Story of my election campaign, part 1

Why on earth stand for election to the County Council, almost at the last minute? The prospect of delivering leaflets in heavy rain – I’ve just checked the forecast for the next two weeks – does not fill me with unbounded happiness. Yet as a member of Plaid Cymru, I want the party to gain control of Carmarthenshire and start to turn the administration in the directions of transparency, sustainability and localism. Also, there was no election in Llandovery ward last time, as there was only one candidate, Ivor Jackson of the Independent Bloc, who for the past year has been the Chair of the council.

The first task was to obtain a proposer, seconder and eight more signatures. Easy, you might think, just ask the Plaid members in the ward. Unfortunately, in the years without a Plaid councillor the local organisation had faded a little and, in the sincere belief that, like last time, there would be no Plaid candidate, Mr Jackson sought and received the backing of some seasoned Plaid supporters.

Conversations went something like this:

Me         “As a Plaid supporter, would you please consider signing my nomination papers for the county council elections?”

Response             “If only you had asked me earlier, but I have already signed for Ivor Jackson/ I have pledged to support Ivor Jackson… but you could try Mr X….”

While admiring Mr Jackson’s astuteness in gaining the support of people who, in a national election, would probably vote for Plaid Cymru, this meant a scramble to obtain the signatures in the four days remaining before nominations closed on April 4th. Plaid supporters who had not already backed Mr Jackson came up trumps, as did signatories with Green sympathies and/or concern at the coming closure of the town’s comprehensive school, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn. The people of Llandovery feel their views counted for nothing when the county council decided that it will build a mega school near the river Tywi on the far side of Llandeilo, over 13 miles from Llandovery, and to impose long twice-daily journeys on pupils from Llandovery and beyond, as far as the border with Powys.

The nomination papers were ready on April 2nd, and the next step was to take them, with the other forms such as authorisation to use the Plaid logo, and details of my eligibility to stand, to County Hall in Carmarthen, where the identities of my signatories were checked against the electoral register. Then I was asked to await Mark James, the Chief Executive, because “Mr James always likes to see new candidates”. It turned out that Mr James had more urgent calls on his time, and I did not see him.

Papers in order, the next step was to finalise a leaflet which David Thomas at the Plaid offices in Ammanford translated into Welsh. My weak spoken and written Welsh is an embarrassment, and so I have started a crash revision course and wish I had begun earlier. The leaflets should be ready to collect in two days’ time.

The school issue is top of the agenda for many people. The county Education Department argues that there are too many surplus places, that a shiny new school would provide a better education, and that children’s education is their only concern, i.e. the fate of the town left without a publicly-funded senior school does not matter. (Llandovery is also home to the independent, fee-paying Llandovery College, but the fees of £14,085 a year for a day pupil in the senior school are unaffordable for families on ordinary incomes.)

It comes down to the purposes of education. Is it worth damaging a whole community to give pupils access to the latest educational technologies? By taking children out of their community, are you telling them ‘We are not concerned if your community declines so that in the future, there is no work for you there’? Do you use a narrow frame of reference, or consider the bigger picture?

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