Monday 21 May 2018

Iscennen - not taking back control

Iscennen Ward (Ammanford) - By-election

Rhys Fisher (Plaid Cymru) 237
Thomas Fallows (Labour) 79
Emyr John (Independent) 45


Bearing in mind that there are more than 730 community and town councils in Wales and around 8,000 town or community councillors, it would be reasonable to expect that death, insanity, bankruptcy, long-term illness and imprisonment would mean a healthy crop of community by-elections every week, but in reality by-elections at the paddling pool end of local democracy are comparatively rare events and generally do not merit more than a passing mention in what is left of the local media.

The convention is that when a serving councillor steps down or falls off his or her perch, a replacement is co-opted until the next round of elections, if elections ever take place, because on many community councils the incumbents will be returned unopposed. On councils where members are politically affiliated, the convention is that the party which held the seat at the previous election gets to nominate the successor.

Because town and community councillors, at least the good ones, are in reality little more than unpaid volunteer dogsbodies presiding over tiny budgets with very little in the way of power, this democratic fudge works, and voters tend not to look kindly on those who force unnecessary and expensive by-elections to decide who in Cwmsgwt will patrol dog poo alley.

Last week's contest in Iscennen ward for a seat on Ammanford Town Council was different for a number of reasons and merits a closer look.

The previous incumbent in Iscennen was Chris Corgi Jones, proprietor of the posh hosiery factory, who was elected on a Plaid ticket. Chris decided to step down to spend more time with his socks, and the expectation was that the party would duly nominate a successor to be co-opted, but 14 miles down the road the vipers' nest known as the Llanelli Labour Party had other ideas, and a candidate was found to front Rob James's attempt to reconquer Ammanford.

And so it came to pass that young Thomas Fallows agreed to boldly go where nobody with any sense would have ventured to tread, having seen the light in a meeting with Owen Jones, the Guardian's answer to Dave Spart. Perhaps he'd spent too much time in a darkened room on his X-box, but once he'd signed on the dotted line, it was too late, and to the disgust of the good people of Ammanford, an unnecessary and expensive by-election was triggered.

Those who met Tom during the campaign say he is pleasant enough and polite, but would probably have struggled with the complexities of town council business.

Plaid fielded Rhys Fisher, a bright young man from Ammanford who is captain of the town's football team and a sports coach who works with apprentices at Coleg Sir Gâr.

Labour and Plaid were then joined by an independent candidate as the three legged 100 to 1 outsider.

The campaign was a clean fight almost to the end, and was heavy on the shoe leather. Kevin Madge dutifully trotted round with young Tom, and the Llanelli Labour Party threw all of its big guns in.

The slogan chosen for the Labour campaign, presumably in a committee room in Llanelli, was "#TakeBackControl", a peculiarly inappropriate and tribalist line to take for a homely town council by-election, and something which strikes an uncannily familiar dog whistle note.

Now where have we heard that one before? Surely not a brexity echo of the campaign run by the assorted charlatans and conmen fronted by Boris Johnson?

Perhaps sensing that the wind was not blowing in the right direction, Rob James went nuclear in the final few days with a clumsily worded smear campaign directed at Plaid. Right on cue, the ever reliable editor of the South Wales Evening Post, Llanelli Star and Carmarthen Journal, Jonathan Roberts, ran Rob's "story" about a grant to redevelop the former Lloyds Bank branch as a front page splash in both the SWEP and the Journal - the day before voters went to the polls.

This ham-fisted last minute intervention probably lost readers, and clearly did not win any votes. Young Tom went down to a heavy defeat, with Plaid out-polling him by three to one.

A humble town council by-election it may have been, but this was a remarkable result in an area which not so very long ago was one of the strongest of Labour's strongholds, where Gwynfor Evans used to be subjected to abuse on the streets.

From 1966 until 2001 the constituency would swing back to Labour every time the Tories were in power. Jonathan Edwards was the first to break the mould in 2015.

With Theresa May heading up the worst government in living memory, Labour is facing an open goal and should be sweeping all before it, but Corbyn is now trailing May in the opinion polls. Rob James, who recently completed his takeover of the Labour group on the county council with the toss of a coin, apparently masterminded the campaign. He seems to have peaked before he even started.

There are many areas where Labour can still pin a red rosette on the proverbial dead donkey and win, Llanelli being one of them. What the Amman Valley shows is that hard work and good candidates can break Labour's sclerotic grip in places which it has taken for granted for decades.


Anonymous said...

Did Rob James promise the moon on a stick to the Labour Party in Carms East? Sending the 'big guns' up from parts of Llanelli such as Bynea with a map of Ammanford must have had an impact... A God awful one.

It has been alleged that he promised the Labour members/protestors of Lliedi that the new updated Ysgol Dewi Sant site would not be built on the preferred site if he was (and he was indeed) elected. Alleged I say. Perhaps he can clarify?

And another rumour circling direct from the Labour membership in Llanelli that appears to be gathering momentum is that Lee Waters may be handing the Labour candidacy baton to Rob James in 2021. If true, probably explains his recent misguided efforts. Will he learn from his mistakes or blindly plough on? Taking perhaps two Labour party branches down with him? We can all watch with interest.

Stan said...

Ouch! That's a sizeable defeat for Robbo's Red Army there. I wish the voters in Neath Town would see similar sense but presently seem to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome where they turn out every five years and vote for the Party that keeps them in the chains of poverty and lack of aspiration, a broken town which their broken promises (read "lies") will ne'er fix, and the second highest council tax in Wales. No wonder Rob James felt at home here.

Can you find out who supplied that coin on which Rob James' fortunes have turned so spectacularly? It wasn't his, was it? Head both sides perhaps, or two faced as my Mam would have said.

Anonymous said...

When you make an allegation against a Council leader, an MP and a member of the public as strong as Rob James has then you had better be sure of the evidence. Such a tedious, loose and improbable association of collusion between all alleged persons is not a solid basis but appears the only evidence that Rob James is reliant upon. I would suggest this could be met with civil action for character deformation. It will be interesting to see if Rob James' allegations are followed up by The Welsh Audit Office and if not then surely such a waste of a public body's time and resource coupled with wobbly allegations against three people should be met with a full public apology. I also challenge the investigative minded out there to see if Rob James has broken the Council Code of Conduct. I will be more than happy to make an official complaint against Rob James if as I suspect the WAO send him packing with a cookie and tap on the back of the head. Then there is this tension developing between the Labour parties in Carms East and Llanelli. This whole despicable episode does nothing but damage between the two Labour groups and their image in Carmarthenshire. Will Jeff Edmunds let this continue????

Thomas Fallows said...

A few errors here. First of all it was not us in Labour that pushed for the byelection it was the people of the ward, also not at the urging of us either. Personally I think it was a good thing that there was no co-option because it allowed both me and my opponents to better communicate with people on the doors and make the general public more politically active. Secondly i want to add that the selection of me as the candidate was done exclusively by Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Labour Party and not with any interference from the Llanelli Labour party, I am unsure whether your implying that i live within the Llanelli constituency but if you are, i do not, I live just within the boundary of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. I wish the best of luck to Rhys and I think its fantastic that we now have a much needed younger voice on the town council!

Anonymous said...

Tom, thanks for your comments. I'm not sure that readers will be convinced that the election was in response to popular demand. Not to put too fine a point on it, the result suggests otherwise.

The blogpost makes it clear that the consensus was that you fought a clean campaign which was marred by the involvement of Llanelli Labour.

Anonymous said...

Cneifiwr, your claim that the UK now has "the worst government in living memory" raises, to this longtime reader at least, serious questions as to your judgement or memory!

DDD said...

You can't complain that thete was an unecessary election, that is democracy at work and i am sure that plaid have called a local community council election many times to the grumblings of the residents of those wards. All for shaking up comatose town councils, they are in desperate need of fresh blood and new ideas. Anyway fun read as usual