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Teaching the Independents a lesson. And learning from it.

03/08/2022

On the 12th of July, Vaughan Hughes won the Llanbedrgoch seat for Plaid Cymru in a by-election for Ynys Mon Council. It was a four horse race - with two independents, one UKIP and one Plaid Cymru candidate, and our candidate won with a majority of 90 votes.

Though Llanbedrgoch itself is generally supportive of Plaid, the seat also encompasses some difficult places for Plaid as it includes Benllech and Red Wharf Bay. Are there lessons to be learnt from this battle that can help Plaid Cymru win a majority on Anglesey Council next year? Our newly elected Councillor writes below.

 

Teaching the Independents a lesson. And learning from it.

We knew we’d had a good campaign. And so did our opponents. That’s  why a scurrilous leaflet, purporting to be from “Independent Councillors of Anglesey County Council” was distributed on the eve of the election. It accused me of basing my entire campaign on lies and fabrications. Apparently I’d attacked fine, upstanding Independents while omitting to mention that I, as a journalist, was actually responsible for besmirching the island’s good name: “It is journalism that has given Anglesey such a tarnished reputation.” Such a desperate attempt at rewriting history was as  ludicrous as it was sad. If this is what they actually believe then they have learnt nothing at all from decades of indiscretions and in-fighting. In fairness, most of the island’s councillors have taken these lessons to heart. Unlike those Independents who tried to derail my campaign. 

 It’s impossible to gauge what effect their attack had on the final result. It may well have helped me. The whole electorate knew instinctively how monumentally stupid it was to blame journalism for Ynys Môn Council’s self inflicted difficulties. What little credibility these Independents may have retained was utterly destroyed when they attempted to blame the press and media for their own miserable failures.

 I assume that I was invited to write this piece in order to explain how Plaid Cymru’s team managed to win in a ward where the majority of the population had been born outsideWales.

Health warnings should be issued, however, before claming that our experience in Llanbedrgoch has necessarily a Wales-wide resonance.

 Predictably, the behaviour of Ynys Môn County Council - or the public’s perception of its behaviour - cast its shadow over the campaign. It was, after all, the resignation of a suspended councillor which brought about the by- election in the first place.

Unlike the rest of theUKno county council elections were held in Anglesey this year.(Apart from by-elections.) They were postponed by the Welsh Government until next year by which time the structure of local government representation onAngleseywill have undergone radical change .We will have ten fewer councillors than we have at present and the island will be divided into extended multi-member wards.

That is generally defined as an attempt by Cardiff Bay to isolate certain powerful island councillors who are perceived as having turned the wards they represent into their own personal fiefdoms. The theory is that large multi-member wards will reduce these people’s influence. And since they are largely Independents, it is the Welsh Government’s hope, so the theory goes, that they will be challenged by candidates representing mainstream political parties in the 2013 island elections.  

On the doorstep, Ynys Môn Council’s reputation was what concerned the overwhelming majority of the electorate. There was almost unanimous agreement, in principle at least, with the argument that a vote for Plaid Cymru’s candidate - and, I emphasised, for candidates standing in the colours of other bona fide political parties - would ensure a greater degree of answerability and discipline. Voters agreed, too, that political parties would not allow councillors to bring their parties into disrepute and damage their electoral chances.

All of this means that the Anglesey situation is unusual and untypical. But the victory achieved by the Plaid Cymru team in Llanbedrgoch is not entirely without relevance in other challenging parts ofWales. By taking the time to engage people in conversation it was possible to get them to pledge their support for Plaid. And  that, on their own admission, for the very first time in many cases. This  suggests that the Plaid Cymru brand, in the context of Welsh devolved politics, is totally acceptable to incomers who have not actually voted Plaid before now. ( I’m  not claiming for a moment that incomers never vote for us. To the contrary.  Ieuan Wyn Jones would not have been able to represent the island for 25 years without the support of a fair number of these electors. I imagine, too, that other Plaid politicians, such as Dafydd Elis Thomas, rely heavily on the support of that electorate.)

I wouldn’t wish, however, to deny that the foundation for our victory was the strong support we received in the ward’s Welsh-speaking stronghold of Llanbedrgoch. But we won crucial support as well in Red Wharf Bay, where in four constructive and encouraging hours of canvassing we only met two Welsh persons. Plaid’s chair on the island, Huw Goronwy, a native of Red Wharf Bay, remarked dryly, that we were fortunate to encounter as many as that.  

It is obvious that we would not have won by relying solely on the support of the minority of Welsh people in a ward which also includes the Anglicized resort of  Benllech. Plaid onAngleseyis a traditional and conservative party. Its branches and executive committee are Welsh-speaking havens from an increasingly English speaking outside world. A large part of me rejoices in that situation. It feels good to be able to speak one’s own language in one’s own county. But we can’t continue to rely on vital English votes without actively welcoming the participation of non Welsh speakers in the party’s organisation on Ynys Môn. Before it’s too late…

Would instantaneous translation be the end of the world? Of course it wouldn’t.  It costs, yes. But as “their” numbers increase and “ours” decline there is a price to be paid, too, for clinging to the familiar and not venturing outside our comfort zone.