Story of my election campaign part 4: The End and The BeginningPosted: May 4, 2012
“I can’t vote Plaid, I’m not Welsh,” said one woman, who shut the door firmly, making it clear that she had nothing more to say on the subject. Hereby hangs a tale of identity. In the minds of some voters, Plaid Cymru is inextricably linked with an old-fashioned form of nationalism, and it can be a tough task to explain that the Party of Wales, the Party for Wales, is for everyone in Wales who believes in grass-roots action, investment in home-grown businesses and social enterprises, and respect for local opinion. It’s not just about autonomy, but a democratic autonomy in which people come before Big Government and Big Corporations.
It’s not a fairy tale, though. There are tensions, for example between people’s desire for cheap food and the long-term damage wrought by supermarkets on suppliers and on the environment, as they source the cheapest possible products and transport them over long distances. There are split opinions affecting virtually every important decision. Should Llandovery’s high school close? In north-east Carmarthenshire many parents say ‘No, the school is too important to us and our community’, but in County Hall the majority of councillors have said ‘Yes, close it, we want to build a smart new school, no matter that it will be miles away’.
The council’s plan, to my mind, is based on a belief that the future will be like the past, a future in which resources like oil, gas, food and water will be plentiful and not unduly expensive, a future in which people will be able to afford to run cars, commute long distances to school or work, and largely ignore issues of food and fuel supply. If you have this frame of reference, you are likely to take very different decisions from people who assess that, because resources are finite, we will have to become more self-sufficient, more resilient to outside shocks, more reliant on local services. From this perspective, continuing to close local services, and to lose local jobs, is misguided and short-sighted.
This is what Plaid is about, the long view. Culture is of course extremely important in this view, because linguistic and cultural heritage shapes our sense of who we are, but we also need to know where we are heading, and how we are going to manage the journey.
Most people I met were far from disinterested in local government. Only one elector said to me, as she waved at me to go away, “I’m just not interested”. At the gates of Llandovery’s primary school, parents were vocal about the importance of keeping the high school open. Schools are crucial to communities, and we need rural communities to flourish. Our future food, and work for local people, will come from these communities.
Thursday May 3
The polling stations in the country were very quiet. “I’ve never known the turnout to be so low by this time of day,” was one comment. In town, they said that the turnout was typical. That means there is a chance of maybe half the electors voting, at the last opportunity for five years to influence local policies. It’s not really a ringing endorsement for any winning candidates if half the electorate refuses to vote.
Friday May 4
Not an auspicious start. Strange smell outside the back door, investigation revealed sewage bubbling up through a drain grating. No time to deal with it, off to Llanelli for the count. I hadn’t reckoned on the overflowing car park, but there was only one entry point to the hall so there was quite a queue and a delay before the start. Lots of red rosettes for Labour, candidates and supporters looking cheerful after a night of wins across the country, a few Conservatives with muted expectations. As for Plaid, the good news of being (again) the largest single party on the council was counteracted by the probability that Labour working with the Independent Bloc would (again) exert total control and thus few policies will be likely to change.
The result in Llandovery came late in the morning. The incumbent councillor, Ivor Jackson (Independent), who was unopposed last time in 2008, was a clear winner with 518 votes. The Conservative, Andrew Morgan, received 208, I got 167 and Gill Wright, Independent had 164. The turnout was, I think, 49%, as there are 2,140 electors in the ward.
Negatives: The fact that Prince Charles has a home just outside Llandovery, and does a lot for the town, means that there are voters who are at present reluctant to support Plaid’s new leader, Leanne Wood, because she is more republican than monarchist. Leanne (for whom I voted) has only been in the job for a few weeks, and so electors have not yet had the chance to get to know her, or her innovative and sensible policies.
Another negative is the fact that I am more of a back-room labourer than a born politician! An ideal candidate for Llandovery would live in the town and have a long history of involvement in all sorts of local organisations. I live outside the ward and belong to organisations but they are not particularly local.
Positives: If I had not stood, there would have been no Plaid candidate between 2004 and at least 2017 – too long. Elections are good for democracy. In the past people died as they battled for the right to vote, a right that too many of us now throw away. There is now the opportunity to build a Plaid branch from scratch. So there are positives to draw from defeat.
Next step: learn to speak Welsh properly! My Welsh is terrible. No excuses now, I have the time.
Another positive, husband Patrick has rodded the drains, they are flowing freely and the awful whiff has evaporated.