Most county council by-elections don't get anyone's pulse racing, but the contest in Llanegwad, a ward in Carmarthenshire, could be interesting. Voters go to the polls this coming Thursday to choose between Clive Pugh, standing as an "Independent", and Mansel Charles (Plaid Cymru). The previous incumbent, an "Independent", was forced to stand down because of ill-health.
The result will not change the balance of power on the county council, but a Plaid victory should worry the ruling Independent/Labour group.
Both candidates wrote to the Carmarthen Journal to set out their stalls. The "Independent" went first, and gave us a long account of his career and various activities. He made not a single policy statement, and promised nothing - not even the hackneyed "I'll stand up for my community", the meaningless pledge which we usually hear at election time. Perhaps Mr Pugh has come dangerously close to telling us the truth by neglecting to trot out this line.
The "Independents" like to portray themselves as somehow unpolitical and above the party fray, but Mr Pugh used his letter to take a swipe by claiming that unlike the political parties, the "Independents" decide things for themselves in the county. This criticism, if that's what it was, could just as well be applied to Labour, the "Independents'" chums, as to Plaid Cymru.
Before I turn to Mansel Charles, it's worth asking who the "Independents" really are. They are not Plaid Cymru, obviously, nor can they be Labour. There is a LibDem on the council, and two members of a group called "People First". But no Tories. Or are there?
The "Independents" are pursuing policies David Cameron would be proud of, and they have even embraced his "Big Society" as they shut down services and try to get charities to run them. Many of the "Independents" would not be out of place in the council chambers of Surrey or Sussex. As the old adage goes, if it quacks like a duck....
But back to Mansel Charles. He has deep roots in the community, as apparently does Mr Pugh, and unlike his rival he nails his colours to the mast.
He will campaign against plans to close village schools, work with local groups to stop plans for largescale wind farms and try to get the council to bring in traffic calming measures in Nantgaredig.
Unlike his non-political "Independent" rival, Mr Charles did not use his letter to attack other parties or groups.
The problem for the "Independents" is that they are a political party just like the others, whether they call themselves Tories or not. They vote together with a rigid party discipline which most mainstream parties would be envious of. And they are committed to a whole string of policies and programmes which are undermining rural communities, damaging the Welsh language and hurting the people they were elected to represent.
I can think of one village not far from me with around 400 inhabitants. It now has no village shop, no post office, no pub and no school. And the council has stopped gritting the roads in winter, so that those without 4x4s had to walk 5 miles (and 5 miles back) to buy a loaf of bread in the last "big freeze". Short of turning off the water and electricity, it's hard to see what more the council could do to destroy the place.
Mr Pugh must be a brave man, because if elected he will find himself having to defend the closure of schools in his ward and cuts to services used by many of his elderly residents and other groups. His friends already on the council have been getting plenty of practice, so they will be able to advise him how to ignore his electors. And if he hangs around for long enough and does as he's told, he can expect to be given a committee to chair. That would bring his pay up to around £30,000. On top of his pension, of course.
Perhaps Llanegwad will give them a message even they cannot ignore.
This article is broadly based on my previous post.