The news that Alun Michael is the official Labour candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales has important ramifications for us in Penarth. As I mentioned back in January, it means we’ll be having a by-election for “the shortest-serving Cardiff South and Penarth MP in history”.
Life as a backbencher must be especially galling for Alun if he’s risking the Chiltern Hundreds. Because this election is being fought under the supplementary vote system which, for him, is a good deal riskier than the type of elections he’s used to.
Now although the SV system has the merit of not being as undemocratic as ‘first past the post’, it’s widely regarded as being a very poor substitute for the alternative vote system.
Here are some of the Electoral Reform Society’s concerns with SV:
- Unlike the Alternative Vote, SV does not ensure that the winning candidate has the support of at least 50% of the electorate.
- If there are more than two strong candidates, voters must guess which two will make the final round, and if they guess incorrectly, their second-preference vote will be wasted. In such circumstances it may even be possible for voters to defeat their preferred candidate.
- The system can lead to a lot of wasted votes as many of the votes cast in the first round end up not transferring and being counted in the second round.
- SV does not eliminate the likelihood of tactical voting.
I have no doubt that Alun Michael will emerge as one of the two candidates with the highest number of votes cast after round one of voting. We’re looking at a part of Wales that includes the vast proportion of the safest Labour territory in Wales, after all. Everything therefore hinges on the other candidate to emerge from round one.
The question on everyone’s lips is: will Simon Weston be eligible to stand for election? The current rules – as described eloquently here – clearly disqualify him from the post of Commissioner. And if the law is going to be amended in order to allow Weston’s qualification, we can be fairly sure Alun Michael’s going to be voting against any changes.
Essentially, the law forbids criminals from standing for the post of Police Commissioner. Is someone more of a criminal for being a passenger in car – at age 14 – that he had no idea was stolen, or for enthusiastically voting for an illegal war in Iraq that slew 11 Welshmen, including three from neighbouring Bridgend and one from Cardiff? That’s a discussion that I’m sure will be reverberating around the pubs of Penarth tonight.
But Alun Michael knows that if Simon Weston stands against him, his bid is finished. Alun’s such a divisive character that he can’t even guarantee that Labour supporters in Penarth will vote for him. Let’s add that to Labour supporters throughout the South Wales force area in Swansea, Bridgend, the Valleys and Neath Port Talbot who feel about as much kinship with Alun as with Muffin the Mule. And then an opposition base of poorly supported Conservatives, Plaid and probably not even a Lib Dem candidate. Simon Weston is the stand-out exception.
His qualification aside, the next challenge for Simon is to make sure he’s one of the top two candidates. That means mobilising a very robust media campaign, including lots of social media and getting the young voters out en masse. But then just watch the votes roll in from everyone who voted for anyone else in round one.
That’ll leave Alun with plenty of time on his hands to concentrate on some gardening. It’s probably about time for someone else to get their snout in the Westminster trough.
The next question is: who will replace Alun as MP for Cardiff South and Penarth? Looking at the election result in 2010 tells us the following:
- Labour – 38.9%
- Conservative – 28.3%
- Lib Dem – 22.3%
- Plaid – 4.2%
- UKIP – 2.6%
- Independent – 1.5%
- Green – 1.2%
- Christian – 0.6%
- Communist – 0.4%
And that was in a relatively bad election for Labour. Clearly, this is a very safe seat for Labour.
That means that the real election is the internal Labour party contest to determine the candidate. Some potential candidates have been mentioned here, but I’ll wait until the candidate has been selected to find out more about her/him. I do agree with Cathy Owens that the candidate should be a woman, given the poor female representation among Welsh MPs – as those of you who’ve read this post will recognise.
I expect turnout for this by-election to be paltry given recent experience – in fact, I’d be staggered if it was greater than 40% (although timing it to be on the same day as the Commissioner election would boost turnout).
One point of interest is that this seat will vanish before too long, so if the Liberal Democrats want to stand the remotest chance of taking the new seat of Penarth and Cardiff Central they’ll have to up their activity level in Penarth considerably. Their showing in May’s election was catastrophic.
And talking of the new seat, the Boundary Commission for Wales has at last published the consultation responses. I’m so disappointed! As far as I can tell (and it doesn’t help that the pdf documents are unsearchable) no-one took up my call to arms on the name of Penarth and Cardiff Central. The only mention of our town seems to be various Liberal Democrats regarding us as a somewhat unsavoury intrusion into the Cardiff hinterland.
Anyway, enough politics. As soon as Simon Weston’s confirmed as a candidate, I’m off down the bookies. And just for the record, my tenner isn’t going to be next to Alun Michael’s name…