Saturday 10 June 2017

Reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic

As the dust settles on what amounted to almost three months of uninterrupted campaigning which began with the run-up to the county council elections while the daffodils were still out, it's time for a few reflections.

Cneifiwr managed to fit in a few days of canvassing and leafleting, and several memories stand out. First was a day spent out visiting remote houses and farms on a truly glorious day in May with Hazel Evans, our county councillor.

It is easy to forget what a beautiful place Carmarthenshire is; standing for a few moments in the sunshine watching a tiny wren flitting in and out of the lush green vegetation on the edge of a stream in Cwm Morgan and the sound of the water - it was worth it just for that. Or chatting outside a house in Tanglwst and gazing across miles and miles of uninterrupted open country, with the owner pointing out that there, shimmering in the distance, you could see a little bit of the Ceredigion coast.

Few of us realise how hard most councillors work. Like many rural wards, Cenarth is huge with hundreds of miles of single track lanes and farms and houses at the end of long, often rough tracks. Hazel knows almost everyone, and one of the challenges of canvassing with her is keeping moving and resisting the temptation to chat for half an hour. That and the incessant incoming phone calls on council business.

Then there was the little old lady on a large council estate near Carmarthen who came to the door in her curlers. She had always voted Labour but was willing to give Plaid a go. Just at that moment, Jonathan Edwards came bounding up.

"I won't let you down", he said. "You'd better not, or I'll be after you", she replied.

Or watching the Prifardd Mererid Hopwood sprint over to talk to a group of young men holding a very noisy party in a back garden. "All right, darling?" She leaned on the fence and chatted to them for a few minutes, and came away beaming. "We'll put them down as 'don't know'; I think they were probably off their heads", she said.

The issues which came up on the doorstep were as varied as the people we met. Broadband, mobile phone coverage, the lack of employment prospects for young people, pensions, fears about Brexit, agriculture, social care, business regulation, defence and alarm at the nastiness and growing intolerance of politics in England - all of these and more were raised, and no single issue dominated.

Campaigning for Jonathan Edwards makes things a lot easier. He is hugely popular, and his appeal crosses all the divides. Plaid Cymru positioned itself in this election as a shield to protect the Welsh national interest, and that is how many voters see Jonathan - as someone who will fight our corner and is not afraid to take on the powers that be.

Elections have nothing to do with fairness; many very good candidates from all parties went down to defeat. As often as not in the case of the Tories and Labour, mediocrity triumphs thanks only to the colour of their rosette.

In Llanelli Mari Arthur would have been an exceptionally good MP, but the cards were stacked heavily against her. She had very little time to get her campaign off the ground, and lost out to Nia Griffith who ironically swept to victory on the coat tails of Jeremy Corbyn and tactical voting. Slightly further afield, one of the stand-out candidates was Daniel Williams for Plaid in Neath.

Let's hope that they both agree to stand again.

In Ceredigion Ben Lake won by the narrowest of margins; like Mari and Daniel he is testament to the incredibly high calibre of candidates Plaid was able to field, and like Jonathan Edwards, he succeeded by building bridges rather than playing divisive politics.

In Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Jonathan Edwards increased both the number of votes and his share of the overall vote against a very strong tide.

Labour and the Tories both increased their votes by sucking up most of the 4,363 votes which went to UKIP back in 2015.

The Labour candidate, Dave Darkin, put up a slightly more energetic fight than his predecessor in the closing stages of the campaign, but was both inexperienced and out of his depth. Labour never expected to regain the constituency, and it showed.

For the Tories, Havard Hughes' campaign was every bit as disastrous and nasty as Theresa May's. Divisive, arrogant and completely unconvincing, local Tories must be furious at having Hughes imposed on them at the last minute. He could have knocked Labour into third place, but relied instead on empty slogans and the Tory press to get his message across.

We are supposed to be gracious in victory, but saying anything other than good riddance would be insincere.

Good riddance too to Neil Hamilton who lost his deposit and failed to visit the constituency even once. All the more stomach churning was the decision by BBC Wales to put both him and Christine on its panel of "experts" at the beginning of their election night coverage.

The nice LibDem lady admitted during the campaign that she was only standing out of loyalty to her lost cause, and can now get back to gardening.


Experience has taught Cneifiwr never to predict election results. Just about everyone got this one wrong, but by the last week of the campaign it was becoming clear that the momentum was with Corbyn.

Labour posters began appearing in places where they have never been seen before, and some idiot in Ceredigion spent the last few days illegally plastering Labour posters on bus stops, road signs and other public property all the way from Cenarth to Cardigan.

In his entertaining and sometimes quite sensible column in the Carmarthenshire Herald, Tory barrister Matthew Paul (who stood for the Conservatives in the 2015 general election) was confidently predicting a majority of 85 for Theresa May and disaster for Corbyn - and that in a piece which was presumably written days before we went to the polls.

On the other side of the political fence, one or two of Plaid's senior figures got it equally wrong, even if their predictions were radically different.

The outcome for Plaid can be spun either way - as a triumph on a par with the party's previous best ever result in a general election, or as intensely disappointing.

In reality the result was a bit of both, with luck playing a role in securing narrow victories in Arfon and Ceredigion.

In truth, all of the smaller parties were severely squeezed in the final two weeks of the campaign. That is nothing new - remember how the LibDems were squeezed in 2010 - but the squeeze was more intense this time round with the mainstream media relentlessly portraying this as a presidential race between May and Corbyn, probably because for the first time in decades the two big parties stood on radically different platforms.

Getting out of the rut

Whether a change of political direction for Plaid, taking the party towards the centre-right, a change of leader or "re-branding" would have helped is doubtful.

Perhaps there will be a debate about the future direction of Plaid, but the most important thing now is for the four Plaid MPs to concentrate on exploiting the opportunities which a hung parliament is likely to present.

The Plaid parliamentary group has always punched way above its weight, and those four MPs will certainly achieve more than 28 Stephen Kinnocks, Nia Griffiths or Chris Bryants.

Labour ran a very good campaign, but it remains to be seen whether the unity which held together during the campaign will last. And by the same token if past performance is anything to go by, the 'Welsh' Labour intake will screw up the opportunities the new situation presents. Absenteeism, voting with the Tories, abstaining in crucial votes and forgetting that they represent Welsh constituencies are all old habits which will be hard to break.

Without an independent and successful Welsh media to report on and explain what is happening in Westminster and Cardiff Bay from a Welsh point of view, it is hard to see how awareness of the wider world of Welsh politics can be changed.

But maybe, just maybe, there is reason to hope that the stranglehold of the English right-wing press may be weakening. Fewer and fewer young people rely on the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media for their news, and it seems that at last many more young people woke up and realised that they have got to start voting if they want their future to be decided by someone other than the sort of angry old men we saw calling for a first strike nuclear holocaust on one of the Question Time election specials.

If you have not seen it yet, take a look at the recently launched Nation.Cymru. Mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns, and if Ifan Morgan Jones's new news and analysis vehicle can maintain its momentum, who knows where it may lead.

So although we now have a minority Tory government propped up by the bigoted fundamentalists of the DUP, there are for the first time in years some reasons to be cautiously optimistic. A hung parliament, a very hard-working and fleet of foot Plaid contingent in Westminster, growing political awareness among young voters and the growing popularity of movements such as Yes Cymru all mean that we can together push Wales out of the rut it has been stuck in for so long.

The next couple of years will be crucial in deciding what sort of future our children and grandchildren will have. Let's make it a good one.


Anonymous said...

In what way, specifically, would Mari Arthur have made a successful MP? Seemed to be a very nice lady but absolutely clueless and very niaive about the local area and issues. One would have thought if she 'loved' Llanelli and Trimsaran that she would have done her homework during the past few years. It did seem to be a career opportunity for her given her 'very successful business woman' tag which did not stand up after five minutes of research. I think from now on it will be a case of where's Mari which is no better than the previous candidate who also 'loved' Llanelli. Another blog full of inaccurate rhetoric but great to see you actually got off yout back side and actually did some campaigning. Respect for that. You really haven't a clue about what happened in Llanelli, the effort put in or indeed any facts upon which you can base your opinion. Please don't pretend you do.

Anonymous said...

Good round up, I'm glad Jonathan Edwards is back and has a new Plaid Cymru neighbour Ben Lake, Wales will need all 4 of them in the months and years ahead because Labour MP's from Wales haven't undergone any Damascene conversions in the past few weeks, they still resent Corbyn as much as they ever did. Kinnock Jr couldn't being himself to speak his name on election night.

Talking of welsh media Nation.Cymru looks promising, there's also Planet Magazine which has some great articles in the current edition and is worth supporting if we want to see welsh news and current affairs sources to grow.

Anonymous said...

Fewer and Fewer old people rely on the BBC for news as well,that's why I log in to you Bloggers.

(hd)^2 said...

Health/NHS wasn't an issue on the doorstep?

If the reports of younger people voting is true then great. The realisation that only a vote cast makes a difference is perhaps one positive from the Brexit debacle. I had tax/NI deducted from wages of £1.50/hr and paid tax on petrol, parts etc. at sixteen. About time we lowered the voting age and re-balanced the voting system.

Cneifiwr said...

(hd)^2 Surprisingly no, although my point here was that in the conversations I had, there was a huge range of issues, and there was no discernible common thread.

I know that another Plaid canvasser who happens to be a doctor at Glangwili was confronted by someone ranting against foreigners and immigrants. Rhys patiently pointed out, probably to no avail, that if he went to Glangwili, or another other hospital come to that, he would almost certainly find himself being treated by the very people he wanted to get rid of.

Anonymous said...

At least Caerfyrddin and Wales would be safer in Mari's hands than in Nia who would push a button that would be the beginning of the end of the human race. CYMRU AM BYTH

Anonymous said...

Just for the sake of clarity re the Llanelli results: Nia Griffith, polled 21,568 votes taking 53.5% of the vote, +12.1% on 2015. Regardless of your attempted hatchet job the other week, Nia is held in great regard in Llanelli, is an excellent constituency MP and well-respected across the whole constituency.

Plaid's Mari Arthur, was not even the preferred candidate of the local Plaid branch, polled 7,531 votes, 18.2% of the vote, -4.7% on the 2015 Plaid candidate, AND more significantly, came THIRD behind the Tory candidate, local boy, Stephen Davies who took 9,544 votes, 23.7% of the vote, up 9.3% on the previous election. Who knew Llanelli had such a Blue streak? Was it Mari A's abject failure in recognising what issues are devolved to Cardiff, along with her failure to engage with what the issues really are in Llanelli. Badly briefed? There's also the shilly-shallying of the Plaid contingent who think they're in charge in County Hall which has alienated many Plaid voters in Llanelli.

Mercifully, Llanelli's voters gave UKIP's Ken Rees a bit of a kicking, with his vote slashed, 13% down from the giddy heights of his 2015 result,with 1,331 votes, (3.3%), leaving the Lib Dem Rory DAniels to pick up the scraps, accruing barely 548 votes.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what Plaid actually stands for any more. It seems to have turned its back on our language, our culture, our desire for self-determination and has become Labour lite. They don't seem proud to be Welsh any more. I think it's time for Leanne to move over and make way for a new strategy and a leader with more gravitas. Even with 4 seats Plaid didn't even get a mention in the media when they were doing their sums on the new parliament, we're just not considered relevant to the Media and automatic supporters of Labour.
I'd like to see Adam Price take the reins.

Brychan said...

Anon 16.22 is being too kind about Plaid in Llanelli. I won’t. Don’t get me wrong, I spent considerable time with Mari Arthur campaigning for Plaid throughout the constituency, and she’s a really nice, genuine lady. Candidate material, I think not. The campaign in Llanelli was torpedoed at the start by the party HQ, de-selecting the young dynamic locally preferred candidate and imposing Mari up from Cardiff. At the campaign launch meeting we had a speech from Adam Price about how to avoid negative campaigning, unveiling the ‘Defend Wales’ theme. The most negative slogan ever to be used by Plaid. I don’t want to defend Wales, I want to put Wales on the map, liberate Wales, stand up for our country, not cower in a ditch under a shield. On the doorsteps, it was a nightmare. Voters I’d got out to elect Jeanette and Kim a few weeks earlier (we took Trimsaran and Cydweli off Labour for the council) were embarrassingly admitting to voting Labour, citing snippets of Corbyns manifesto mainly on the issues that are actually devolved, and currently run by Labour in Wales. Two incidents characterised my campaigning experience in Llanelli. Firstly, a woman who recognised Maria Arthur who said ‘Mari, nice to see you, didn’t you used to live in Trimsaran, where’ve you been all these years?” and the other event, after a hard days campaigning, returning to the pub to a group of about 10 youngsters, playing pool, making a pint last two hours, all who cast their first ever Westminster vote for Corbyn (they didn’t say Labour or Nia) over the issue of tuition fees. Devolved again, but not a squeak out of Plaid on this in the campaign. On the subject of mistaken identity, I’ve never met either, but did confuse Ben Lake for Sean Rees. The former is the MP for Ceredigion, the latter was evicted as an ‘unsuitable’ candidate for Llanelli. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Hello anonymous @ 16:22

Are you Mike or Kev from Trolls4RobJ?

Cneifiwr said...

Looks like the Labour trolls are out in force again. The "hatchet" job was simply a detailed account of Nia Griffiths' record (Anon at 17.30). The use of the term "shilly shallying" is interesting. By an odd coincidence, Nia accused those opposed to renewing Trident of shilly shallying 12 months after launching a campaign to "stop Trident".

I wonder if Anon and Nia are related?

Anonymous said...

Brychan, your post is very astute and right on the button. Terribly negative campaign by Plaid which accounts for their dismal failure - perhaps you should write a blog of your own because Cyneifiwr seemes to have lost the plot lately spewing out selective and incomplete information aupplied to him by the Plaid trolls. It seems he is not educated in the ways of publicity seeking opposition day motions by Plaid in an effort to gain headlines - not any meaningful effort to help Wales. Personal opinions have to be set aside when placed in a ministerial position. The policy of the Labour Party is at present to renew Trident. It is the Labour Party conference who sets the policy not the leader. It may change but at present Ministers are obliged to follow that position. Plaid have suspended their own for not following party policy. Why should Labour be any different. It really is up to the electorate of Llanelli and Gwendraeth who they want and they have spoken and this decision should be respected. You don't always get want you want. I didn't want the Tories but at least it is not a majority government which is better than before. Plaid do need to come clean about what they really want rather than trying to sneak through the back door on things. At least then the electorate have an honest choice. Democracy will do the rest. Labour Troll.

Anonymous said...

Annon 17.30 was correct, when he pointed out that UKIP's Ken Rees votes went down by 13% and Nia Griffith votes went up 12.1%.
To me it is no surprise that Nia got almost all the UKIP vote, after all she is not a typical Corbynista.

Cneifiwr said...

Labour troll indeed (Anon@11.14), and your inability to spell Cneifiwr is a giveaway.

For the record, Nia Griffith launched her "Stop Trident" campaign in October 2015 when she was a member of Corbyn's shadow cabinet. A year later she had done a complete U turn, arguing that the matter had been settled by party conference in 2007 - something which clearly hadn't worried her 12 months earlier.

No wonder politicians are held in such low esteem.

Nia can thank Theresa May for her survival in more ways than one. If there had not been a snap election, a lot of those people who campaigned for her would have been voting to deselect her.

Anonymous said...

I am sure that Trident is not in the top 100 of worries of the normal electors in the constituency - only people that seem obsessed by it are you and Plaid. They have a lot more worries on their plate. I would say most of the UKIP vote went back to the Tories from where it originated although some may have gone to Labour. You have such a poisoned view about a person who works 24/7 for her constituents. Luckily the majority of the electorate disagree with you and have done since 2005. As far as people wanting to deselect her then there probably would have been a handful amongst a membership of getting on for 600. These few have an awful lot to say but have never been active or done anything constructive for their local party just being very vocal in their opposition against her on social media and bleating out the same second hand inaccurate rhetoric that you do. She has been reaffirmed as Shadow Defence Secretary so it seems Corbyn is happy to leave the issue of Trident to Labour Party Conference as well. Plaid is much more interesting as the moment - looks like they have a leadership contest coming up. Doubt if you will do so.

Anonymous said...

Does dim gobaith gan Plaid i ddisodli Nia na ymgeisydd seneddol Llafur yn Llanelli. YOu are out of touch with reality Cneifiwr. Plaid ballsed things up, upsetting campaigners and a much valued worker, Sean , who has worked for nothing for Pc for many years, although I think he is emplyed by them now, and rightly so. I am a PC supporter, but they are so way off the mark with what they did with Mari in Llanelli they really need to wake up and smell the coffee,
How the hell did Labour gain so many council seats in Llanelli and them as useless and rotten to the core? Because people are ignorant about politics and will vote for Labour donkeys - however PC have to put forward far better local candidates and Cllrs, to make a difference for communities. AT the mo they are not in Llanelli or other places.
Llanelli is a disfunctional area, due to the poverty, social problems, drugs, and latterly, stupid decisions made by CCC which have decimated the town and Labour were responsible for this whilst leading the council along with years of Labour cronysim runnig the town. Yet the great unwashed always support their masters- some kind of sadomasochistc thing going on there - but Wales needs a psychoanalyst big time. SOrry to be harsh, I live in the area, and am being totally honest

Brychan said...

To anon 11.14. Of course my comment is astute and right on the button. Yours, however, is not. More Plymouth than Llangennech. The reality is that two-faced Nia was talking to households in Cydweli, promising to oppose Trident at one door, the promising to renew Trident at the next. It was Labour who put Parc Howard onto the asset transfer list, Plaid who removed it. The biggest threat to the community is the Labour Party. They have failed to properly staff Meddygfa Minafon with qualified GPs, while at the same time as planning to spend millions on a quiche and chianti fest with the private sector for some ‘Wellness Village’, so that overweight Labour ladies can have their back massaged with Oily Vera quackery as a substitute for proper health provision. At the same time we have a Labour AM who votes against banning zero hour contracts in the Senedd while falsifying residency in his constituency. I can turn around incompetence, and correct mistakes, if that what Plaid has done. The cancer of Labour party, however, with its betrayal, and self-enrichment, needs to be eradicated or evicted. Its promoters exposed.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Again we are in the realms of fantastical, ill informed rhetoric. I doubt if Trident came up more than a handful of times on the doorstep. It was labour led activity that led to resolution of the problems at Meddygfa Minafon led by the town councillors. Can you provide evidence to the contrary? Plaid did nothing. It will be interesting to see what the new Plaid County Councillor achieves but hopefully works as proactive and genuine in their concerns for the community. Hopefully this will be so. The Wellness Village is a Plaid led project on Carms CC. The 0 hours project motions by Plaid could be seen as wasting Assembly time as it is not a devolved matter. They seem to be copying their MPs stance of using opposition day motions to grab headlines rather then doing anything meaningful. People in Llanelli would vote for a a 'monkey in a red rosette' - how disrespectful to the people of Llanelli is that and you are forgetting how close it is in the Assembly elections. Sean was employed by Plaid but his contract was terminated upon his deselection as GE Candidate - very poor show.

Ruth Price said...

In response to Anonymous at 20.54 15 June, I agree with many of the points you raise. May I suggest that you put yourself forward as a candidate for Plaid Cymru in Llanelli the next time the opportunity arises? If you contact the office on 01554 770345, call into Ty Bres or look for Plaid Llanelli on FB, we are eager to get new activists in and ready to stand and make a difference to this town. If standing as a candidate is not your thing, there are lots of other ways to help.

I do feel that Mari Arthur, with her local pedigree, business credentials, warmth and energy, is the best candidate we have had in Llanelli in years, but the snap election and other UK events have squeezed out the other parties as has been pointed out elsewhere. Nia Griffith's increased majority was in no way a reflection of her performance, just as the Tory vote was no reflection of their campaign in Llanelli - I got one generic Tory leaflet the day before the election.

There have been issues in the local branch, but we are all moving forward to iron these out - Mari and her team have been instrumental in helping us with this process.

There are positives in the offing here in Cymru including the rise of the Yes Cymru movement and the cross-party publication Nation.Cymru. Why not step forward to do your bit for Cymru?

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @12.48 "fantastical, ill-informed rhetoric"? I think you have lost the plot somewhere. The post contains a sober and factual account of Nia's record, and the flip flopping and rank hypocrisy on Trident is just the most startling of many examples of how with Nia principle and honesty are some way down the list of her priorities. What matters to her more than anything else is the Labour Party - and that is how she can support a party which is prepared to spend scores of billions on a US weapons system and back the UK's departure from the single market - something which will cause massive damage to Llanelli and the rest of the country.

As for working 24/7 for Llanelli, take a look at her Twitter feed (which I suspect you actually manage), and tell me what all that canvassing for county councillors in Beaumaris and the north of England has got to do with Llanelli.

Managed decline is what Welsh Labour is all about, and Llanelli has had nearly 100 years of it.

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