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:
- 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
- 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).
- 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.