Saturday, 7 May 2016

Small earthquake

Well, that's it. After weeks of campaigning, some lively debate, a marginally better voter turnout and what would anywhere else be significant shifts in the popular vote, the hybrid first-past-the-post, semi-proportional electoral system decreed for Wales has left things pretty much as they were. It's five more years of Labour, minus the over-inflated ego of Leighton Andrews.


Writing in this morning's Guardian Professor Richard Wyn Jones notes, "the operation of this system meant that a drop in Labour’s constituency level support from 42% in 2011 to 35% in 2016, and in regional list support from 36.9% to 29%, resulted in the loss of only a single seat".

In another piece written ahead of the election, he described the voting system as "sticky" and perverse, giving Labour a big in-built advantage. "Huge shifts in the patterns of party support at the ballot box have very little impact in terms of the make-up of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay", and yet the operation of the regional list system also manages to be unfair to Labour voters, and this time round, for example, those who put a cross in the Labour box on the regional list in the North unwittingly secured the election of the appalling Nathan Gill and a non-entity called Michelle Brown for Ukip.

Rotten apples

Ironically, and more by accident than design, the system delivered seven regional seats for Ukip, reflecting the 13% of the popular vote they achieved across Wales. The winners include Gareth Bennett who thinks that migrants are "unhygienic", Neil Cash-for Questions Hamilton and this idiotic woman reading very badly from a script who thinks that the EU is preventing the police from getting out on the beat, and that her job as an AM is to secure more powers for Westminster.

Two of the Ukip crop do not even live in Wales. If you want to be a community councillor, effectively an unpaid volunteer prepared to mow grass, pick up litter and deal with dog mess, you must by law live in or within a few miles of the small town or village you represent. The Senedd must be one of the few legislatures in the world where you can become a member without bothering to live in the country whose laws you help shape. If you bother turning up, of course.

Neil Hamilton's response to questions about his home address was to say that he lives "near the M4".

If that was not perverse enough, we have lost the services of two of the most able and widely respected former AMs in the shape of William Powell and Aled Roberts (both LibDem).

It was a disastrous night for the LibDems, deservedly so in Ceredigion where their candidate Elizabeth Evans ran one of the most dishonest and negative campaigns anywhere in the country.

Room 101

The Tories also had a pretty dire time of it, and have thankfully been relegated to third place. In Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Matthew Paul saw his party's share of the vote drop from 20% to 15%. Writing in this week's Carmarthenshire Herald he spends a lot of time talking about Hitler's astrologer before going on to compare Adam Price to the bonkers David Icke. Er, no.

Matthew notes that his own Daily Mail horoscope predicted that "doors that have been firmly shut will spring open this week".

The only thing that opened for Matthew was a trap door.

Plaid had a mixed night. The fantastic outcome in the Rhondda and stonking victories in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and Ceredigion were balanced by disappointing results in Aberwconwy (close), Llanelli (even closer) and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (a poor third).

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire must surely qualify as one of the most unnatural constituencies in Wales, bringing together places as diverse as Tenby and Carmarthen, Saundersfoot and Llanboidy, and the result is that most of its voters are effectively disenfranchised, no matter which party wins.

The C Factor

Llanelli is a special case all on its own. Helen Mary Jones and her team worked incredibly hard and nearly pulled it off. Her quiet dignity and good humour were characteristic after what must have been for her a bitterly disappointing defeat.

There were a number of factors at play here. First, Helen Mary was unlucky to be up against a strong Labour opponent. Lee Waters is young, bright and has strong local roots. In a party dominated by the likes of Kevin Madge, Tegwen Devichand and Kerry Thomas, Lee cuts a lonely figure.

On his blog he tells us that he has "an intolerance for mediocrity". If he is true to his word, he is likely to burst more than a few blood vessels as he settles down to life with Llanelli Labour.

A second factor which won't have helped Helen Mary is Carmarthenshire County Council, until recently led by Labour in coalition with the evergreen poison ivy Independents who have managed to maintain their stranglehold on the new Plaid-led administration.

It seems like only yesterday that Kevin Madge was robustly defending decisions on sports pitches and parks in the south of the county, only for Lee Waters to blame the mess on Plaid.

Last but not least, Plaid's prospects were probably sunk once again by the presence on the ballot paper of Siân Caiach.

Siân is a brave, principled and obstinate force of nature, and unlike any other county councillor in Carmarthenshire, she has a large personal following. The tragedy for her and for Plaid in Llanelli is that what began largely as a personality clash has been allowed to fester for so long and cause so much damage.

Almost for sure, that is not how Siân would see things, but she is one of those people it was always going to be better having in the tent. At which point the analogy breaks down for biological reasons and the law of gravity.

If a repeat is to be avoided next time round, personal animosities and resentment need to be set aside, and an olive branch offered from inside the tent.


As far as the rest of us are concerned, a priority must now be to tackle the absurd voting system. Labour will for obvious reasons be uninclined to want change, but the looming reorganisation of Westminster constituencies which will see Wales reduced from 40 to 29 seats should be the catalyst. No political party in its right mind wants to end up fighting elections on constituency boundaries which differ wildly from year to year.

And looming over all of that is the NHS. After 17 years of Labour in control, the service is moving ever closer to meltdown.

It was obvious from the leaders' debates that health is by far the most important issue for most voters, and yet Labour is in denial. The NHS will be an even hotter topic at the next election, for sure.

The last word goes to Lyndon Rosser who had this to say on Twitter:


JonnyCee said...

Good analysis and very fair. I think it is also fair to observe that the prevalence of the WG appearing on the media every night throughout the campaign to talk about how it would help save Tata Steel in Port Talbot and Trostre has also had a significant effect on the results. I do not doubt that had Labour remained ensconced on Gaol Hill then HMJ would have won handily.

west wales news review said...

Excellent analysis. Some PC councillors (and I am a member) need to see the bigger picture -- and before next May.

Anonymous said...

Not sure where you get your 'insider' information from but it's complete drivel. Polls were against Labour winning the seat and it was a strong grassroots team of local party activists who worked incredibly hard for months for a very able candidate. County councillors did help but in no way is the local party dominated by anyone. You should get some better informers then you would realise that KERI Thomas has been extremely unwell for months. Plaid also ran a very good campaign for which they should have a lot of credit. Shame you have to be so partisan. Whether the result would have been different is Sian hadn't stood we will never know but quite frankly Plaid have known this for a long time and should have least had a counter plan. You fail to mention UKIP which traditionally could damage the Labour vote. All in all your analysis receieves a 2/10 although I am sure you will receive an 11/10 to those you are pandering too.

Bill Chapman said...

You write that the NHS "is moving ever closer to meltdown". Do you have any evidence for that? It is the NHS that continues to gain votes for Labour, in my experience.

There is some sour grapes here. The Labour Party, ably led by Carwyn Jones, is very much the Party of Wales. Its vote increased in both Arfon and Aberconwy between 2011 and 2016, for example. There are reasons for Labour's success overall. Its AMs (and councillors too) work diligently for their communities. People on the whole seem happy with five more years of Labour.

The voting system is odd, it is true, and in the decades to come there can be discussions on improving it. So far I have read of no suggested improvement.

Cneifiwr said...

Bill, you have nicely demonstrated my point that Labour is in denial and out of touch about the NHS. Yes, the service is still providing fantastic treatment to lots of people, but bad, and in some cases, appalling experiences are becoming more and more common. Long - very long - waiting times, for example. Last week I spoke to a woman who was on a waiting list for 18 months to see a consultant. He died 2 weeks after the appointment date came through the post. Another woman I know who nearly died from septicemia. She was diagnosed by her GP husband but sent away from A&E in Glangwili. He then took her to Withybush where he life was saved. My late neighbour, a man in his 50s, who died from bowel cancer that was diagnosed and treated far, far too late. Initially he was told to take paracetemol. Another man who died as a result of deep vein thrombosis and presented with a massively swollen leg, only to be told that nothing abnormal could be found.

Anyone who has spent time in hospital - take Morriston, for example, will tell you that there are far too few nurses. Patients are trundled around from one ward to another every couple of days as the hospital juggles bed spaces. Patients left without water and fed on slop. Knee and hip replacement operations routinely cancelled, often at the last minute and often repeatedly.

A senior NHS employee told me two weeks ago of cover-ups and a culture of concealing bad news which extends all the way up the chain to Mark Drakeford and Carwyn Jones. The more senior you are, the less likely you are, the less likely you are to be told what is happening.

Nothing that we heard in the election campaign suggests that Carwyn and Co are about to sit up and take notice.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@7.18 Keri, my mistake. As you know, Keri Thomas has not been ill for months but for years. He had a whole year off before the 2012 election, but still stood even though he was unable to campaign. In the years since the election he has been absent far more often than not.

Despite being seriously unwell and unable to get to County Hall, the Labour Party still put him onto two important committees.

That suggests to me a party which is far more interested in preserving itself than looking after the people it was elected to represent.

Anonymous said...

Well you are entitled to your opinion but the Labour Group in Carms CC is only a small part of Llanelli Labour Constituency Party and is not dominated by it. We have a vibrant, energetic core of grassroot volunteeers in our constituency who worked tirelessly for months to support the candidate the whole party had chosen. Nothing to do with Carms CC which you seem to be obsessed with and certainly colours your judgment. Your blogs always remind me of Animal Farm 'Four legs good - two legs bad'. No inbetween. Plaid don't own the moral high ground - there are many, many who believe our communities should come first It seems to me you should update your 'detective scanner' and informers to some who actually know what is going on. Llanelli wasn't won by default. It wasn't won because the electorate are sheep as some Plaid suggest. It was won by having an excellent committed candidate and spending 9 hours a day knocking doors as well as telephoning etc. The same can be said of the Plaid team who as far as I can see had very little support from their County Councillors. Perhaps they should think about that?

Jac o' the North, said...

Bill Chapman, I'm not sure what election you're referring to but Carwyn Jones' Labour Party got a third of the votes last week. This makes it the largest party in Wales, but hardly "the Party of Wales".

Cneifiwr said...

All well and good, but if the party is brimming with vibrant, fresh-faced volunteers, why is it that we see the same tired old faces wheeled out year in, year out? And why on earth did Labour (the Llanelli constituency party included) put up Kevin Madge for PCC, assuming that it actually wanted to win? Where's the drive? Where's the ambition? Where's the talent?

I don't think that voters are sheep, just that that's how Labour treats us - witness Nia Griffith's call at the start of the election campaign for Welsh voters to back Labour so as to help rebuild the party in England. It's not what Labour can do for you, it's what you can do for Labour.

Anonymous said...

The only sheep are the ones in Emlyn's barn.

Unknown said...

I am not surprised Carmarthenshire's County Councillors didn't get involved in this election as both Labour and Plaid fail to hold to account wrongdoing by officers (specially CEO)and members who believe their positions give them carte blanch to act against the public interest by circumventing policies & procedures we lesser mortals are expected to follow. No AM candidate would want to be tainted by these members' lack of accountability & the cover ups protecting this toxic Council. Neither Labour or Plaid AMs have any interest in holding the CCC up to the light though the last thing they needed was to be seen cosying up to their party's Cllr members. I doubt this new Labour AM will want to upset the applecart(CCC)either so the duplicity will carry on unchallenged for another 5 years; unless we can persuade our own members to speak up against what is happening change won't take place. Scrutiny in the CCC is a joke as is their following of the Whistleblowing, POVA and Complaints policies; in place to ensure Safeguarding the vulnerable and the Public Interest is put before the need to cover up wrongdoing just to protect its own reputation. I wonder what Cllr Sian Caiach thinks of your suggestion she be invited into the Plaids tent. If Plaid & Labour followed the 7 Principles of Public Office I doubt she would have left Plaid in the first place just as I would have carried on voting for Labour. We need "People First" even if only to force the other parties to look after our interests and the public purse and for them not expend so much energy avoiding getting involved in a proper CCC root and branch clean up. The Council elections next year could be our chance to show the parties our disapproval so please Cllrs start speaking up and taking an interest by not just accepting what officers say you can and cannot question. Bring back Democracy Public Service and Accountability to Public Office whether you're an officer or a member.

Feel the Burn said...

I would invite all of those who think Labour is winning votes from the NHS to take a look at Pembrokeshire where its stewardship has turned one safe Labour seat and one marginal into rock sold, nailed on Conservative seats in both the Assembly and Westminster.
I spoke to the Labour candidates in both the General Election and the recent Assembly election. Joyce Watson and creatures like her have made Pembrokeshire (which returned two Labour MPs until 2005, when Jackie Lawrence stood down and one until 2010) so resistant to Labour that candidates' door-to-door canvassing in some areas is now like having a bucket of sick poured over them.
There is no great love for the Tories, in fact the reverse - especially for Stephen Crabb, whose personal charm is much overrated; however, Carwyn and his band of hooting chimps have turned people off Labour in their thousands.

Anonymous said...

Watch this space Cyneifiwr. Your assessment of Nia Griffith is way off as usual. What you said about Labour could be applied to Plaid and the Independents too. Any new faces in last few years? Labour has never been in favour of PCCs in any event same as Plaid,I understand. Kevin put up a good show but whilst the new PCC for this area is Plaid I have to say he certainly seems to have the experience and credentials and I look forward to him protecting this vital service as opposed to the gentleman before him. Again your post smacks of 'Four legs good, two legs bad'again. How do Labour treat the people of Wales like sheep? Agreed that Labour aren't the party of all Wales butthen how can Plaid claim to be? All in all your views are incredibly old fashioned along the burnt out rhetoric of a lot of extreme nationalists. I am looking forward to more consensual politics in the future. We and Plaid have new blood in the Assembly so hopefully it will be given a shake up and there will be less yahoo politics.