county council by-election, the UK general election and the elections to the Welsh Assembly. Fortunately for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, she was wildly unsuccessful on each occasion.

The latest ding-dong was caused when this member of the public dared to suggest that the Independents on Carmarthenshire County Council were closet Tories, and he backed up his claim by pointing out the bleedin' obvious fact that, unlike all the other mainstream parties, the Conservatives do not contest county council elections here. The sole exception was when Ms Hensher stood as Conservative candidate in Cenarth ward (better known as Newcastle Emlyn) after nobody could be found to stand as an Independent.

He did so in response to a homily posted by Ms Hensher in which she waxed lyrical about the need for political choice, and argued that we here in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr live in a one-party state (Plaid Cymru being the voters' party of choice).

Ms Hensher was outraged. She demanded a retraction of this "disgusting" slur, which she went on to claim was libellous. The poster was a liar, she hyperventilated.

Before anyone could join in the debate, Ms Hensher's comment was removed, and silence descended.

Unfortunately for Ms Hensher, copies of correspondence still exist from the by-election she contested last year.

In an attempt to spark off a genuine debate and encourage more people to take an interest in local politics, two local men challenged the two candidates (Ms Hensher and Mrs Hazel Evans for Plaid Cymru) to hold public meetings so that they could set out their platforms and help voters to make an informed choice. They also pointed out that both candidates had issued bland and meaningless election material which contained little more than vague claims that they would "stand up for the area", along with statements of the bleedin' obvious, such as "agriculture is important to this area".

It seems that both were advised by their respective party machines not to get involved, and so there were no meetings and no debate. So when politicians bemoan the lack of interest in local politics, they really only have themselves to blame, don't they? And calling members of the public who disagree with you a liar, and describing their criticisms as libellous is not exactly encouraging free speech and participation in politics, is it?

In order to give the two ladies a heads up on the sort of issues local people were worried about, the two troublemakers sent them a long list of questions, covering everything from car parking and road safety to their stance on the Welsh language and plans for another supermarket in town.

As it happens, of all the issues exercising local people at the time, the most controversial was the supermarket planning application. Cllr Evans knew all about it and opposed the plan at the recent planning meeting. The Tories, on the other hand, were completely unaware of the supermarket issue, despite the fact that it had received extensive coverage over a period of more than 2 years in the local press, local shop windows were plastered with posters, and there had been several public meetings and action days in town to gather petitions on signatures.

Ms Hensher's agent responded to the invitation with one of the most intemperate outbursts since Gordon Brown called Mrs Gillian Duffy a bigot. Sounding like a bonkers colonel, he attacked the authors of the questions and revealed that neither he nor his candidate were aware of any supermarket planning application. Here I should remind readers that this is a very small community where just about everybody knows everybody else and their business.

Even after he had been politely referred to the council's website and shown the application itself, he still managed to get things wrong, arguing that the application was not for a supermarket but a convenience store (in planning law anything up to a mammoth superstore can be described as a convenience store).

So here are some tips for Ms Hensher and any other budding politician hoping to win elections around here.
  • Get to know the area you want to represent. Familiarise yourself with local issues.
  • Read the local press and talk to local people.
  • Join, or even initiate some local campaigns.
  • In this area you should also take the trouble to learn Welsh to a standard where you can speak to voters in it.
  • Grow a thicker skin and listen to what people have to say.
  • Don't call your voters liars and dismiss any criticism as libellous.
Not much to ask, is it? But, as we have seen from previous posts on the two Tory MPs from neighbouring constituencies, the Conservative Party in Wales attracts some pretty odd people these days. Even David Cameron knows that, which is why he chose an MP representing a constituency in the Home Counties to act as Secretary of State for Wales.

1 comment:

Owen Morgan said...

Hoffi'r blog 'ma Cneifwr. Wedi ffindio fe tra'n ymchwilio ymgeiswyr etholiad 2015 yma yng Ngheredigion. Yn siomedig i weld fod Henrietta wedi croesi'r Teifi, ond yn cymryd cysur o obeithio wneith hi cholli ei blaendal.

Da iawn am y blog, rhywbeth arall i ddwyn fy amser!