Friday 28 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: The Independents

The choice confronting voters in next week's county council elections is even more fraught with danger than usual if their pencil hovers over candidates describing themselves as "independent".

There are at least three kinds:
  • "Official" Independents (with a capital 'I') who sit and almost always vote together as a bloc;
  • Unaffiliated independents, the Norman Nomates of local politics;
  • Si├ón Caiach's People First candidates who this year appear on the ballot paper as independents.
As usual, quite a few of those standing as independents will also be closet Tories, Labour supporters or even Kippers, such as Gethin James, standing in Ceredigion as an independent although he is a prominent member of UKIP.

It's all a little reminiscent of the Aberporth North Minehead by-election in this old Monty Python clip. The only surprise is that Gethin has not re-named himself Bethin Bames, Bindependent.

But independents come in all shapes, sizes and flavours, and the Carmarthenshire Independents will emerge from next week's elections as a very different group from the one we have known for so long. There are likely to be fewer of them, for one thing, and gone are Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer who dominated the group for so long.

Pam, who always laughably described herself as non-political, was the group leader, and one of the interesting things will be who takes over. Cneifiwr is putting 50p on Giles Morgan, the Prince Charles of Carmarthenshire's Independents.

A recent piece on this blog which mentioned Edward Thomas, the Independent standing for re-election in Llandeilo, attracted some critical comments from Edward's supporters, but the very mild criticism of the Independents which produced that response stands.

Here's why.

All councillors, whether they are backbenchers or members of the Executive Board (i.e. cabinet), have two principal roles. The first is to represent their wards and tackle all of the local issues which people want action on, from dog poo to blocked drains and planning applications. The second is to be a member of the wider council and to participate in decisions on matters which affect the whole of the county, such as education, the environment, social care, housing, regeneration and the Local Development Plan.

It is that second role that Independents struggle to fulfil because they do not have an agreed, coherent and co-ordinated approach to policy. Or if they do, they won't tell voters because they don't publish a manifesto.

One former Carmarthenshire Independent famously used to boast that he never had a policy in his life.

And yet, ever since Carmarthenshire re-emerged from Dyfed, Independents have sat at the top table with responsibility for matters on which they have no stated policy. The result in Carmarthenshire has for years been to surrender democratic control to the undemocratic rule of Mark James.

Leighton Andrews' proposed reforms of local government failed, but that does not mean that reform is not needed. Nobody should serve in a council cabinet unless they have signed up to a manifesto telling voters what they plan to do with that responsibility.

Ironically, Llandeilo also provides us with another graphic reason why voting Independent may not always be in a community's best interests.

By far and away the most serious problem confronting the town is air pollution, and nice as Edward Thomas may be, an independent backbencher was never going to be in a position to do anything about that.

The agreement to build a bypass for Llandeilo came about only because Adam Price and Plaid Cymru worked hard behind the scenes to cut a deal with the government in Cardiff, and that in the face of opposition from the likes of Lee Waters for Labour.


Anonymous said...

I think the Independents speak about voting like plaid and labour do before each meeting . But in fairness not all vote with pam . Huw Richards Giles Morgan John Jenkins and Theresa Bowen have voted against them and labour in favour of Llanelli. Giles leader yeah 50p is right but i would go a quid on lrc leadership for him which would upset Jim on 25p and Carol Rees on 10p . If anything i think leadership is in the minds of Huw Hengoed . Mair Stevens and Jim Jones . Wether they get the support of indys is another matter . Dont forget the oldies in independents are standing down and that is opening the way for younger fresh blood who i doubt will allow them to just slip in as leader of the group. However..... Huw has the farmers backing and theres a few who will be returned . But in my opinion hes too friendly with other sides .

Anonymous said...

As a local Llandeilo resident I must state there is a long history of support for the by pass. My concern is if the affiliated independents do a coalition deal with Labour like the did in 2012 then without any policies they will prop up Labour policies instead. A big concern is Lee Waters Labour AM is campaigning with council candidates and has been attacking the by pass in the assembly on a regular basis. We need to protect this by pass and make sure it is built.

Anonymous said...

I do not think the Independents will work with Plaid - Labour in llanelli is toxic, cares little about the rural areas , even less about the Welsh Language ,wants everything for Llanelli . Independents were 80%Welsh speaking in the last council , representing in the main rural wards . Labour for 3 years were muddled and there was in the last 2 years a far better working coalition with Plaid/ Independent

Anonymous said...

Jim Jones may not get re-elected there is a strong candidate in Five Roads John Williams {John the bank }. Jim has not shone as a Executive Board Member and is not popular with members of his own group , fails to respond in County Hall effectively . Mair Stephens is deputy leader of Independent Group

Anonymous said...

I doubt very much that will happen . Not many inys support labour now

Anonymous said...

It's a fair point to suggest that Independents, when in positions of authority, should have a manifesto or programme of legislation to underpin a plan of government and to allow effective democratic monitoring and scrutiny. I entirely agree.

Unfortunately, the fact that Carmarthenshire's "official" Independent group have not had this to date says more about the state of our collective knowledge and interest in local government affairs than about the Independents themselves. In an area where both knowledge and interest in local governance was high they would have been voted out as individuals long ago.

My main point in commenting though was that, as much as your blog is heartening to view because of the interest in local politics that it generates, I must take issue with your argument against Edward Thomas.

You conflate two separate points when speaking about his role as an independent. Firstly, he is not part of the "official" Independent grouping and therefore does not share in their collective failure. Were he to be in a position of power I have no doubt, having known him for two decades, that he would publish some kind of plan or manifesto for what he wanted to achieve.

Similarly, on the more general point about taking a wider interest in County issues, he has certainly done this. Locally he is known as someone who works with other Community Councils to achieve much broader aims. It is almost impossible to go to Llandeilo without seeing Edward somewhere, which makes him highly available if anyone wishes to know his views on wider issues, so locals generally have a good understanding of where he stands on most topics. Edward is known and trusted enough that people are happy that he takes his own position on wider County issues - as is his right as an "independent" independent councillor. And this position is much more considered than many.

On the bypass - no councillor, whether Plaid or independent, has jurisdiction over this subject. Even a Plaid councillor could not have brought a bypass to the area. Edward however, as an energetic and active campaigner, has consistently been in touch with the Welsh Government (I have seen the letters and heard about the meetings) to keep the matter on the agenda - which is as much as any councillor can do. Adam Price knows about the issue because Edward (and others to be fair) have kept the item on the agenda and in the minds of the Welsh Government.

Though I do not know Keri Lewis (the Plaid candidate for the area), I have seen that his only claim to having an impact on any aspect of the bypass was to call someone out on Twitter, which is the least-involved one can be short of doing nothing. No claim to even have sent letters of protest - which has not gone down well.

Finally, one mistake so many people have made over the last few years in politics is telling ordinary voters how they should vote or what criteria they should use. Ultimately, voters in Llandeilo are more engaged in local politics than most areas, but will naturally (as everywhere) vote for the candidate who looks most likely to defend the interests of the town. In recent years, I genuinely cannot think of anyone more likely to do this than Edward.

Verity said...

I agree that if the "independent" councillors are going to form themselves into a group (which in itself is a contradiction in terms of course) then they should have some sort of manifesto or statement of aims and objectives.

And likewise the Labour and Plaid groups because apart from various vacuous statements in their leaflets that have been pushed through my letterbox, I don't see much in the way of manifestos for these groups either.

The only group which appears to have its principles and aims clearly stated is People First, led by the estimable Cllr Caiach.

Anonymous said...

They wont work with labour . But i can see a prop with plaid

Anonymous said...

Hahaha . John the bank instead of jimbo ? Jims winning even with the slander from naties . Jim will win again without buying a pint .

Anonymous said...

There is no peoples first "group" and it states shes independent now . The group was just sian in county so its not a group . Independents are not really a group as i see it there us no whip . They dont pay to a party . Each one has their own manifesto and do not get "told" which way to vote enblock .

Anonymous said...

In your paragraph on KL, you state not knowing him then follow with presumptive remarks, a highly logical position!!

Anonymous said...

In Edward's pamphlet he states he is part of the Independent Group.

Anonymous said...

I think you'll find, Anon @ 19.12, that the Independent Group of councillors on Carmarthenshire County Council did actually call themselves a group, were considered to be a group in coalition with first the Labour group and latterly with the Plaid group; they did act as a group and did vote en bloc on most occasions and will probably continue in that vein if and when they are re-elected. Apart from Cllr Caiach who is truly independent, there is no way that the others who called themselves independent have, in the past, acted as independent individuals with minds of their own.

Anonymous said...

After my neighbour pointed out this blog because of Mr. E. Thomas Facbook updating. I have studied it and I am very annoyed. It has been stated on that Facebook that this is a party blog. It has been spun to cast a poor light on one local candidate who I have met and came across as polite, professional and genuine. Foul play has no role in this town. My vote will no longer be going to Mr. Thomas but now to Mr. Lewis.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be some serious misinformation promulgated by the Political Parties about Independents . In Wales, there is a long tradition of Independent Councillors going back decades . In Carmarthenshire , there was a group of local elected county councillors who do not pay affiliation fees to parties, whether that be Plaid , Labour etc,do not accept a party whip , do not vote as a block but have joined together because whilst they have no manifesto they have a similar agenda . They only represent their local community , they look after their local constituents first & last but come together as like minded people with similar outlooks to consider county wide matters. If there was no Independent "group " , the parties i.e. Labour & Plaid would gain control of all the scrutiny committees, there would be in fighting , no decisions would be made because the parties would be constant quarrelling . The Independents are the balance - the moderate sense of balance and fair play . The independents have worked with both parties over the last 20 years some time as majority some time as minority group but always providing balance , Sina Caiach was a party because she registered as a party but she had two elected members in 2011 then only one in 2012 , now because she forget to register she is calling herself Unaffiliated Independent - no Indie will work with her neither will Plaid where she was asked to leave .

Anonymous said...

I was so pleased to seem local county councillor Edward Thomas was returned with a large majority in a ward were there was a 61% turnout . Mr Thomas is a hard working councillor , very active in this area and deserved to trash the Plaid & Lib Dem candidates who were naive . The Lib Dem actually delivered leaflets to Ffairfach where I live for the Town Council election in Llandeilo . We are part of Dyffryn Cennen Community council - very silly but then after meeting on the doorstep she struck me as very silly. The Plaid guy was not a wish speaker very silly in a welsh speaking area .

Anonymous said...

Edward Thomas hard working?? Never even knocked my door!! Or delivered his own leaflets!! Had an army of volunteers going around town for him!! No knock at the door!! No clue what he wants for the town and even people who voted for him dont know!! He is not Mr. Llandeilo as some might think!! And dont get me started about the town council!! Same old faces!! The cosy club!! None of the town council knocked my door except the lib dem.

Anonymous said...

The Young Dynamic Team of Dr Rhys Thomas & Keri Lewis could not match the local support and hard work of the Independent Councillors .
My Neighbour & friend Joseph Davies had a close run despite Plaid Phoning people If "you cannot vote Plaid Vote Liberal " acceptable tactics in the gutter of Llanelli so I gather but in rural communities where everyone knows everyone!! . I heard this from another neighbour -.diabolical

Across the roundabout local Cty cllr Edward Thomas scored 57% of the very turnout beating dynamic Keri to a 3rd place 18% & Lib Dem 19%

Anonymous said...

8th May 07.54 Councillior Edward Thomas is a friend of long standing ,His army of volunteers was his brother who came down for the last few days , his sister who helped for a few days and another friend who gave 3hrs of his time . I know another friend drove him around Trap & Llandyfan .
The Plaid had helpers including the AM & MP helping them deliver leaflets Similarly LIB DEMS who delivered leaflets all the time had helpers .
IF you saw his leaflet for Llandeilo Town Council and his leaflet for County Council and actually could read it then you would understand what he has done for the area.
If you saw that there are 2 new Town Councillors this year and 2 new town Councillors last year you would not state it was the same old faces.
BY The way 798 voted for Mr Thomas in the County Council & 342 in the Town Twyi Ward Top of the Polls both times

Anonymous said...

The Independents Party in Carmarthenshire and Llanelli are a dying breed by these results. 1/3 of their seats lost. Those 15 independent elected wards have yet to feel the bite of the cuts I can only imagine. Because the author is quite correct that they have no policies. Without policies CCC would be in chaos. The electorate have gone for personality. So those 15 wards are probably not feeling the bite of the ecomonic and social decline from the cuts and austerity agenda. A real shame. I would like to have seen a variety of parties returned. It would have offered greater governance and scrutiny. Same applies to community councils. Need more new faces and policies. But the independent party are very much in reverse gear and those 15 wards will come to their senses over time.