Monthly Archives: Awst 2012

Electoral Strategy for Greens 2017

It’s always good to be thinking ahead. And the next local authority elections are just round the corner, in 2017!

So what better way to prepare than to start the groundwork right now. Here is the start of a series of tips for the parties that contested the elections this year (and I’ve included the Independents too).

First off: the Green Party. The Green Party really needs to shake itself up in the Vale. As I reported here, there were just two Green candidates throughout the Vale, one of whom stood in Penarth. So what baffles me is why so few people are willing to stand in the name of the Greens when just next door in Cardiff there was a candidate in every ward. Even in Bridgend – not hitherto renowned as a hotbed of environmental activism – there were seven candidates.

The priority for the Greens is to increase representation substantially throughout the Vale, but especially in the urban wards where they stand more chance of getting a decent vote than in the rural wards that have a long tradition of Conservative Members.

Of course, making a repeat stand in St. Augustine’s is a must, but this should be extended with at least one candidate per ward right throughout Penarth. That way there’ll be more exposure in the press, online and on the street. So the challenge for the Greens: can they find four more people willing to stand in 2017? Or more likely, can they find two more (proposed boundary changes mean we’re going to be down to three multi-member wards in Penarth/Sully in 2017).

And their chances of electoral success? Close to nil. The only things that could increase their chance are

  1. Concerted campaigning and constituency work for the next 4 years. Clearly with their limited resources they’ll be best off focusing on the ward that shows most promise. That ward could be St. Augustine’s, where Anthony Slaughter reaped votes from 15% of voters in May, but it could equally be another ward. Happily there is a simple way to determine this in 2012 courtesy of the count for the Penarth and Cardiff South by-election. You will know in advance the numbers allocated to the ballot boxes for the different wards in Penarth. When those boxes are opened and the votes are totted up you allocate which party they’re voting for out of the first 100. That gives you a reasonable idea of the level of support for Greens (and all other parties) in general, on a percentage basis. Plus because it’s a relatively unimportant election(!) you’ll also get ‘soft Green’ votes who in a general election (Wales or UK) would be more likely to vote for one of the big four. Hey presto! The ward with the highest support for Greens in this election is the one you prioritise over the next 4 years.
  2. Election of a Green Assembly Member in 2016. In 2011 the Greens came in 6th place in the regional list vote with 3.4%, slightly less than in 2007 and in 2003. This rather dismal track record suggests they are making no progress across Wales. However in the south Wales central region they came 5th in 2011 with 5.2% of the vote – a marked increase on their 6th place 2007 result of 3.8% and 6th place in 2003 with 3.3%. If it’s going to happen anywhere, this region is the place, and the way they do it is to overtake the Lib Dems to come 4th. In 2011 the Lib Dems only secured 7.9% of the vote, but this was at a particularly bad political time for the Liberal Democrats. So I’m placing this in the ‘rather unlikely’ bracket.
  3. Environmental catastrophe. Considerably more likely than electing a Green AM in 2016 is that that election will be preceded by environmental catastrophe. A glimpse at the level of Arctic sea ice should be enough to convince you of the reality of rapid climate change. And if not, have a read of Bill McKibben’s stunning and terrifying Rolling Stone article. Meanwhile governments worldwide stand around idle. And performance in Wales? In the last year for which data is available, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 8%. We can all hope it’s not going to happen. But if you’re not just about to croak, environmental disaster is coming in all of our lifetimes.

2 o Sylwadau

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Greens, Liberal Democrats

Exam Results 2012

These are the results for the various Schools for Penarth

Stanwell School

A level – C grade or above 90%; A or A* 37%

GCSE – C grade or above 75%

St. Cyres School

A level – only results for the year 2011 are up on the school website. No comparative measure provided in the school’s report to the Penarth Times.

GCSE – C grade or above 67% – but no date given so this could be for 2011

St. Richard Gwyn Catholic High School

GCSE – results for 2012 not up on school website, but reported to be 62% receiving 5 grades C or above

Westbourne School

A level – no information on school website

GCSE – No meaningful information on school website and no comparative measure provided in the school’s report to the Penarth Times

Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg

A level – C grade or above 83%; A or A* 46%

GCSE – 5 grades C or above 87%

The most fascinating aspect of what I’ve managed to glean – or not – about these schools isn’t the results themselves (I’ll come to those in a minute). It’s the fact that most of them have no meaningful information on their websites a full 6 days after GCSE results were published and 13 days following the A level results. Let’s not forget that schools know the results of pupils as a whole a day or two before the rest of us. Now I know that school education is about a whole lot more than just academic results, but you’d have thought that someone in the schools’ administration would have thought it prudent to spend a few hours creating a new webpage to show the world how well they’ve done.

So it’s hats off to Stanwell School and Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg for keeping us all apprised of your results. I would find the lack of interest in publishing results for the other schools a bit concerning if I were a potential pupil.

Some schools have chosen to focus on individual students in their press reports. Any school, including the worst in Wales, can have exceptional students. The bigger picture is how the school has done in aggregate in encouraging good performance from pupils as a whole. So St. Cyres and Westbourne, you tell us nothing other than perhaps you have something to hide. Although actually Westbourne’s press report tells us something about the school’s view of the world. According to Ken Underhill, Head of School, Westbourne is a “non-selective school”. Try telling that to anyone who can’t afford the £10,000 per year fees.

Of the schools we can meaningfully compare, we have St. Richard Gwyn bringing up the rear at GCSE (62%), then Stanwell (75%) and Bro Morgannwg (87%). And for A level, Stanwell and Bro Morgannwg just about share the honours, with a higher proportion of top grades at Bro Morgannwg but a shade more D and E grades.

Of course the primary distinction is that pupils at Bro Morgannwg come out bilingual as well has having a very high standard of education. And in a job market like today’s, that extra life skill might be just what it takes to get the first crucial placement. 

3 o Sylwadau

Filed under Education, Schools

Liberal Democrats vs. Cogan

Lib Dem candidate for the upcoming Penarth and Cardiff South by-election Bablin Molik has launched a blistering attack on the Cardiff Council Labour administration’s  request that officials look into the possibility of introducing a congestion charge.

You can see a copy of the electoral information received by some Penarth residents here, courtesy of blog subscriber FW.

I’ll come on to some of the bigger issues in a moment. But for now let’s look at the substance of the pamphlet. We see “local residents left stunned”, with Bablin then having “called on local residents to oppose Labour plans for a congestion charge in Cardiff”. So once again, we see the Lib Dems unable to muster up a single Penarth resident willing to be quoted. Given that this is the second time – out of two – that the Lib Dems have failed to present any evidence of residents being consulted, I have come to the following conclusion. The Lib Dems, far from being a consultative, grassroots-based party, are a centralising party much keener on telling us what they would like residents to be thinking and doing. That sounds more like what the Ministry of Truth should be doing, which is doubly ironic for a party called the Liberal Democrats. Bablin, I won’t take any more of your false claims to represent residents. The people of Penarth shouldn’t be taken for a ride.

And talking of taking a ride, Bablin tells us that a congestion charge in Cardiff “would really hit people in the Vale hard”. Actually, it may hit some people in the Vale hard. However, it may also provide tremendous benefit to some people in the Vale. It’s this cavalier approach to politics, with generalising and misrepresenting, that I find galling. Is it any wonder that politicians are held in such low esteem if we can’t even trust those who are seeking office? Bablin, you might want to look in the archives of this site for some election material from genuine Penarth residents. You’ll find by and large a focus on matters relevant to the level of election and with detailed knowledge of the local issues.

But it’s the issue of the congestion charge itself that really troubles me. Can there be anyone who listens to Radio Wales (or Radio Cymru for that matter) who doesn’t raise an eyebrow when we hear of congestion on the A470 heading into – and leaving – Cardiff, day after day after day. And how about the people sat in traffic jams that back up almost into town from Baron’s Court? If she thinks that a congestion charge would be “bad news for our local economy”, what consideration has she given to the economic consequences of congestion? This research, for example, tells us that congestion costs of £4-6 billion could be saved across the UK by the means of, you guessed it, congestion charges.

So what effect would a congestion charge of, say £4 per day (Bablin’s figure), have on people’s travel behaviour from Penarth?

I’d anticipate an immediate transfer of large volumes of commuters from their cars to the train (day return cost £3.40). This would make bus transport much faster into town because congestion on the roads into and within Cardiff contribute to a much slower ride during peak hours. A day ticket on Cardiff Bus is £3.40, so this form of transport would suddenly become an awful lot more convenient (and relatively cheaper) to Penarth residents commuting into Cardiff locations that are not well served by train stations. I imagine that many more people would suddenly feel the urge to dust off their trusty two-wheeled warriors from their garages and make the largely traffic-free commute by bike – stimulated perhaps by Sustrans Cymru’s excellent TravelSmart scheme. And before you know it, Penarth is travelling sustainably, is much better insulated from the problems that peak oil will cause, and we’re all a lot healthier besides.

One of the most influential ways to change people’s behaviour is to use economic instruments (taxes and charges). Look at carrier bags. Clearly we didn’t need them by the hundreds of millions in Wales, because we’re now using 90% fewer than we were doing prior to our 5p charge.  We tried for years to persuade people not to take them for free, but what really worked was to put a cost onto them.

What’s not to like?

Ah, yes, I forgot. Some people are wedded to their motor vehicles, and will frame this in terms of an attack on their civil liberties, as a tax on business and all the other tired arguments that the motoring lobby drags out in response to proposed congestion charges. These people tend to be very vocal and usually well organised. But we’ll see a bit later that people who are negatively affected by congestion tend not to kick up a stink about it.

So how does all this relate to Cogan? Those of you who’ve followed this blog for some time will know that you shouldn’t hold your breath on Windsor Road, although there has been a feeling that we could be breathing easier thanks to Sustrans and the Welsh Government. A congestion charge in Cardiff could be just the ticket for the Vale of Glamorgan – and the Welsh Government – to avoid being dragged through the European Courts as a result of their consistent failure to meet Air Quality objectives.

And perhaps unlike the thrusting, letter-writing, 4×4-driving upper echelons of Penarth, some of the residents of polluted Cogan are just too busy figuring out a way to make ends meet to bother kicking up a fuss or getting political parties excited in their issues. Perhaps the idea of sending off a complaint to the European Commission over their horrendous air quality is just a bit daunting. [Note to Cogan residents – someone’s already done that on your behalf].

Electorally, the failure of the councillors representing Cogan to protect their constituents from air pollution may have been a factor in them taking such a pasting in the May elections. I’d be very interested to find out what effect this Lib Dem stance has on their Cogan vote come the by-election. If anyone’s attending the count and would be interested in doing this bit of research please get in touch: penartharbyd[a]

I’ll state quite simply here. Anyone who has the best interests of the people of Penarth at heart should be campaigning for a congestion charge in Cardiff. Bablin, that puts you and the Lib Dems firmly in the anti-Penarth camp.

And finally, Dr. Malik herself has done research in a field related to human health. Her opposition to a scheme that would have tremendous benefits to public health is morally repugnant.

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Filed under Cogan, Conservatives, Elections, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Pollution

Share of the Vote 2012

In the English elections held on the same day as ours, the BBC estimated Labour’s share of the vote as 38%. You’ll have to ask the BBC why they didn’t bother coming up with an estimation for Wales. I guess we’re pretty small beer compared to where the real political clout is.

But it got me thinking. Because of the cack-handed nature of local democracy in Wales (a mixture of single- and multi-member wards with the undemocratic first-past-the-post system) it’d be very time-consuming to do on a Wales-wide basis. But it can be done, and relatively simply, on the basis of a number of individual wards.

The mechanism I’ll use is to take the proportion of people voting for every candidate in each ward, summing the percentages for multiple candidates from the same party. Then I’ll add up all the proportions for every ward to come up with a single number for each party, and divide the whole lot so it adds up to 100, giving me a pretty good proxy for the share of the vote.

Some parties will cry foul. After all, this approach benefits those parties that put up a full slate of candidates (and I’ve belatedly realised that the Conservatives were the only party to do so – Labour only fielded one candidate in two-member Sully). But you can hardly claim a share of votes that weren’t cast, so I think my approach is valid.

You can see my workings here.

So here it is, the share of the vote of the different parties in Penarth/Sully in this election.

  • Conservatives – 34%
  • Green – 2%
  • Independent – 6%
  • Labour – 41%
  • Lib Dem – 1%
  • Plaid – 11%
  • UKIP – 4%

Before looking at what this means for the parties involved, there’s something else of tangential interest in the calculations. The total available vote  in the calculation per ward is 200. Yet the most cast in any ward was 192 in Cornerswell and St. Augustine’s, with 191 in Plymouth and 188 in Stanwell. In Sully just 178 were cast, which means that rather a lot of people in Sully only cast one vote. This can be a way of tactical voting (by voting for only one candidate you reduce the chance of one of your non-preferred candidates getting elected), or it could just be a local dynamic. But let’s tie it in to the turnout in Sully, which at 44% was not only the highest in the area, but was the one ward to buck the trend of turnout increasing in less deprived areas. That all suggests that a substantial number of people voted for one candidate who would not otherwise have voted. I can only guess that the intrigue of two candidates from outside the usual suspects is the reason for this anomaly.

Referring back to the BBC website, Labour and the Conservatives did 3% better than their share of the vote in England. The big loser, of course, were the Lib Dems, who got 15% less than their England vote. It’s worth noting that they also got just half as much as the Green vote, despite standing in double the wards. Plaid meanwhile got 11% more than they did in England 😉

So the Conservatives can feel pretty aggrieved with the way this election panned out. Nailing just two seats with 34% of the vote must be galling. And Labour will be cock-a-hoop with nobbling six seats on just 41% of the vote.

Mind you, that’s the way things go with the outdated, undemocratic voting system we know and love as first-past-the-post.

Let’s fast-forward to our by-election, just for fun, and see how these results compare with the results from Penarth and  Cardiff South in 2010. If we make the ridiculous assumption that Penarth is a microcosm of the whole constituency then we’d see that:

  • Plaid polled 7% better in 2012 than in 2010
  • Conservatives polled 6% better in 2012
  • Independent polled 4% better in 2012
  • Labour polled 2% better in 2012
  • Green polled 1% better in 2012
  • UKIP polled 1% better in 2012
  • Lib Dems polled 21% worse in 2012

This is actually a bit more of an interesting exercise than I’d initially imagined, because with the exception of the Lib Dems, the polling in Penarth’s 2012 local authority election was within single figures of the 2010 constituency result. Now I think that the likelihood of the Lib Dems polling 1% in the by-election is about as strong as Plaid tripling their vote. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. But it’ll be interesting to use these results to come up with some polling predictions before the election.

Gadael sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, UKIP, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Labour 2012

Well, difficult by-elections aside, someone must be feeling pretty pleased with themselves. That someone would be the Labour Party in Penarth. They extended their reach to their joint-highest ever, 6 of the 10 councillors on offer.

At an individual ward level the Labour candidates’ results were:

  • Cornerswell – 15% up
  • Plymouth – 23% up
  • St. Augustine’s – 20% up
  • Stanwell – 36% up
  • Sully – 9% up

In a similar manner to fortunes at Plaid and the Conservatives, we have a general trend here for Labour of a rough 19% increase across much of Penarth. But we’ve got a slightly different story for Labour in that performance was especially good in one ward, and relatively bad in another.

I’ve already explained my thinking around the result in Sully here, where Labour (and Plaid) “were bit-part players in this election”.  Something went on which the Labour candidate was clearly unable to influence.

But Stanwell – which I described in June as “one of the least interesting wards” is anything but uninteresting for Labour apparatchiks. If the vote increase in one ward can be double that in the rest of Penarth, then the Labour campaign here was very persuasive. I can only imagine that Janice Birch and Mark Wilson must be excellent councillors. It’s not easy to get people to vote for you in an election, unless you’ve proven your worth to the electorate time and time again.  And to have such a strong showing in a year which was in any case “Labour’s best council results since 1996” was some result.

I’d described the 15% increase in Cornerswell as a ‘high water mark’, given the swing to Labour across Wales. But it’s a water mark that could be breached – if Rhiannon Birch and Peter King take sage advice from Janice Birch and Mark Wilson. Given that Rhiannon shares an address with Mark Wilson, that shouldn’t be too hard to achieve. Let’s see what 5 years living under the same roof as one of this election’s star performers can do for Rhiannon’s fortunes in 2017!

The Labour Party in Penarth need to ask themselves the same question as the Liberal Democrats, but from a distinctly different vantage point: where on earth do they go from here?

I’ll be looking at all the parties’ electoral strategies for 2017 in my next post, so I’ll help them answer that question then.

But in the meantime, let’s take a quick look at those candidates from all parties who managed to achieve a swing substantially better than the Penarth version of the national swing. I’m assuming that achieving a result in line with the Penarth swing for each party was achieved by doing the minimum (which I call the ‘do nothing’ scenario) – perhaps a leaflet and a bit of doorknocking, but that the result was based primarily on how the electoral game was playing out at a Wales and UK level.

There are three examples that stand out. Firstly, Janice and Mark (see above) for Labour. Secondly for Plaid, where the Penarth trend was a 45% reduction which Osian Lewis and Luke James managed to buck by 18% – the same scale of improvement above the trend line as the Labour star performers. The third example is the Sully outliers of Bob Penrose and Kevin Mahoney, because although there’s no Penarth trend for Independents or UKIP their results are striking.

And in the other direction – those candidates who appear to have done spectacularly badly, somehow contriving to do even worse than the ‘do nothing’ scenario?

Paula Hardy in Sully polled about 10% less than the Penarth Labour trend. Sully also provided bad news for the Conservative candidates Anthony Ernest and Sarah Sharpe (especially Anthony), who were about 25% below the Penarth Conservative trend. And the other candidates to have suffered ‘complete collapse’ in vote share of the same order were Dorothy Turner and John Fraser of the Conservatives who stood in Cornerswell. This should be worrying the Conservative Party. There was something about these four candidates that rendered them totally unpalatable in this election. Conservative strategists need to determine what that was before entrusting them to electoral contest again.

Gadael sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Labour, Vale of Glamorgan Council

A Disastrous Appointment and the Democratic Deficit

Every now and then a topic of some intrigue comes my way. Now I reckon I’m some way down the Welsh blogging food chain, so when people come to me with a big story it gets me wondering why any of the bigger beasts – like some of those I link to on the right – aren’t covering it. As far as I can tell, only Valleys Mam has done so up till now.

Nevertheless, I have covered topics of interest that are wider than simply Penarth, for example here, here and here. And perhaps that’s why my source – let’s call her “Source A” – approached me. Source A wanted to remain anonymous, for reasons that will become clear, so I’ll respect his wishes.

So this post is a compound of information that has been compiled by several other people and passed through me via email.

The Chair of the new Welsh environment/natural resources agency (a name has yet to be determined) was recently announced to be Professor Peter Matthews OBE. “Who?” was the response by everyone in the environment sector in Wales. The appointment was described by the local paper for Peter Matthews’ home area as “providing a generous pension top up for 69 year-old Peter Matthews who lives near Huntingdon… For eight days a month Mr Matthews will be handsomely rewarded to the tune of £50,000 a year”.

There has been muted fury about this decision in the environment sector. According to my sources, not one person working in the environment sector considers this to have been a good appointment. No-one, that is, outside the appointment panel. I’ll comment on the ‘muted’ nature of the response later, but let’s examine the reasons that this appointment was so disastrous.

Firstly, let’s check out Professor Matthews’ track record. His previous appointment was as head of the Utility Regulator for Electricity, Gas and Water in Northern Ireland, where he proudly announced in September 2010:

Our job is to act as an independent, expert regulator for Northern Ireland consumers.  Protecting their interests means that we relentlessly challenge utility companies in Northern Ireland to make sure that their costs are as low as possible.  Our scrutiny since 2006 has saved at least £210 million of costs that may otherwise been passed on in higher bills for consumers.

One man’s ‘costs as low as possible’ is another man’s ‘failure to invest’. So just three months after this declaration of value for money, the BBC reported that:

40,000 people across Northern Ireland are struggling to cope without water supplies… some people have been without water for eight days…

The head of customer services for NI Water, when asked why such horrendous problems were being caused in Northern Ireland when Scotland was doing fine (and offering bottled water to Northern Ireland residents), said:

Scotland has had investment, whereas we haven’t.

I’m sure that Peter Matthews’ penny-pinching approach was warmly welcomed by all those people who ended up flushing their toilets with lemonade. One GP described the situation as “a public health emergency”. Meanwhile the Environment Minister said:

NI Water was not properly prepared.  In terms of communicating [their] problems with the community, they failed and failed very miserably

You can see from the Utility Regulator’s website that they’re responsible for regulating the electricity, gas, water and sewerage industries in Northern Ireland, promoting the short- and long-term interests of consumers. Their Vision is: “We will make a difference for consumers by listening, innovating and leading”. Well, they sure made a difference to the interests of consumers by scaling back investment.

Secondly, Professor Matthews is about as British establishment as they come. He’s been ‘awarded’ the OBE for services to the water industry. His UK frame of reference was highlighted in a recent speech to mark his appointment as Chair of the new body, when he said “we are a nation of 60 million people”. As Tom Jones from Cymdeithas Edward Llwyd points out, we’re actually a nation of 3 million people. The Chair of this new organisation will be responsible for steering the direction of the organisation and appointing and managing the Chief Executive. There’s plenty of evidence out there that people tend to recruit people similar to themselves. Should we be concerned that the new Chief Executive – who, unlike the Chair (who may be removed from post at any time by the Minister), can expect to spend the rest of their working life in this role – could, like Professor Matthews, have next to no knowledge about Wales, our needs and our priorities?

Thirdly, he’s the current Master of the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators. They might sound like a great bunch of people, but George Monbiot’s excoriating review of the City of London should be enough to persuade you of the livery companies’ unhealthy interest in “expounding the values of liberalisation” as the Lord Mayor used to say. Let’s hope the Livery Companies’ free-market fervour isn’t visited upon the Welsh environment under Professor Matthews’ stewardship! Apparently there is some discussion as to whether or not Professor Matthews is one of those vile creatures known as a freemason – after all, there’s no shortage of masonic lodges in Huntingdon.

Finally, Professor Matthews apparently developed a very strong reputation for flying in to Belfast to attend meetings of the Utility Regulator and flying straight back out to Huntingdon. I’m sure that’s a decent carbon footprint for someone who claims to be a Chartered Environmentalist. But of more concern is his commitment to the cause. One of Source A’s colleagues from Northern Ireland said “we’re used to Brits flying in to tell us what to do. I guess you in Wales are going to have to get used to it now”. But perhaps we should be reassured, after all, Professor Matthews claims to have “visited Wales on business and on holiday“.

So those are the concerns. But why might this appointment be bad for democracy?

I referred to the criticism of this appointment as being ‘muted’, despite the almost universal opprobrium among environmental groups. That’s because the post-holder is incredibly powerful. Any environmental group that receives any money or other support from this new all-encompassing environmental body is going to be beholden to it. That means no criticism, please. And the people who did the recruiting – they’re presumably the top civil servants in the environment section of the Welsh Government. So if you’re thinking of staying friendly with these influential people, you’d better keep quiet. Of course, if you criticise this appointment, you criticise the Minister (even though he had no part in the recruitment process), and no environmental group has an interest in upsetting him. And talking of the Minister, it’s an abdication of duty on his part not to have been on the recruitment panel. After all, this is the most important appointment to the most important body of his entire portfolio. It seems to me that the panel should have comprised himself, the Business Minister and the Agriculture Deputy Minister. But he’s making ‘Yes Minister‘ seem all too real – civil servants persuading him that they know best.

It’s all sewn up. The only people criticising the decision on the record are a former MP and Cymdeithas Edward Llwyd. Hardly the biggest hitters in the Welsh environment sector.

This paralysis on behalf of the environment sector is symptomatic of the grip the Welsh Government has over just about every aspect of civil society – health, education, environment, the works. There’s probably not one NGO in Wales that doesn’t think very carefully before coming out critical of the Welsh Government, and that’s not good for scrutiny of government or for democracy. Just look at what happened with AWEMA if you need to be persuaded of the apparent advantages of being friendly with Carwyn Jones. Zero scrutiny of an organisation that broke just about every employment law in the book.

I think there are a few questions that need to be answered by the Welsh Government on this one.

  • What were the selection criteria for the post (Was knowledge of Wales, its people and institutions on the list? Fluency in the Welsh language?)
  • Which candidates were eliminated from consideration at the shortlisting stage and why? What scores did the non-selected candidates achieve?
  • Who was on the recruitment panel? What scores were achieved by the shortlisted candidates?
  • What scrutiny, if any, was made of Professor Matthews’ role in the lack of investment in Northern Ireland Water that caused the catastrophic failure of supply in December 2010?

And I’ll be submitting an FOI request to the Welsh Government to that effect.

Watch this space.

4 o Sylwadau

Filed under Welsh Government

Conservatives 2012

The Conservatives were one of just two parties to put up a full slate of candidates in each ward.

I wasn’t expecting them to do great – the opinion polls at the time were clear enough that it wasn’t going to be a great election for them. But I don’t imagine even in their worst nightmares the Conservatives would have been prepared for what actually happened. Their performance varied from ‘only dropping by 29%‘ to ‘worse than complete collapse‘. The home of the South Wales Shadows Club has been shaken to its foundations.

At a national level the Conservatives lost 61 of their 166 councillors, or 37%. And in Penarth? In April they had eight councillors and as from May they have two. How careless – they’ve lost 75% of their Penarth/Sully contingent, well above their Welsh average!

But let’s examine Conservative performance at ward level:

  • Cornerswell – 53% down
  • Plymouth – 29% down
  • St. Augustine’s – 29% down
  • Stanwell – 33% down
  • Sully – 56% down

There are clearly two groups of performance here. The average drop in support across much of Penarth was 30%. But over in Cornerswell and Sully it was closer to 55%. In electoral terms, that’s about as bad as it gets. So what happened?

The paucity of electoral information coming my way in April 2012 left me shell-shocked at the result in Sully. I’ve previously noted that the Conservatives there

apparently have done something to disgruntle the electorate

Their previous supporters abandoned them in droves

Bob [Independent] and Kevin [UKIP] were clearly doing a lot of things right for the people of Sully, Lavernock and Cosmeston

Perhaps there’s not really much to add to that analysis.

But there are a few additional factors to consider in Cornerswell. Firstly, the Plaid vote in Cornerswell was relatively resilient (dropping just 20%) in the face of a Wales-wide pasting (otherwise known as ‘a difficult night‘). While it’s unlikely that Conservative voters would have swelled the ballot box on behalf of Plaid in large numbers, it’s not outlandish to think that some Conservatives would have made the long leap left. Labour’s vote only increased by 15% – rather poor by comparison with results elsewhere, and also not likely to have been as a result of much inter-party mobilisation. I don’t want to infer too much into the significance of this blog, but could the hint of a constituency scandal – the incumbent Conservatives having been complicit in the Vale of Glamorgan choking residents of Cogan – have made erstwhile Conservative voters simply unable to bring themselves to vote for the negligent pair of Dorothy Turner and John Fraser?

If there’s even the slightest hint of truth in that, then this May has served notice that negligent or incompetent councillors can expect to pay a heavy price come election time.

1 Sylw

Filed under Conservative Party, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Pollution

Buttrills 2012

Have I lost my marbles? Surely Buttrills is in Barry, not Penarth!

I’m writing this post because it has implications for us in Penarth. Plus we get very few local government by-elections so it’s nice to see what’s happening elsewhere in the Vale.

This result was an absolutely stunning electoral turnaround. The polling was as follows:

  • Ian Johnson (Plaid Cymru) – 541 (44%)
  • Brian Morris (Welsh Labour) – 503 (41%)
  • Thomas Burley (Welsh Conservatives) – 90 (7%)
  • David Green (Independent) – 82 (7%)

Ian James Johnson was a distant third in this two-member ward in May, getting votes from 28% of the voting public. To compare, the two Labour candidates got the nod from 50% and 47%. In order to analyse this result in greater detail, we also need to know how what proportion of people voted for the other candidates in May. Conservatives: 13% and 12%, and Independent (the same candidate as this by-election): 9%.

That means that Plaid’s vote surged by 16% and Labour’s fell by 7%, described by The Independent as a ‘huge swing’ of 12% from Labour to Plaid. This clearly was a ‘two-horse race’ in the best tradition of Lib Dem electioneering. The Conservative and Independent votes, both low in a regular election, were irrelevant in this by-election.

Another point of interest is that to my knowledge this ward has always been a Labour stronghold. Could a Plaid representative – on the town council as well as the local authority – change the electoral pattern here?

So what were the relevant factors in this by-election? My network of political intelligence is a bit flimsy over in Barry, but here are some of the crucial reasons:

  1. Plaid’s Ian Johnson was a candidate living a few yards outside the ward boundary whereas the Labour candidate came from well outside the ward – and who according to Councillor Richard Bertin moved to Barry from London three years or so ago
  2. Ian Johnson has been a candidate in Barry (if not Buttrills) for some time. He contested the neighbouring ward of Court in 2004 and, as we’ve seen above, Buttrills in May this year. As far as I can tell, Brian Morris’ only foray into politics is to nominate the disastrous Labour candidate Alana Davies in the Westminster election of 2010 (who subsequently lost her seat on Bridgend council in the Labour landslide of May 2012).
  3. Labour came across as complacent. On the day before the poll, Alun Michael tweeted: “Minutes to go to the vital by-election day in Barry (Buttrills) – work done, looking good!” and Vaughan Gething tweeted: “2nd labourdoorstep done in the Buttrills by-election – best of luck to Brian and the team you should have [Stephen Doughty] with you now as well”. Now I know that I’ve already announced Stephen Doughty as Cardiff South and Penarth’s new MP, but Vaughan really needs to wait for the returning officer’s declaration before mouthing off about it. Funnily enough neither has commented on the election result.

But there’s an even more scintillating aspect to this result. What has changed politically in the three months since the last election in Buttrills? At a local level, probably not much. At a UK level, the Labour Party has maintained a polling rate of about 42% since May. And at a social level, we’ve had an extravaganza of Britishness that is supposed to have made us all gel together: firstly the Jubilee, then England and Ireland competing in Euro 2012 and now the Olympics.

For the one political party in Wales whose mission is to secede from the British state, this election could scarcely have come at a worse time. Or could it? Could it be that the people of Barry saw countries such as Guam and Sao Tome (populations similar to that of Swansea), Nauru and Palau (populations about half of Penarth) and parts of other countries (notably Hong Kong) marching through the Olympic stadium and fancied that Wales should have the chance? But if that’s the case, their opinion differs from that shown by a recent poll, where 79% of people in a clumsy ‘Midlands/Wales’ region thought that Great Britain should continue to compete as a single team.

I’m out of reasons other than the final, and perhaps most obvious one. No, not that Damian Chick’s support propelled Ian Johnson over the finishing line (although with the result as close as it was, the Lib Dem former candidate’s support was useful in preventing this from being a knife-edge vote). But that Ian Johnson ran a thoroughly professional campaign not just in the last 2 months but over the past 5 years. If this is the case then Plaid in the Vale have handed another lesson to the other parties.

And the resonance for us in Penarth? Probably not that great. Plaid has a history of activity – and elected councillors – in Barry that Penarth members could only dream of, so outside of Barry this seismic shock-wave of a result is not going to be a major factor in the 2017 campaign.

7 o Sylwadau

Filed under Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Vale of Glamorgan Council

UKIP 2012

I’ll come clean – I wasn’t anticipating having to write a post with this title. The fact that UKIP is coming after Plaid means that we’re onto the first of the three parties to taste the sweet nectar of success in May’s elections. And how frustrating for Plaid! They’ve been grinding away in Penarth for donkeys’ years with no success and along comes UKIP at the first go and waltzes into power.

UKIP polled 13% in the seats it contested. That’s pretty respectable in my mind – and only marginally less than the Liberal Democrats (although the Lib Dem result may have been an average for all seats, contested or not). But Kevin secured votes from 40% of the Sully electorate, so he spectacularly outshone his peers around the UK. There were 12 UKIP candidates in Wales in the May elections, with two getting elected. On a proportionate basis, that’s probably better than most parties. But the thing with putting up few candidates is that you pick and choose where you think you stand the best chance.

So are we looking at a glorious future for UKIP in Penarth?

I was pretty surprised when I heard that Kevin Mahoney had been elected in the first place – as you’ll see here and here. So first off let’s be clear that this pundit is fallible and has a track record of underestimating the electoral attractiveness of UKIP. But I really can’t see UKIP going anywhere in Penarth; in fact, I imagine Kevin will have a bit of a fight on his hands in 2017 (assuming the Conservatives and/or an independent other than Bob Penrose puts in a bit of spadework). And my thinking on UKIP’s limits follow two lines of reasoning.

Firstly, they don’t seem to have an electoral strategy other than picking up votes from disaffected Conservative voters. By which I mean right-wing Conservatives. Certainly the Conservatives themselves appeared rattled by UKIP’s performance in May and the recent polling in Wales clearly demonstrates they have most to fear from UKIP. I know that UKIP supporters will point with disgruntlement at that poll and say that they are a credible alternative to the establishment parties. But at the moment, despite gaining Wales’ fourth MEP slot, I don’t see their polling translating into seats at local authorities in 2017.

Secondly, they’re a fringe party, and we know this because their policies aren’t subject to the usual forensic scrutiny that other parties come under. You can check out their policies for the local elections here. But in the week we found out that the entire Greenland ice sheet started melting, a party that wants to “close the climate change department” is hardly a party with a strong moral compass. And it’s a party that wants to wrest control for the UK from Europe but not wrest control for Wales from the UK (seemingly the reverse). Talk about cognitive dissonance! Because it’s the only party in Wales that wants to abolish the National Assembly (or “replace Assembly Members with MPs”). And does their “scrap state promotion of multiculturalism. We are British” have any implications for the two cultures we have in Wales?

Enough! I think we’ve got the picture that this is a very right-wing party with a peculiar lack of strategic policy-making which is unlikely to make inroads into the more moderate and left-wing politics prevalent in Wales and Penarth. And being a fringe party means that they struggle to find anyone willing to stand in their name, and I’d be surprised if anyone from the Penarth/Sully area would be willing to stand under the UKIP flag. After all, Kevin himself lives in Barry.

There’s actually a third reason for being confident that UKIP won’t make inroads into Penarth. I’ve tantalisingly mentioned this reason before herehere and here, and I do intend writing a post about it because it’s got huge implications for local democracy.

7 o Sylwadau

Filed under Plaid Cymru, UKIP, Vale of Glamorgan Council