Wednesday 31 May 2017

Nia's Last Stand

Apologies to readers for the long gap between posts.

This next piece deals with Nia Griffith and has been difficult to write for two reasons. First, there is the sheer abundance of material chronicling her political career, and second is the even harder task of  trying to work out what she stands for and what makes her tick.

The contest between Nia Griffith and Mari Arthur for Plaid is one of the more interesting Welsh battles in this general election. If Mari succeeds, she will have broken Labour's century old grip on the town. She is young and energetic, has bags of personality and business experience and believes passionately in reaching out across the tribal divisions which have become such a feature of Llanelli politics.

For the first time since 2005 Nia is looking tired and vulnerable. If she is re-elected it is a racing certainty that she will be sacked by Corbyn for her conduct during the election campaign, and it is highly unlikely that she would stand again in 2022.

Whatever the result, this is Nia's last stand.


In the 2016 Labour leadership election Nia Griffith threw her weight behind Owen Smith. This did not go down well with many in her constituency party, with Tegwen Devichand commenting in the local press, "Nia is entitled to her opinion. When it comes to re-election, if people want to re-elect her, only time will tell".

As endorsements go, that one is as close to freezing point as you can get.

Ironically, if Nia Griffith is re-elected next week it will be thanks to the Corbynistas, and yet for a politician who has notoriously built an entire career on being wildly inconsistent, Nia Griffith herself has consistently sought to undermine the credibility of her own party leader whenever he talks about defence, foreign policy and security.

In the wake of the Manchester bombing, Corbyn resumed his campaign by arguing that there is a connection between British foreign policy and terrorism:

The responsibility of government is to minimise that chance, to ensure the police have the resources they need, that our foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country, and that at home we never surrender the freedoms we have won, and that terrorists are so determined to take away. Too often government has got it wrong on all three counts and insecurity is growing as a result.

Later that same day up popped Nia Griffith on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions to rubbish her leader's view. There was, she said, no link between UK foreign policy and terrorism.

That there is no love lost between Nia Griffith and the Labour leadership was underlined a couple of weeks earlier when Corbyn delivered a keynote foreign policy speech at Chatham House. Although Labour's shadow foreign secretary, attorney general and international development secretary went along to support their leader, Nia Griffith was apparently not invited and did not have a hand in drafting his speech, even though defence and the renewal of Trident featured heavily in what Corbyn had to say.

Extraordinary to think that here we have sections of the Llanelli Labour Party campaigning to get Nia Griffith re-elected even though they are in complete disagreement on fundamental issues, and that Nia Griffith herself is campaigning to get Labour elected under Corbyn with herself as Secretary of State for Defence, even though their views are about as far apart as its possible to get.

It was all very different when Corbyn first appointed Nia to his shadow cabinet back in 2015.

Initially she was shadow Secretary of State for Wales; when the bulk of the parliamentary party rebelled against Corbyn, Nia hung on and was one of the last to throw in her towel. Having resigned, she then backed Owen Smith; when Smith went down to a catastrophic defeat, Nia wasted no time in rejoining the shadow cabinet, this time being given the defence portfolio.

Corbyn could be forgiven for thinking that Nia Griffith would be sympathetic to his views; she had after all a long track record of being against nuclear weapons, and had voted on no fewer than three occasions against renewing Trident.

As recently as October 2015 she had joined Mark Drakeford and other Labour notables in launching a "Stop Trident" campaign in Cardiff, saying she wanted "a genuine re-think".

A year later she came out in favour of Trident renewal. It was time to stop "shilly shallying about" she announced, basing her new stance on the argument that the Labour Party had backed Trident renewal as long ago as 2007 - an argument which would also have applied when she helped launch the Stop Trident campaign 12 months earlier. By April 2017, formerly anti-nuclear Nia was telling the BBC, "We are absolutely clear … we are prepared to use it. I am certainly prepared to use it."

The journey from being a veteran anti-nuclear campaigner to Trident enthusiast took Nia just 12 months.

But it's not just defence and foreign policy (incidentally she voted against holding the Iraq war inquiry and in favour of military intervention in Libya and Syria) where Nia Griffith is much closer to the Tories than the Labour leadership and a huge swathe of its members.

The term "Red Tory" could have been coined with Nia in mind.

"Most Gluttonous"

Let's go back to the beginning of Nia's Westminster career. She was first elected in 2005 under Tony Blair, and remained a relatively obscure backbencher until 2009 when she hit the headlines in the MPs' expenses scandal.

Nia was one of 27 Welsh MPs asked to repay expenses and had to cough up just over £4,000 for wrongly paid mortgage interest. Only Alun Michael (Lab), Wayne David (Lab) and Chris Bryant (Lab) had to repay more.

Despite that setback and the tightening of the rules which followed, she remains one of the highest claiming Welsh MPs, and took the top slot in 2011-12 with claims totalling just under £167,000.

Also in 2009 Nia made it on to the Guardian's list of "Most Gluttonous" MPs for being among the 32 MPs who were revealed to have claimed the full £400 monthly food allowance (since abolished), including for periods when the House of Commons was not sitting.

This rather embarrassing track record has not prevented her from grandstanding in the press on the issue of food banks; they were a "crying shame" she declared in 2015.

"Extremely cautious"

Labour is campaigning on not one but two manifestos in Wales in this election. First we have Labour's UK manifesto in which Nia Griffith had a hand.

The first, leaked version of the document contained what most people would probably consider the eminently sensible words,

But any prime minister should be extremely cautious about ordering the use of weapons of mass destruction which would result in the indiscriminate killing of millions of innocent civilians.

These were removed from the final version, at Nia's insistence, we are told.

When Corbyn's manifesto was launched in Bradford shortly after the leak, the press noted that Nia Griffith was absent from the event, preferring to stay in Llanelli (or 'Llannelli', as the Sun would have it).

If the Sun had done its homework, it would have found that her decision to stay in Llanelli was noteworthy for being more than just a snub to Corbyn, because outside election campaigns Nia Griffith is often to be found anywhere but Llanelli.

In the couple of months leading up to the general election campaign, Nia's Twitter feed records a very hectic travel itinerary. She campaigned in the by election in Copeland in the north-west of England ("Labour vote holding firm", she tweeted; Labour lost); a few days later she was in Barrow in Furness. From there she headed off to Cyprus to see British troops stationed on the island. A couple of weeks later she popped up in Bangor, and headed from there to Prestatyn. In April she touched down in Bamber Bridge (near Preston) and went on to canvas in Lancaster. Next stop was Beaumaris on Ynys Môn where she went out and about with MP Albert Owen to campaign for Labour candidates for the island's county council. Heading south, she next pops up in Cardiff campaigning with Steve Doughty.

But she has also found time during the general election campaign to take time off from pounding the streets of Llanelli, including a trip to Chester where she went canvassing for Chris Mathes. Why so many of her trips take her to the north-west of England is a mystery, and was spending time campaigning for Labour county council candidates in Beaumaris really what the people of Llanelli elected her for?

Back at home, one of the biggest issues this year was the Llangennech row. It was all over the media, was discussed in the Senedd and brought a significant intervention from Huw Edwards. 

She could have used her influence to call her wayward constituency party to heel; instead she stayed resolutely silent and left it to Lee Waters to deal with. And Waters made a monumental hash of things.

What with her shadow cabinet responsibilities, which seem to revolve chiefly around fighting Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, and her canvassing expeditions in north-west England, it is no surprise that there has been growing criticism in Llanelli that Nia has lost touch with what is going on in her constituency.

"Standing up for Wales"

The second of the two manifestos Nia Griffith is supposedly standing on is the document launched by Labour's Welsh branch office, entitled "Standing Up for Wales".

Welsh Labour is of course nothing more than a marketing brand, with no separate legal existence. The 20 or so Welsh Labour MPs in the House of Commons sit as a part of the much larger English Labour group, and are whipped accordingly.

Three of the five key pledges in the manifesto are devolved (education, the NHS and housing), and so are irrelevant to the UK general election campaign. Other commitments include devolving policing to the Welsh Assembly - something which Welsh Labour MPs in Westminster have previously opposed, although in Nia's case it is impossible to tell because she was absent for the vote.

Here is Nia's voting record in the last Parliament:

She voted 13 times to devolve more powers to Scotland, but only 6 times to devolve more powers to Wales.

·        Absent for a vote on Devolving Responsibility for Jobcentre Plus to the Welsh Government
·        Voted against devolving powers relating to energy generation to the National Assembly for       Wales
·        Absent for a vote on devolving long haul rates of duty to Wales
·        Absent for a vote on devolving legislative competence for water in Wales
·        Absent for a vote to allow the National Assembly for Wales to set the number of AMs
·        Absent for a vote to allow Welsh Ministers to set own capital expenditure priorities
·        Absent for a vote to devolve policing powers to Wales
·        Absent for a vote to allow Welsh thresholds for income tax
·        Absent for a vote on the separation of legal jurisdictions for England and Wales
·        Absent for a vote to allow a referendum on devolving Welsh income tax rate setting

Other votes
·        Voted against devolving more powers to local councils and local people particularly in relation to social housing and planning
·        Voted against requiring a more extensive set of conditions be met prior to consent for fracking
·        Voted against giving MPs from Wales a veto when laws specifically impacting their part of the UK are discussed
.         Voted for mass surveillance of people's communications and activities

And here is Labour's Westminster record on devolving more powers to Wales ("Standing up for Wales"):

         • Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting on separate jurisdiction for Wales.
Labour abstained from voting to stop the UK Government intervening in the actions of the National Assembly if it impacts water in England. Plaid voted against this. 
• Labour abstained from voting to give the National Assembly for Wales powers over policing, police pay, probation, community safety, crime prevention. Plaid vote for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from devolving powers over non-wind generating stations in Wales. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against devolving powers to regulate betting machines. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted not to devolve powers relation to alcohol and entertainment licensing. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against allowing public sector bodies to operate rail services in Wales. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against devolving powers relating to air passenger duty to Wales. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting to allow the Welsh Assembly to set Income Tax thresholds. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting to allow the people of Wales to decide whether to devolve powers over income tax to the Welsh Assembly. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting to devolve responsibility for the Job Centre to Wales. Plaid vote for. 
• Labour and Tories voted against devolving powers relating to energy generation to Wales. Plaid voted for this. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from considering basing Welsh public funding on the needs of the country. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from allowing the Welsh Assembly to set the number of AMs it should have. Plaid vote for this. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from allowing the Welsh Government to decide on which infrastructure projects to invest in. Plaid voted for this. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from devolving powers over water to Wales. Plaid voted for this.

 And if that were not enough, here is the record of Welsh Labour MPs on other matters:

• Labour voted with the Tories (or abstained) for the harshest of austerity measures – to slash public spending by a further £30 billion, mainly by capping welfare benefits. Plaid voted against. 
• Labour and Tories voted to double the income of the Royal Family, despite austerity measures for the rest of the country. Plaid voted against. 
• Labour voted with the Tories to reduce tax credit payments for the lowest paid workers in society. Plaid voted against.
• Labour and the Tories voted to cut benefits for disabled people and those with long-term illnesses. Plaid voted against. 
• Labour didn’t bother to vote to ensure the Prime Minister had to take into account the objectives of Wales when conducting negotiations with the EU. Plaid voted for.
• Labour didn’t bother to vote to stop the Tories passing a law to allow the mass interception of people's communications, and the retention and use by the state of data, including personal banking, travel, and health data. Plaid voted to stop this.

Despite this, and despite being absent from a key vote to slash tax credits, you can still read on Nia Griffith's website why tax credit cuts matter - but not enough to make her turn up to vote.

If we do get another Tory government next week, as still seems more than likely, Labour, and "Welsh" Labour in particular, have ensured that Wales will be left powerless to defend its interests.

The Tories will be more than content to see Nia Griffith, Wayne David, Chris Bryant and the rest returned, and you can't blame them.

Only a vote for Plaid will stop Theresa May and Co from riding roughshod over our people.

We now have only ten days to find out if the people of Llanelli want to re-elect their MP, but if they are as unenthusiastic as Tegwen, Nia Griffith is heading for a long overdue retirement.

This has to be the strangest of all the post-war general elections. Corbyn's red tortoise has not overtaken the Theresa May's blue hare, but he has been gaining ground.

Thursday 25 May 2017

Silent spring

After a two day suspension in the wake of the terrible events in Manchester, the parties have agreed to resume campaigning gradually over the next couple of days.

There will be no televised debates with Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, and the Prime Minister has stayed as far away as possible from ordinary voters, with choreographed and tightly controlled appearances in front of party activists dominating her schedule. On the few occasions she has moved out of that comfort zone, the results have been far from impressive.

Apart from incessant parroting of "strong and stable" and "the best possible deal" from the Tories, Brexit - by far the most important issue facing the UK - has been the elephant in the room throughout the campaign.

In Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Plaid has worked its socks off to get its message out; Labour briefly swept through this part of the constituency and will not be back for another five years. Almost nothing has been seen or heard from the other parties, and it seems that so far few of us have received any communication from them.

Anecdotally, things are no different in other constituencies.

Postal votes go out today, and by the beginning of next week a significant proportion of the electorate will have cast their votes against a backdrop of soldiers carrying automatic weapons in public places and largely silent politicians.

A snap election punctuated by a major terrorist incident, control freakery, an overwhelmingly right wing press, a highly unrepresentative voting system, poorly organised political parties and the deliberate dumbing down of politics by the Tories above all add up to an exercise in democracy which would not look out of place in a banana republic.

Sunday 21 May 2017

Havard Hughes comes home - briefly

A candidate who has yet to darken Cneifiwr's door is Tory Havard Hughes who may or may not be hoping to win Carmarthen East and Dinefwr for Theresa May.

He has a home and a long-term partner in the swish Belsize Park area of London, and by his own modest account he has had a successful career in the City of London and working for Coventry Building Society - in PR. In the highly unlikely event that he were to win, being an MP for such a distant outpost would play havoc with his social life and generally be very inconvenient.

It's fair to say that Havard has mixed feelings about what he calls his "second home" in Wales. True enough, he grew up in Carmarthenshire and went to QE in Carmarthen, but in his account on Wales Online he says he was "compelled to move away from the land of our fathers" (readers should be warned at this point that reading this piece may induce feelings of nausea) to seek his fortune in the City because Welsh politicians were "unable or unwilling to fix our economy".

The problem with this version of history is that up to the point that Havard became an economic migrant in England, Wales was under direct rule from Westminster, and for nearly all of Havard's early years that meant Tory government under Margaret Thatcher. Thanks to a very weak devolution settlement, control over all the important economic levers remains firmly in London and in Tory hands.

His interview with Wales Online throws up numerous other examples which suggest that the Tory candidate is, well, on a different planet.

Asked what inspired him to enter politics, Havard replied,

Being made to feel like a second-class citizen in my own country by bigoted Welsh Nationalists.

Perhaps Havard Hughes was traumatized at an early age when someone called him a coc oen. We will probably never know, but whatever it was that inspired him, he joined the LibDems and became a councillor in north London, an unlikely place from which to launch a political career dedicated to fighting Welsh nationalism. Dire warnings of the evils of voting for Plaid Cymru must have puzzled voters in the London boroughs no end.

Hughes remained with the LibDems while that party's fortunes prospered, but in 2007 he jumped ship after 17 years of LibDemmery to join the Tories under David Cameron.

Hughes told Conservative Home that what attracted him was Cameron's liberalism. Certainly in 2007 the old Etonian PR man was busy giving the Tory Party a make-over. It was - briefly - no longer the Nasty Party, but a green, husky loving, hoody hugging hipster force for making the world a better place for the very rich.

Or perhaps Havard Hughes thought his flagging political career stood a better chance if he hitched his wagon to the Tories.

Sadly, political success eluded him under Cameron, but Hughes remained in his own words "an instinctive liberal".

The catastrophic end of Cameron's time in office saw the coronation of the distinctly illiberal Theresa May, a wooden politican who manages to make even Gordon Brown look charismatic.

Whatever liberal tendencies Havard Hughes still harboured were quickly ditched in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, and he became a fully paid-up member of the weird personality cult being woven around Theresa May whose record on human rights and civil liberties is anything but liberal.

Havard is now a May-bot. His Facebook campaign barely even acknowledges the Conservative Party; he is now simply "Theresa May's local candidate":

Apart from wearing a Barbour jacket and posing in front of some sheep grazing peacefully on the hills of Carmarthenshire, our London Tory has no discernible connection with Welsh agriculture which is facing disaster as we head out of the single market and the Customs Union.

But don't worry, boys. Havard Hughes says he will be your champion in Government, and in another spectacular flight of fancy he says he will sit "around the table with Theresa May as she negotiates Brexit".

In reality, Hughes would be one of probably not more than a dozen Tories representing a Welsh constituency in a sea of hundreds of English Tory MPs, and a very junior backbencher to boot.

Havard Hughes' chances of getting anywhere near the negotiating table and influencing his notoriously autocratic ultimate boss are fantasy like the rest of his platform. Hands up who thinks "Theresa May's local candidate" would dare say boo to She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Welcoming the launch of the Tory manifesto last week, a Daily Mail editorial described the document as "a manifesto for Middle England". It contains barely a word about Wales, and so it is perhaps entirely appropriate that a PR man working for a building society in Coventry, the very heart of middle England, should have been parachuted into Carmarthenshire for Theresa May.

Strong and stable

Judging from his output in the social media, Havard Hughes' strategy appears to be based on endless and mindless repetition of the words "strong and stable", while wrapping himself in the Union Jack. For someone who is so keen to boast about his Welsh credentials (including his ability to speak Welsh), his messages are completely devoid of the language apart from a snapshot of a leaflet bearing the Union Jack and the words Arweinyddiaeth Gryf a Sefydlog (yes, strong and stable leadership again):

One of the few messages not to include the words "strong and stable" promises that the Tories will commit to investing in British shipyards. "British shipbuilding will have a renaissance", we are promised. The fact that Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is pretty much landlocked and that there is no Welsh shipbuilding industry are minor details.

How strongly any of this will resonate with voters we will see, but if Cneifiwr's own canvassing experiences in rural north Carmarthenshire are anything to go by, Havard Hughes' message will be regarded as utterly irrelevant by many and deeply offensive by others.

What is clear is that Jonathan Edwards has succeeded in building a broad coalition of support among Welsh speakers and incomers alike. If he hadn't, he could never have won here.

If you live in Wales, you have a stake in Wales, he says, and some of the strongest conversations on the doorstep were with people who moved here, work here, set up small businesses here and have grown to love this country, its values and its people.

There is real concern about what the future holds, and there is an acute awareness among many voters that Theresa May and Co know nothing about Wales, care less and look set to lead us over a cliff with catastrophic consequences for the Welsh economy, and farming in particular.

But at least Boris's new Royal Yacht may do something for the shipbuilding industry somewhere, even if it's not Carmarthenshire.

Thursday 18 May 2017

Labour Darkins Cneifiwr's Door - Updated

Update 19 May

Labour's satnav seems to have developed a strange technical fault. Yesterday it was telling us that the candidate began his campaign in Llandysul; today it says that the campaign began in Drefach Felindre, "an idyllic rural village". An anonymous poster in the comments below would have us believe that it said Drefach Felindre all along, and that to say otherwise is "fake news".

Unfortunately, in his rush to change the location of his launch, the Labour candidate has forgotten to proofread the rest of his brief announcement:

Today was the official launch of the Welsh Labour Campaign in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. We launched our campaign in Dre-Fach Felindre near Llandysul, an idyllic rural village in the north of the constituency. In my address to Labour Party activists an supporters, I warned of the dangers of another Tory govenrment whih would drive further inequality in our society and further privitise our public services.

Welsh speaking voters wishing to read about the candidate and why they should vote for him will be sadly disappointed. His commitment to the language is limited to telling us that he is a "llais ffres i Sir Gâr".

The rest of Dave Darkin's campaign website tells us about his business and comings and goings in Llanelli, including the fact that he recently became a member of Llanelli Town Council. It forgets to tell us that voters in Llanelli did not think he was up to the job of becoming a county councillor.

Those who voted to make Dave a member of Llanelli Town Council two short weeks ago will be surprised to learn that he appears to have moved to Ammanford since being elected, according to both his own website and that of the Labour Party:

Concerned Llanelli residents may wish to check with the clerk to Llanelli Town Council that Dave still qualifies to sit as a town councillor.


The far north west corner of Carmarthenshire is not exactly fruitful territory for Labour, but then neither is the Amman Valley these days. The whole of the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency returned just two Labour councillors on 4 May in what used to be a sea of red.

Labour has lost its way, and that may explain why the party chose to launch its general election campaign in what it describes as the "idyllic rural village" of Llandysul "in the north of the constituency".

Perhaps someone should give them a map because Llandysul is not actually in the constituency.

This great event is recorded on Dave Darkin's campaign website which contains next to nothing about Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and a great deal about Llanelli and Darkin's work as an architect. It's one way of touting for business.

If Dave's campaign website is to be believed, the Labour candidate, who states on his nomination papers that his home address is in Llanelli, has upped sticks and moved to Ammanford, where he appears to be shacked up with former councillor Anthony Jones:

Hyrwyddwyd gan Anthony Jonas ar gyfer David Darkin, y ddau o 15 Maesllwyn, Bonllwyn, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, SA18 2EG
Promoted by Anthony Jones on behalf of David Darkin, both of 15 Maesllwyn, Bonllwyn, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, SA18 2EG

Having puzzled voters in Ceredigion, the Labour squad headed for Newcastle Emlyn where the Labour vote is only marginally stronger than the Monster Raving Loony Party's. It was cattle market day, and the smell of fresh dung mingled with the heavy scent of slurry the boys had recently sprayed on the fields around the town. The rain poured down relentlessly as the Labour team, a mix of students and Guardian reading avocado munchers fretting about their next Ocado delivery, trudged around the town.

Unfortunately, what with it being a very wet market day and a time when most people under the age of 65 were out at work, most of us missed this very rare Labour outing. The last time anyone can remember seeing a Labour representative was in 2015 when Calum Higgins briefly posed for pics outside the fire station.

Back then Labour announced that Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was one of their top target seats. Calum's campaign sunk without trace, and Plaid increased its majority.

The outlook this time round is even more dire, and that may perhaps explain why, in desperation, Labour headed for Cneifiwr's humble shack.

Cneifiwr was at work, but Mrs C happened to be in. The doorbell rang, and at first she thought it might be those Jehovah's Witnesses again. She looked out and saw a bedraggled group with red rosettes, and decided not to open up.

All went quiet for a few minutes, and then the doorbell rang again. Rashly, she assumed that the Labour campaign had moved on, and went to open the door only to be confronted by the candidate himself and a member of his team who asked a somewhat startled Mrs Cneifiwr to pass on a message to her old man telling him to "stop making people angry".

And with that rather creepy encounter done, the soggy group finally moved on.

Mrs Cneifiwr got off rather lightly, as it happens. Here is an alarmed voter in Llanelli recording her "Labour doorstep" experience:

The question of what Nia has done for Llanelli has been puzzling Cneifiwr as well, and it is something this blog will attempt to answer in the next few days.

Sunday 14 May 2017

Donkey Derby: Red Rum sweeps all before him

Politics is a brutal business; an ungrateful or indifferent public and criticism in the media go with the territory, but for real cruelty and treachery nothing is likely to surpass the machinations of your own party colleagues.

It seems that Bill Thomas, until last week's elections one of Labour's councillors for Lliedi ward in Llanelli, and his son Clive were recently refused entry to the party's AGM, even though Bill is still technically the Labour mayor of Llanelli for a few more days.

Bill was a hard working, respected and popular councillor, described as a "true gent" by one prominent Plaid rival. What marked him out was that he was not afraid to speak his mind, often to the discomfort of his party's top brass and senior council officers. For years he tried to highlight the folly of building houses on flood plains, and he campaigned long and hard to protect the Burry Inlet from releases of raw sewage which he believed were responsible for devastating damage to the cockle beds, and the impact that had on the livelihoods of the cocklers and the loss of species such as oyster catchers.

For his pains, Bill was repeatedly ordered to sit down and shut up in the council chamber, often by Labour colleagues, and it was ironic that on the day voters went to the polls, the European Court of Justice announced that the UK authorities were guilty of allowing pollution of this fragile ecosystem.

But despite his willingness to stand up for issues which the Labour Party and the powers-that-be would rather not have aired, Bill remained a loyal member of his party.

When he was unexpectedly deselected by Labour in Lliedi, Bill could have stood against Labour as an independent, but he chose not to.

According to reliable sources, Bill lost the selection process when a number of normally inactive members suddenly came out in support of Rob James who had just moved to Llanelli from Neath.

Although James appears quickly to have made friends with Tegwen and Co, rank and file members can have known precious little about the ambitious young man who had turned up on their doorsteps. Ordinary members would have been surprised to learn that Rob James' record as a councillor in Neath Port Talbot was less than exemplary and that he had gained a degree of notoriety in his former stomping ground for being largely invisible during his five year term there.

But perhaps that misses the point. James's victory in the selection process had nothing to do with his track record, which was nothing to boast about, and everything to do with who he knew in the party machine.

When during the election campaign a Plaid candidate published details of James's attendance record at NPT, he threatened legal action. He also made what he termed a "formal complaint" against this blog, demanding to know where the attendance figures came from while giving the impression that he was the victim of a smear campaign.

After it was pointed out to him that the figures came from Neath Port Talbot council, James was not heard from again, but he appears to have continued to proclaim in Lliedi that the figures were lies, and that both he and his "young family" were being targeted by opponents. There is not a shred of evidence to support that claim.

Rob James's decision to stand in Lliedi was vindicated on polling day when not only did the newcomer win, but he won by a country mile, beating Bill Thomas's vote in Labour's best ever year in 2012 by 237 votes on a turnover which was only slightly up from 34.9% to 39%.

As Jac o' the North notes here, if this had been a horse race, the stewards would be taking an interest in this truly remarkable outcome.  A distinctly mediocre hack with poor form was transformed into Red Rum. Where did those 237 votes come from?

But Rob's run of luck did not end there because days later Red Rum romped past Kevin Madge with almost 40 years spent in local government in Carmarthenshire to become the new deputy leader of the Labour group.

Meanwhile, the Labour vote in Rob's old ward in Neath Port Talbot suffered a dramatic collapse.

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Havard Hughes: Second home from home

A little known fact is that there are as many elephants in Carmarthenshire than there are elected Tories.

One of the consequences of calling a snap election in the middle of the local government election campaign was that the parties, including the Tories, were caught on the hop, in many cases with no candidates in place.

There have been rows in other places, most notably Bridgend, where Conservative Central Office imposed a London candidate on the constituency party in preference to local members. Now the same is happening in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr where Havard Hughes, a former LibDem, is being parachuted in over the heads of local talent and hoping to join Valli the elephant at the Skanda Vale ashram near Llanpumsaint and Simon Hart as the sole representatives of their respective species in the constituency. And Hart relies on the southern half of Pembrokeshire to get elected.

With just four weeks to go until polling day, and rather less in the case of the growing number of voters who opt for postal ballots (somewhere around the 30% mark), the local Conservative association's website is currently silent on the topic, still promoting its candidate for the Cynwyl Gaeo ward in the council elections on 4 May (he lost). Perhaps Conservative Central Office has not got around to telling them yet.

But Havard Hughes is the man who will be wearing the blue rosette, and he has announced his "selection" on Twitter.

Hughes lives in London and works as media and public affairs manager for the Coventry Building Society in Coventry.

Although he grew up in Carmarthenshire, Hughes has spent most of his adult life in the Big Smoke, and for much of that time he was a fervent Liberal Democrat, chairing the LibDem Students in Cambridge before going on to work for Vince Cable and becoming a LibDem councillor.

Unlikely though it is that Havard Hughes intends to move back to live among us, he describes Carmarthenshire as his "second home", a phrase which carries rather different connotations in the north of Carmarthenshire and shows that he has spent rather too long away from Rhydargaeau, which is where his Twitter profile would have us believe he now lives.

Describing himself as an "instinctive liberal", he decided to jump ship to the Tories in 2007 having been persuaded that David Cameron's liberal conservatism addressed things that mattered to him, such as the environment.

Liberal values, a concern for the environment and so much else that Cameron claimed to stand for are so last year. As one wit recently commented after the UK Government was found by the European Court of Justice to have been in breach of EU laws over the amount of sewage and waste water discharged into the sea off Carmarthenshire, we will soon be free to drink as much sewage as we like.

The ECJ has also issued the UK with a final warning for breaching air pollution controls on nitrogen dioxide, but with luck we may be out of the EU before the matter can be taken further.

Last week Theresa May's government was forced by the High Court to publish its proposals for tackling air pollution after it tried to delay publication until after the election. The flimsy paper which came out met with near universal derision, with claims that it was even weaker than the previous version which was ruled inadequate in November last year.

Havard Hughes' instinctive liberalism and concern for the environment seem to have gone the same way as his hero worship for David Cameron as he prepares to go into battle for the distinctly illiberal Theresa May.

Or perhaps his liberal, environmentalist principles are still there. It's hard to tell.

Whatever the case may be, the former long-term activist for the pro-EU LibDems and admirer of the pro-EU David Cameron is likely to be regarded with some suspicion by the pro-Brexit contingent in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. 

If Havard Hughes comes up against Neil Hamilton in any hustings, the sparks are likely to fly, with disgraceful suggestions that the Tory candidate is in fact a Saboteur and Enemy of the Will of the People merely waiting for the political winds to shift once again.

Meanwhile Hamilton himself has polled what Professor Roger Scully says is the lowest score for any political leader in all of his 25 years in academia, a message which was promptly retweeted by Llanelli AM Lee Waters, who was clearly relieved that there is someone in Welsh politics even less popular than he is.

In four weeks from now Havard Hughes will be heading back to the congenial delights of Hampstead, and as the words "strong and stable leadership" are paroted for the final time, Valli will trumpet into the starry Camrarthenshire night, and there will still be as many elephants as Tories in Carmarthenshire.

Tuesday 9 May 2017


One of Labour's campaign pledges for last week's council elections in Carmarthenshire was a commitment to running a "modern, transparent council".

In what must be a record for ditching a pledge, Labour in Llanelli has moved rapidly to remove from the public gaze the Mayor's Diary from Llanelli Town Council's website. The Civic Diary on the website of Llanelli Rural Council has also suddenly gone blank.

The reason given to concerned residents wanting to know what their mayor is doing for the town was that the diaries have been removed to "avoid stalkers".

The current holder of the office on Llanelli Town Council is Bill Thomas, but he is no longer a councillor, and jolly Jeff Edmunds is not due to put on the municipal bling until 17 May.

Who would want to stalk Jeff Edmunds is a mystery, although readers of this blog may recall that before the election he claimed that a mysterious person had phoned him pretending to be a member of the Labour Party, only to splash his comments all over the "blogs". Even more mysteriously, nobody ever managed to track down the blogs or the comments he said they had published.

Cllr Edmunds also claimed that somebody had tried to clone his Facebook account, and that he had gone to the police about all of this. When the press asked the police what was going on, Dyfed Powys said nobody had contacted them about it.

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.

Perhaps Jeff Edmunds is the object of some obscure cargo cult of fetishist, gothic grannies, or perhaps he just feels that the mayor's comings and goings are an entirely private matter.

Perhaps he is planning to follow the trail blazed by Cllr Shahana Najmi when she took off to the Agen Prune Festival with an all-Labour delegation a few years back, presumably to explore ways in which she might strengthen Llanelli's own prune industry. We may never know.

Whatever the case, anyone wanting to find out what Labour's top brass in Llanelli is doing will now need to submit a Freedom of Information request.

There's transparent local government for you.

Strictly no hope

Dafen Dolly's defeat at the hands of Rob Evans Paramedic in last week's council elections means that the lugubrious Jeff Edmunds found himself as leader of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire County Council without a dance partner.

Rather less well publicised than last night's Labour leadership elections in Cardiff where Huw 'Tippex' Thomas ousted Phil Bale, the Labour group in Carmarthenshire has awarded its fabulous glitterball trophy to the pairing of Jeff Edmunds and new boy Rob James.

One of the couples rumoured to have taken to the dance floor is Derek Cundy with Kevin Madge as deputy, although their tango is understood to have bombed with the judges in the dance-off.

With James having called for Mark James's suspension in the press - something which will have had the chief executive's legal advisers adding more noughts to any future severance package - and declared that the Plaid-Independent coalition with 52 of the 74 seats on the council lacks a mandate, voters are in for comedy gold as the Edmunds-James partnership takes to the floor, with Jeff taking the role of straight man to James's hapless buffoon.

[Updated from version published earlier today]

Sunday 7 May 2017

Local government elections 2017

As the dust settles on Thursday's vote, it's time for a few reflections.

The election saw Plaid Cymru turn in its best ever performance in Carmarthenshire, and the party came within a whisker (2 seats) of winning an overall majority. The Independents continued their long-term decline, and will now be a junior partner in a new coalition with just 3 out of the 10 seats on the Executive Board.

As always, the Independents are a mixed bag, but without Pam Palmer and Meryl the relationship will begin on a new footing under the leadership of Mair Stephens.

Outside Llanelli, Labour is now an endangered species. It has just one outlier in Carmarthen, and is down to just four in its former bastions in the Amman and Gwendraeth valleys where personal loyalties count for as least as much as politics.

Llanelli and the surrounding communities are now home to 17 of the Labour group's 22 members, and that will have some interesting consequences.

The scattered fragments of the Labour Party outside Llanelli are in no position to challenge the direction the group takes, and inside Llanelli the hardliners have strengthened their hand. The nepotism, clientelism and bullying which characterise the party in Llanelli will continue to flourish, creating all the right conditions for corruption. They will see their success in fending off the challenge from Plaid as a vindication of their tactics and policies, and the moderates in their midst will be left feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election almost certainly helped Labour by diverting voters' attention from local issues and the state of Labour in Llanelli to what the mainstream media always portray as a two horse race between the Tories and Labour in the UK.

But Llanelli Labour is also well organised, and another significant factor is likely to have been the growing popularity of postal voting. Labour is understood to have done particularly well in the postal vote.

On the face of it, postal voting is a good thing. It helps increase turnout and participation in elections, and that certainly helps Labour which often struggles to get its vote out.

But the system is also open to manipulation, especially among what is sometimes termed the "donkey vote". Helping people to register for a postal vote, popping round to remind them to put a cross in the right place and offering to walk the envelope to the nearest postbox are all perfectly legal, and it can yield a healthy crop of votes for even the most dire candidates.

That Labour is not impregnable is clear from what has happened in the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency. As recently as 2015 CE&D was one of Labour's top target seats, and they lost by a mile. This time they could even be pushed into third place, something that was unthinkable a few years ago.

In Llanelli, Tegwen Devichand's defeat at the hands of Rob Evans Paramedic, the Independent candidate, shows that Labour is vulnerable even in its last remaining bastion. Rob, who is a big personality, fought a very energetic one-man campaign against a well-oiled and powerful machine, and David beat Goliath.

Critics of Plaid Cymru often contrast the party's failure to break through with the success of the SNP, but Carmarthenshire shows, as it has shown before, that decline and decay under the dead hand of Labour does not have to be our fate.

The SNP swept all before it in the general election in 2015, but it was only last week that the party finally broke Labour's grip on Glasgow.

Mari Arthur is about to give Labour the fight of its life in Llanelli.


Several of those present at the count could not help noticing that Rob James, Labour's new boy from Neath, was strutting around as if he owned the place. Interestingly, he is now ranting on Twitter that Plaid and the Independents do not have a mandate to run local government in Llanelli. By complete coincidence that is exactly the same message as the one being pumped out by "Llanelli Eye", a new account brought to you by the swivel-eyed creeps behind CUSC SOPAP.

To put things into perspective, Rob James polled 33% on a 39% turnout, meaning that just 13% or a fraction over 1 in 10 voters in Lliedi expressed a preference for Rob James (Lab). As mandates go, that's not a lot to shout about is it?

Friday 5 May 2017

Live(ish) Blog: The Results

For the first time ever, Cneifiwr is going to attempt a live blog, meaning that this post will be updated as the results come in. It's going to be a long day.

Most Disastrous Performance of the Day 

Not only was Carmarthenshire County Council one of the minority of Welsh councils not to count overnight, but it was clearly woefully badly prepared to handle the results when they did come. Any member of the public turning to the council website to find out the election results will have gone away disappointed. For almost the entire count, the council website was to all intents unavailable.

Press coverage during the count was also sporadic.

Bearing in mind that the council still has one of the largest press offices in Wales, nothing was made available on the council's "Newsroom", and tweets announcing the names of successful candidates referred anyone interested in more detail back to the crashed website.

The chief executive who doubles up as returning officer and also has departmental responsibility for the press office deserves a kick up the backside.

Final Tally

There has been a lot of scratching of heads about this, but the finally count would seem to be:

Plaid Cymru 36 (+8)
Labour 22 (-1)
Independent 16 (-7)

This is by some margin Plaid's best every result, but it is still 2 short of an overall majority. The results in Llanelli will have been very disappointing for the party, and there are clearly still plenty of voters willing to put a cross in the Labour box no matter what -as we saw back in 2012 when Keri Thomas, the chronically ill and near-moribund Labour candidate was returned for another 5 years, having been absent for a large chunk of the previous 4 year term.

Trimsaran 2.20

Replacing Maryl Gravell who has stepped down is Dr Kim Broom (PC).

Carmarthen West 2.17

Congratulations go to Alan Speake (PC, re-elected) and new arrival Emlyn Schiavone (PC).


After a recount in Glanymor, Labour has taken another seat previously held by Plaid (Winston Lemon, who has stepped down). Tyisha gets two Labour councillors,

Llandeilo 2.10

Edward Thomas (Ind) has been re-elected.

Pontyberem 2.09

Congratutlations to Liam Bowen (Plaid) who becomes the youngest councillor to be elected.

Lliedi  2.08

Labour has won the double, with both Rob James and Shahana Najmi elected.

Update 2.05

A short break, and a lot has happened since the last update. Plaid have performed particularly strongly in the Amman and Gwendraeth Valleys. In Gorslas, Darren Price (PC) is now joined by Aled Owen (PC) in this two member ward, and Saron will now be represented by two Plaid councillors, Carl Harris and Alun Davies.

Emlyn Dole was returned as expected in Llannon, and Kim 'Apartheid' Thomas lost out to her fellow Labour candidate, Dot Jones.

Over in Hengoed, meanwhile, Penny Edwards (Lab) has been re-elected, and joining her is Susan Phillips (PC), replacing Siân Caiach, that perennial thorn in the chief executive's side. Keith Price Davies (Lab)  becomes the second former AM not to win a council seat.

Whitland has stuck with Sue Allen (Ind), and Pembrey has again returned Shirley Matthews (Lab) and Hugh Shephardson (Ind).

Llandybie 1.08 (corrected)

Anthony 'Whitey' Davies (Ind) and Dai Nicholas (PC) are both returned, with Plaid defeating Anthony Jones (Lab). The figures were:

Anthony Davies (Ind) 744
Dai Nicholas (PC) 725
Anthony Jones (Lab) 500
Karen Davies (PC) 451
Sandra Morgan (Con) 451
Nigel Humphreys (UKIP) 128
Pat Jenkins (Ind) 108

Llwynhendy 1.04 

Sharen Davies and Fozia Akhtar returned for Labour. Fozia Akhtar takes over from Theressa Bowen (Ind) who left Labour shortly after being elected in 2012. The campaign in Llwynhendy was one of the nastiest anywhere, and this result puts paid to any hopes of a change of course for Labour.

Burry Port 12.53

John James and Amanda Fox retain this two member ward for Labour. Amanda Fox takes over from Pat Jones who has retired.

Swiss Valley 12.49

The Independents' Giles Morgan retains Swiss Valley. He is the Official Youth Wing of the Independents as he does not yet qualify for a free bus pass.

Llanboidy and Kidwelly 12.48

Dorian Philips takes Llanboidy for Plaid, and Jeanette Gilasbey (PC) has taken Kidwelly from Labour.

Bigyn 12.47

The lugubrious Labour leader, Jeff Edmunds, and Eryl Morgan (also Labour), both returned, Eryl Morgan is 80.

Tycroes and Laugharne 12.41

Labour holds Tycroes with Tina Higgins taking over from Calum. In Laugharne Jane Tremlett Ind), another former Executive Board member, holds on to her seat.

Hendy 12.37

Gareth Thomas (Plaid) returned. 

Manordeilo and Salem 12.35

Joseph Davies (Ind) has held on against a strong challenge from Dr Rhys Thomas. Frustratingly, the council's official results page has now been unavailable for almost two hours.

Felinfoel 12.29

Veteran Independent Huw Richards loses to Labour's Bill Thomas (not the deselected Bill Thomas who was booted out of Lliedi by his own party). This is Labour's third gain.

Cenarth (Newcastle Emlyn) and Llanfihangel Aberbythych

Hazel Evans (PC) and Cefin Campbell (PC) both returned comfortably.

Penygroes 12.16

Dai Thomas takes over from his better half, Siân Thomas, who says her ambition now is to become a professional couch potato.

Running totals 12.12

The council website is currently showing 22 for Plaid, 7 Independents (including one unaffiliated member) and 5 for Labour. We are not quite half way through.

Carmarthen North

Peter Hughes Griffiths (Plaid and Ken Lloyd (Lab) returned. This is Labour's second gain from Plaid.

Glyn 12.06

Jim Jones (Ind), another former Executive Board member, returned. 

St Ishmael 12.05

Former Executive Board member Mair Stephens (Ind) returned.

Carmarthen South and Penygroes 12.03

Llongyfarchiadau gwresog i Alun Lenny (PC), Gareth John (PC) yn Ne Caerfyrddin a Dai Thomas (PC) ym Mhenygroes.

Three more for Plaid.

St. Clears 11.59

Philip Hughes (Ind) has seen off a challenge from Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid), one of two former AMs standing for the county council, the other being Keith Davies (Lab) in Hengoed.

Glanaman 11.54

Update - Just 17 votes separated David Jenkins (Plaid) 430 from David Jenkins (Lab.) on 413.

Llangennech 11.49

Gwyneth Thomas returns for Plaid, along with Gary 'Poumista' Jones for Labour. This appears to be the first Labour gain.

Running total 11.47

The council website is currently only fitfully available, but the current totals showing are:

Plaid: 17
Independents (including 1 unaffiliated member) 5
Labour 4

Pontaman, Elli and Cynwyl Elfed 11.36

Despite his argument with a fox, Colin Evans (Lab) has been returned again, and as expected John Jenkins (Unaffiliated) has won again in Elli ward. Irfon Jones (Ind) has seen off a Plaid challenge in Cynwyl Elfed.

Bynie - Bynea 11.30

Congratulations to Derek Cundy (Lab) who saw off a strong challenge from Ian Wooldridge (Plaid). Lab. 539, Plaid 373.

Crymych 11.28

No, it's not in Carmarthenshire, but brilliant news from Crymych where Cris Tomos (Plaid) has defeated deputy leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Keith Lewis.

 Garnant 11.23

Kevin Madge (Lab) returned as expected in Garnant. Let's hope he does not give an acceptance speech.

Llanegwad and Llangyndeyrn

Congratulations go to Mansel Charles (Plaid) and veteran Tyssul Evans (Plaid) in Llangyndeyrn. The council web page which displays the actual results and votes is currently not accessible.

Totals 11.22

The council website is currently showing a total of 17 councillors for Plaid, 4 Independents and 1 for Labour.

Cynwyl Gaeo 11.20

Congratulations to Eirwyn Williams (Plaid) on his re-election.

Glanaman, Llangeler and Llansteffan 11.14

Results coming in thick and fast now, and the council website seems to be in serious trouble.

David Jenkins (Plaid) is re-elected in Glanaman. Ken Howell has been returned again in Llangeler (Drefach Felindre), and Carys Jones has taken Llansteffan for Plaid. Llansteffan was previously held by Daff Davies, aka Elmer Fudd, who stepped down this time.

Cilycwm 11.09

And the winner is Thomas Davies (Ind) 307 with Maria Carroll (284) second and Matthew Paul (Fox Botherer) third on 199. There was no Plaid candidate.

Dafen 11.04

Ding dong. Tegwen Devichand has lost to Rob Evans Paramedic (Ind.) who has worked incredibly hard and won a richly deserved victory.

Ammanford and Llangadog

The rubber bands which keep the County Council's website running appear to be struggling to keep up with the pressure, but Deian Harries (Plaid) has held Ammaford, and Andrew James (Ind) stays in Llangadog.

Llandovery 10.37

Plaid have taken Llandovery, previously held by Independent Ivor Jackson, with a stunningly good result for Handel Davies (583). In second place was David Long (Lab) on 240.

Quarter Bach 10.30

Glynog Davies (Plaid) returned with thumping victory over Labour. Plaid 626, Lab. 398

Abergwili 10.28

Congratulations to Dorian Williams (Plaid) who has comfortably taken Abergwili, Pam Palmer's old ward, in a two-way contest against TV cook Lisa Fearn. Plaid 622,  Ind. 448

Llongyfarchiadau gwresog i Dorian.

Betws 10.22

Congratulations go to Betsan Jones (Plaid) who has defeated incumbent Ryan Bartlett (Lab) who it has to be said never looked cheerful at the best of times. Plaid 402. Labour 309.

Turnout 10.19

Turnout across the county averaged a respectable 46.81%.

Maenclochog 10.18

Well, while we're waiting, let's nip over the border to Pembrokeshire where Cris Tomos (Plaid) is trying to unseat Keith Lewis in Crymych, and Hefin Wyn wins the prize for this year's best election poster:

Hefin Wyn swept all before him at last year's Eisteddfod Llandudoch with Colli neu ennill?  But will Wyn win in Maenclochog?

Llangennech 9.58

Vote is said to be very close. Still no official results. 

Turnout 8.49

Turnout figures for all the wards are not yet available, but for those that are there are some huge variations. In general outside Llanelli turnout is in the 45%-55% range, which is better than usual for a council election. Cilycwm clearly loves an election. Having last gone to the polls in the autumn of 2016, turnout this time round is a staggering 67.85%. For the Llanelli wards where we have figures, turnout is hovering around the 35% mark.

Carmarthenshire 8.28

No results have been declared so far, but early indications are that Carmarthenshire will follow the pattern established elsewhere in Wales, with the Labour vote generally holding up better than expected. Plaid does not seem to be on course for an overall majority, and as in Ceredigion, advances in some areas are likely to be offset by losses in others. The Tories are not expected to make any headway, and the UKIP vote seems set to collapse.

Labour is said to have done particularly well on postal votes, and its campaign was almost certainly helped by the beginning of the UK general election campaign, with the mainstream media always portraying politics as a two horse race between the Tories and Labour.

Crucially, in many wards the vote is said to be on a knife edge.

Emlyn Dole is expected to be returned comfortably in Llannon, with the second seat, held by Kim 'Apartheid' Thomas, understood to be a very close three-way fight.

Carmarthen, which saw a remarkable clean sweep for Plaid in 2012, could see the loss of one or two seats, but those could be offset by gains in wards such as Abergwili and even Llandovery, both previously Independent.

Counting will get underway at 9.30, with seats expected to be declared in alphabetical order, beginning with Abergwili and Ammanford.


While we wait for Carmarthenshire to wake up and start counting, Ceredigion has already finished.

The overall result, with the 2012 seat totals in brackets, is as follows:

Plaid Cymru 18 (19)
Independent 15 (15)
LibDem 7 (7)
Labour 1 (1)
Vacant 1

The vacant seat is for the ward of Llandyfriog where the death of one of the candidates means that the election has been postponed. It is likely that the ward will stay with Plaid Cymru, meaning that the overall tally of seats will be unchanged.

Behind those numbers a few wards changed hands, including Llandysul where the Independents retook the ward from Plaid, while in Aberporth Gethin Davies (Plaid) defeated Gethin James (UKIP, but standing as an Independent).  Endaf Davies (Plaid) took Aberystwyth Rheidiol ward from the Independents.

Congratulations go to fellow blogger Alun Williams who retained Aberystwyth Bronglais for Plaid.

No LibDem breakthrough, therefore, and the most likely outcome is that Plaid will continue to run the council in coalition with the Independents and Hag Harris, Labour's veteran loner in Lampeter.


Thursday 4 May 2017

Election Tour 2017 - all over bar the shouting

This year's council elections in Carmarthenshire are likely to be the most interesting in many years, and the retirement of many veteran councillors will mean that whatever happens, the new council will have a very different look and feel.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign has been a story of two very different halves. Although there are some very keenly fought contests in some wards outside Llanelli, the campaign has been largely a clean and civilised affair.

In Llanelli things have been very different, with a campaign characterised in many places by bitterness, dirty tricks and mud slinging. There are those who argue that all the parties, including the Independents, are to blame, but in reality the toxic culture which has thrived within the local Labour Party is the root cause. It is not just the personal attacks, but also Llanelli Labour's prediliction for dog whistle politics that makes the town different. In the past we have seen campaigns based on stirring up resentment against Polish residents, and this year the Welsh language and fear mongering about the future of Parc Howard have dominated much of the 'debate'.

A key feature of Llanelli Labour's campaign style is the use of unofficial groups to carry out its dirty work, and this year that task fell to the anti-Welsh group in Llangennech and the guerilla troll tactics deployed by CUSC-SOPAP.

This blog has concentrated on Llanelli during the campaign, partly because it generated the most newsworthy stories, but also in order to expose the nature of Labour's campaign which has often stooped to intimidation of opponents, including repeatedly driving past rivals' homes, reversing up, cat calling and staring. Facebook has featured prominently in the intimidation which has ranged from the childish to the downright sinister.

A defeat for some of Labour's most prominent players in Llanelli is the best hope for a different kind of politics in the town, and it would give the party itself an opportunity to clean up its act, but you would not want to bet on that.

So what about the bigger picture?

Plaid was 9 seats short of an overall majority in the old council. A majority has always eluded the party and has often looked like a very tall order, but if Labour takes a hammering and the Independents continue their long-term decline, the prize may be within the party's grasp this time.

Expect Labour to lose ground in the Amman Valley and Llanelli. Independent losses in some of the rural wards could be partly offset by gains in places like Dafen.

But there are many unknowns. Many of the contests will turn on local factors, and nobody knows what impact the UK general election campaign will have on today's vote.

The next 24 hours are going to be interesting.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Election Tour 2017: A god-forsaken South Wales constituency - Updated

Update 3 May 

The latest name in the frame is Havard Hughes, another London-based Tory. Hughes grew up in what he vaguely describes as "West Wales", works in PR and was with the LibDems for 17 years before deciding that David Cameron had what it took. If he still has any of his LibDem principles, he must be feeling distinctly uncomfortable in the new-look, strong and stable regime.

If Havard Hughes is to be parachuted in, his career and business interests in London are likely to take priority over any ambition to become an MP in distant Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Or to put it another way, he will be a paper candidate.


The rumours that Daniel Thomas may stand remain just that, with no confirmation yet as to who has been selected, if anyone.


There are some uncanny links between Carmarthenshire and the London Borough of Barnet. Our much-loved chief executive, Mark James CBE, began his ascent up the greasy pole of local government officialdom in Barnet, and Cneifiwr once lived in digs there. Carmarthenshire and Barnet also share a long history of blogging about council matters.

Rumours swept the internet yesterday that the London borough is about to lend us one of its sons, Cllr Daniel Thomas, to stand in the Conservative and Unionist interest in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in the general election, the previous Tory candidate, fox bothering barrister and shameless self-promoter Matthew Paul having blotted his copybook with Mrs May's strong and stable party machine.

Dan, or Cllr Daniel Thomas BA (Hons) as he calls himself here, is described as a blue-eyed, blond Thatcherite with a strangely robotic way of speaking and not much going on between his ears. Which may explain why he feels the need to advertise the fact that he is not really thick at all, and managed to get a degree.

On no account should anyone turn to the sensitive subject of receding hairlines when in conversation with Cllr Thomas.

Observers of his career in local politics say that while being very ambitious, young Dan has not always been known for hard work. During a six month stint as cabinet member for the Environment in 2009/10 he failed to hold a single "theme" meeting with senior officers, "theme meetings" being considered very important in this Tory stronghold.

He currently describes himself as a property developer but used to working in the world of banks and building societies. He has now ditched the Ferrari and Porsche for a Smart car.

A Tory source notes that in 2010 Dan Thomas stood in "some god-forsaken South Wales constituency", a reference to Neil Kinnock's former stomping ground in Islwyn.

His election leaflet will need more than just a change of constituency name this time round, what with Mrs May being less than keen to promise not to raise National Insurance or keep the "triple lock" on the state pension. The NHS could also be difficult territory, so expect Dan to promise a strong and stable red, white and blue Brexit instead.

Although Dan is still only in his mid-thirties, observers say that he began playing on anti-immigration themes long before that became popular. The threat to the state pension and the fact that English pensioners account for most immigration in this part of Wales may make this a rather tricky card to play.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, where memories of the late Blessed Margaret are cherished, is unlikely to prove fertile ground for this champion of Thatcherism, outsourcing to the private sector and generally flogging off public assets and closing down libraries and other services.

But we should never under-estimate the tendency for turkeys to vote for Christmas. The demise of UKIP which has yet to announce whether or not it is fielding a candidate, means that the 4,363 votes cast for the reclusive Norma Woodward in 2015 may be looking for a new home.

Apart from one car-crash appearance at a hustings, Norma never bothered going out to meet voters, and even threatened to sue her party before the campaign ended.

On that sobering thought, Cneifiwr is heading off to work.