Monthly Archives: Medi 2012

What We Stand For

And so we see Plaid’s opening salvo in the by-election fray, with thanks to the party for sending it within the 5 days’ limit to ensure compliance with an irresistible offer. And what an underwhelming display it is.

Luke Nicholas has, apparently, “just the skills and commitment needed” to be  MP. But we have no idea just what skills he possesses, since there’s no information about him other than that he’s young, local and a man. With such a heady array of attributes it must be incredibly challenging to get the Plaid nod to run for MP. To his credit he appears to be distancing himself from the incumbent by highlighting his difference in at least two of those characteristics.

The next section tells us what pretty much most mainstream political parties stand for (absent the ‘free… Wales’). There’s not a Labour or Conservative politician in Wales who wouldn’t want a better world for all along with international co-operation. And which politician doesn’t see the value in the Welsh language (well, at least in public!). So what’s Plaid’s USP – other than a free Wales?

I agree that reform of the banking system is very important to avoid repeat financial crashes of the same species as the last one. But this takes fully one-quarter of the space available on the leaflet – and it’s the only quote we have from the candidate himself. I’d rather see some decent content on Plaid’s priorities for Westminster rather than a highly specific article on banking followed by a bunch of guff. It’s not as if Luke is a lightweight candidate with nothing to contribute.

It’s actually a good idea to publicise regular party meetings, but does it really warrant so much space? And the final article simply reinforces the impression – which I’d thought Plaid had wanted to avoid – of being a Welsh language pressure group. Again, given that there’s an election in a few months’ time, surely it’s better to focus on Westminster priorities and why Plaid’s offer is so much more compelling than the alternatives?

I know that retro is in, but there’s a time and a place. And modern political campaigning probably isn’t the best forum for treating constituents to design that harks back to the 1980s. Add in a mix of fonts, font sizes, wholly amateurish layout… Plaid in Penarth (Cornerswell, at least) had design nailed back in April. It’s bizarre that Plaid has gone backwards 30 years in 5 months.

I’ve also been sent a Welsh language version of the Llais. But I’ve had reports that only one version made its way to people’s houses, and we can all have a guess at which one didn’t find its way to the printing presses.

So do I give them credit for having bilingual versions at all, or castigate them for deciding not to distribute the Welsh language version? I think the latter – with the note that they could so easily have fit a full bilingual version on 2 sides of A4 using some freely available graphic design software that Osian and Luke plainly got to grips with months ago.

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Filed under Democracy, Elections, Plaid Cymru, Westminster

Electoral Strategy for Plaid 2017

Plaid has long suffered from a lack of representation in the rural Vale and Penarth. But it’s had considerable success in neighbouring Dinas Powys and to a lesser extent in Barry. Why is this, and what can Penarth Plaid learn from its more experienced – and successful – colleagues?

Plaid fielded a slate of candidates that was only two short of a full house. Although the evidence from Labour in Sully contradicts this supposition, I’d say that having a full complement of candidates is an asset to any party. Firstly, it makes you look like you have plenty of candidates to choose from (any less than a full slate makes it seem as if you’re scrabbling around in desperation). That breeds confidence in the electorate that you’re a force to be reckoned with. Secondly, it gives you a better opportunity for media coverage because in each ward you have two candidates to shout about.

Having a full complement of candidates is a good part of the job, but not all. Ideally you want all of your candidates to come from the local area, and better still, from the wards themselves.

But which wards to tackle? I’m going to assume that Plaid haven’t got the resources to put in a full-blown effort in each ward. Interestingly, history from Barry suggests that the wards which rank more poorly in the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation have not proven better targets for  Plaid than more affluent areas. In fact, quite the contrary – as I can show below. Using the same statistical thuggery I pioneered here, these are the Barry wards’ ranking in the Index (remember a higher number means ‘less deprived’):

  • Castleland – 268 (2 Labour)
  • Court – 331 (1 Independent, 1 Labour)
  • Gibbondsown – 381 (2 Labour)
  • Cadoc – 569 (3 Labour)
  • Buttrills – 673 (2 Labour at the election – subsequently 1 Labour, 1 Plaid)
  • Dyfan – 1,009 (2 Labour)
  • Illtyd – 1,273 (3 Labour)
  • Baruc – 1,336 (2 Plaid)

Does this have any resonance for Plaid in Penarth? I can’t figure out a clear corollary. Certainly Penarth and Barry are different communities, with Penarth’s ‘most deprived’ ward coming in between Dyfan and Illtyd in Barry’s ranking and every other Penarth ward being less deprived than any in Barry.  Given that Plaid in Barry appears to be having success in mid-range wards (the Index goes up to 1,898), it would appear to be a reasonable tactic for Plaid in Penarth to target these wards. But mid-range in Penarth is effectively the poorest wards. So on this analysis, Plaid should be targeting wards in the following order (Index ranking in brackets):

  • Stanwell (1,177)
  • St. Augustine’s (1,416)
  • Cornerswell (1,420)
  • Sully (1,624)
  • Plymouth (1,722)

If only things were that simple! Because of course we also need to take historical results into account. So with the wards in order of multiple deprivation we get the proportion of voters casting votes for Plaid as follows:

I don’t really need to say any more. There’s one ward where Plaid should aim to ‘swell’ the vote in 2017 by – to coin a phrase – standing in its ‘corner‘. And if candidates are in limited supply, does it make any sense to send two candidates to the slaughter in Plymouth when Stanwell is a much more viable prospect?

Finally, Plaid appears to have a particular problem recruiting female candidates. That’s something they’ll definitely want to work on because a cohort of men is wholly unrepresentative of the population at large – and people will notice.

And a point of note for all parties. If you have more than one candidate in a ward, one of whom is more interested in becoming a councillor, make sure that the keenest candidate has a name earlier in the alphabet. The alphabet effect is alive and kicking in Penarth.

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

An Irresistible Offer

I’m eternally grateful to the army of readers who furnish me with scanned copies of electoral material. But do I get every pamphlet sent through?

At the local authority elections in May I didn’t get any contributions from Sully, Plymouth or Stanwell wards. Did the candidates not produce any literature, or did I simply not get hold of what they produced? I’m still none the wiser – but it wasn’t great for democracy because readers of the blog living in those wards had no independent analysis of the election missives.

There’s another problem with relying exclusively on blog readers: often the quality of scanning just doesn’t capture the quality of the original publication.

At the local authority elections in May, Lis Burnett from Labour and Luke James and Osian Lewis from Plaid took the trouble to send me their electoral briefings either by pdf or as links to an online version.

So I’d like to extend that practice for the Penarth and Cardiff South by-election with an irresistible offer.

On sequential days running up to the by-election I will publish an election message from each candidate in the election. The election address should be no more than 500 words, and I will publish it unedited (provided it doesn’t include defamation, incitement to violence etc.). The order of publication will be in the same order as the ballot papers, so based on nominated candidates, this would be the running order:

  • Stephen Doughty (Labour)
  • Robert Griffiths (Communist)
  • Andrew Jordan (Socialist Labour)
  • Bablin Molik (Lib Dem)
  • Luke Nicholas (Plaid)
  • Craig Williams (Conservative)

For information, I will not publish an election address from the BNP should they manage to dredge up a candidate from somewhere.

The quid pro quo? You need to send me copies of your electoral material no later than 5 days after it arrives through people’s letter boxes. Electronic copies only, please, either as pdfs (penartharbyd[a]gmail.com) or as links to permanent copies online. Failure to send them through will automatically disqualify you from this irresistible offer. Those candidates who provide no electoral information are still eligible for the election address.

So why should you bother? Well, this blog received 237 hits on 4 May, so there’s a fairly active readership out there. I’d expect this to have increased come election day as the reach of the blog has extended over time.

And let’s be frank. If you opt out, you’re sending a clear message to the electorate that you don’t want your election material to be subject to independent scrutiny.

That doesn’t go down well with me, and I don’t think it will with them.

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Filed under Communist Party, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Socialist Labour Party, Westminster

Record of Shame

Well, the Labour Party has apparently been stung into action by the early Lib Dem running in this by-election. So for our delight, we have this document (with thanks to blog reader ED again for sending it to penartharbyd[a]gmail.com).

And given that this is a Local Labour Voice ‘by-election special’, it got me thinking – have I ever seen a copy of Local Labour Voice before? If not, then this by-election is special!

Stephen Doughty – who it’s already been announced here will be our new MP – is apparently playing a leading role in fighting for fairer taxes and against the UK government’s cuts. If that’s the case, he’s displaying a remarkable degree of impotence. Because as I see it, despite all Stephen’s hard work and campaigning, the cuts and taxation brackets are just the same. I’d be delighted to see Stephen’s strategy in “doing all [he] can to fight the vicious cuts”, because it sounds suspiciously like he hasn’t got one. And flailing around trying to grab a few headlines here and there are hardly going to persuade the UK government to abandon their austerity drive.

On the next page we have a picture of Penarth Labour Councillors proudly displaying a banner. Except… wait a minute! There are a few ringers in there. One of them’s Stephen himself, who at present is either employed by Oxfam or is unemployed, awaiting his anointment. He is in any case unelected. Another is an unelected former AM, we’ve got one of our present AMs and then our MP. Let’s not try to mislead the electorate in our enthusiasm, eh, Stephen?

And Stephen says that campaigning “gets results for local people”. Perhaps I should refer him back to his prodigious success as the leading light in achieving fairer taxation. But although this is the purview of the local authority, I do think there’s a role for an MP to work to improve local facilities  through working with councillors, in addition to Westminster work. I just hope Stephen displays more commitment to local communities than his predecessor, who’s been in this game so long he’s more familiar with Millbank than Pill Street.

It’s more than a bit hypocritical for Stephen to describe the harsh and cruel Tory/Lib Dem government’s shady plans to introduce regional pay. After all, which political party’s brainchild was regional pay in the first place? You guessed it! Labour pushing hard for less pay for Welsh workers.

We get a delightful page 3 picture – but who’s the un-named man with Stephen? He appears to have borrowed one of Stephen’s suits from when he had yet to reach his towering stature, and a shirt and tie to boot. It’s nice to see philanthropy in action, caring for the older generation with barely a penny to their name and donating clothing to them. Well done Stephen!

Stephen bemoans the stripping of ‘vital powers’ ascribed by ASBOs. But the latest statistical analysis tells us that by 2010, 57% of all ASBOs had been breached at least once, with an average in these cases of 4.5 breaches. And South Wales Police issued a whopping 36 ASBOs in 2010. Well that system worked just great, didn’t it! But it’s just as well Stephen’s in tune with a certain Ed Balls, who described ASBOs as a ‘failure‘, and said “I want to live in a society that puts ASBOs behind us”. Could Stephen’s fondness for ASBOs have anything to do with a certain father figure having been responsible for this failed policy?

Stephen’s going to have to get used to being branded hypocritical. Because in relation to police numbers, if we look north to  Scotland, police numbers are actually rising. But then police and criminal justice is devolved to Scotland (and Northern Ireland), so they’re much better equipped to withstand the ‘vicious cuts’ that Stephen is so concerned about. Perhaps he’d be better off asking Peter Hain why he thought policing would be better off financed by London than Wales than bleating about 750 officers being lost as a result of Labour’s failure to devolve when they had the chance.

And I’m sure more than a few bobbies on the beat could be paid for out of a Police Commissioner’s fat salary. But then, we’re hardly likely to see Stephen complain about that with his best friend having a major interest in ensuring that salary remains as high as possible.

I’m with Stephen that privatisation of the police forces a la Lincolnshire – policing for profit – is a bad idea. But the only cast-iron way of ensuring it doesn’t happen in Wales? Devolve policing and criminal justice – something, incidentally, that’s supported by a substantial majority of the Welsh public.

I should also mention the Labour Party’s stalwart consideration of the Welsh language. Like the Liberal Democrats before them, for Welsh Labour the Welsh language is a complete irrelevance. Which is slightly peculiar given that in Leighton Andrews they have one of the most pro-Welsh language Ministers we’ve ever had in Cardiff Bay. From Welsh language hero to zero in 9 yards, that’s Labour for you.

Stephen says he wants to hear from us. I wonder just how happy he’ll be to get this feedback.

Incidentally, I’d appreciate all Penarth and Cardiff South candidates sending me pdf versions of their electoral material. It avoids the poorer quality scans such as today’s version (I’m still grateful to you, ED!). And I’ve just had an idea  that might up the stakes a bit. To be continued…

This post has been updated to make reference to the zero-tolerance approach Stephen Doughty has to the Welsh language.

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Filed under Democracy, Elections, Labour, Welsh Government, Westminster

Your Views Matter

It’s difficult to know where to start with this one (with thanks to blog reader ED for scanning and sending). After all, we’ve already seen some low-grade electioneering from the Lib Dems in preparation for an election whose date is still unknown. Does this one take the biscuit?

Dr. Bablin Molik (and we’re not to forget her academic title in this pamphlet) “lives locally in Cardiff South & Penarth”. But it’s no surprise to anyone to discover that she lives in Cardiff South and not Penarth. Because apparently her main campaign in this election – other than to support the continued poisoning of Cogan – is to upgrade local train services.

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly staggered when I refresh my memory that this dead-end town (in railway terms, cyfeillion!) of some 30,000 souls is blessed with trains to its three stations throughout the day every 15 minutes, six days a week. Can there be a better-served town in Wales on a branch line? And yet Bablin is out there campaigning for ‘more frequent services’. What does she want for Penarth? Trains every 5 minutes? And given that any improvements to services on this ‘do-nothing franchise‘ with Arriva Trains Wales would have to come either from further taxpayer investment (Welsh Government, not UK) or from degraded services elsewhere, I’d like to know just what Bablin’s solution is. After all, overcapacity is hardly the biggest problem we face on the Penarth train commute. For someone with a PhD, she’s not coming across as being well-endowed in the common sense department.

If she wants to get support for a local transport campaign then she’d be better off focusing on our dismal Sunday service. And while I’m at it, the other gripe that gets rail travellers’ goat is the seemingly interminable wait for the green man at the Dingle Road Station/Windsor Road Crossing.

The rest of the questions on this survey from our ‘neighbour’ Bablin appear to be taken from the textbook of bad survey practice. Leading questions, multiple questions with only one answer slot, and a mixture of metrics (yes/no, 1 to 5 scale).

And the Liberal Democrat standard on the Welsh language is maintained. It simply doesn’t exist. Which is slightly peculiar given that Jenny Randerson was Minister for Culture in Wales from 2000 to 2003. From Welsh language hero to zero in 9 years, that’s the Lib Dems for you.

This isn’t a genuine survey, of course. It’s poor electioneering branded as an attempt to seek community opinion. But there’s one light at the end of the pamphleting tunnel. If one or two Lib Dem supporters can be persuaded to register with Cardiff Central Liberal Democrats (who are the promoters and publishers of this information) then perhaps Bablin’s campaign in Penarth can be tailored just a little bit to represent what people who live here actually want.

By the way, I’d appreciate Bablin taking the plunge and sending me pdfs of her election material. As people who followed Penartha’rByd during the local election campaign will testify (and clearly Bablin wasn’t one of them), I’m harsh but fair. As a tantalising aside, an election pamphlet from one of Bablin’s contenders has just dropped into my inbox…

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Filed under Democracy, Elections, Liberal Democrats, Transport

Review of Reviews

I’m delighted to say that the proposed changes to electoral arrangements in the Vale of Glamorgan are to be scrapped. The LGBC underwent a Review of reviews that concluded that while reviews of some local authorities could proceed as proposed, others could not.

in the [following] council areas… the size of the electorate in communities and community wards presents a significant barrier to making proposals that would provide for effective and convenient local government…. Consequently, the only options available to the Commission often result in divisions which either have very poor levels of electoral parity; necessitate the creation of very large multi-member divisions which are not supported by the electorate; or do not reflect local ties… the Commission considers that a completely new review is required under amended legislation [in] the Vale of Glamorgan

Feel free to criticise me for missing this announcement, which was made on 30 March. Or alternatively, criticise the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales, which hasn’t exactly gone out of its way to make this headline news. Might this be a result of the criticism of the Commission levied by the Mathias Review?

The Review of Reviews was undertaken in response to the Mathias Review. Of particular note in relation to democracy in Penarth, one of the recommendations of the Mathias Review was:

The Commission should adopt an appropriate methodology for assessing the desirability of multi-member divisions in each authority, as required in section 3(1) of the Ministerial Directions 2009 (4.11).

I regard multi-member divisions as wholly undesirable for the reasons given here. And I would expect anyone genuinely committed to democracy to argue likewise or come up with a thesis more convincing than that some people are disenfranchised by having electorates a few hundred more or less per councillor.

The caveat is that multi-member wards are wholly desirable if elections to them take place under Single Transferable Vote – as they do in Scotland, and as was recommended by the Welsh Government-funded Sunderland Commission (which has vanished without trace from the Welsh Government website). And in that case, they would be a democratic improvement on single-member wards elected first-past-the-post because the results would more closely align with electors’ wishes.

The Mathias Review notes that:

The Welsh Government should move quickly to resolve the immediate issue of what happens to the current cycle of electoral reviews. Unless some early decisions are taken, the Welsh Government will risk failing to meet its own target of ensuring the electoral review programme is delivered to a high standard in time for the 2016 elections.

Given all the excitability that has arisen as a result of the cack-handed LGBC recommendations, it’s conceivable that the review will not even be concluded by 2017, in which case we’ll be using existing electoral divisions.

Gadael sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Affordable Housing

I happened across this statistic the other day (click on the ‘planning’ tab) – the proportion of affordable housing per local authority in Wales. You’ll be fascinated to learn that in 2010-11 the proportion of affordable housing out of all units completed in Wales varied from 3% to 55%.

That means that one local authority – Newport – is ensuring that there are more affordable housing units being built than non-‘affordable’ units. It’s a staggering achievement, and can only be to the good for the population of Newport.

It also puts into perspective the recommendation I made back in April – that we should insist upon a minimum 50% affordable housing level for Penarth (and the Vale). I’m delighted to say that the Plaid Cornerswell candidates saw the sense in that proposal.  After all, the Vale Council conceded a pathetic 20% affordable tally in Penarth Heights. As I said at the time:

Let’s face it, the only reason that developments such as Penarth Heights shouldn’t be substantially more than 20% affordable is if you feel for the hard-pressed developers (profit in 2009 £47.3M and with headquarters in down-at-heel Surrey) and think that they should be extracting more profit at the expense of people in Penarth.

Newport’s success illustrates that the 50% level is the lower bound of where we should be heading.

So where does the Vale of Glamorgan come in the list of 22 local authorities in Wales, and what proportion of the new units in 2010-11 were affordable?

22nd. And 3%.

Shame on you, councillors and ex-councillors.

I’d be very grateful if anyone can point me in the direction of the elected representative ultimately accountable for fighting the corner for the lower earners in Penarth and the Vale. Whoever it was, from whichever party, deserves all of our opprobrium.

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Filed under Equality, Plaid Cymru, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Electoral Strategy for Lib Dems 2017

The Liberal Democrats are in a sorry state in the Vale of Glamorgan. They managed to field just two candidates in May’s council elections, both in Penarth. Why these candidates decided to stand in Penarth, rather than their home wards of Llantwit Major and Dyfan (Barry) is a mystery to me. Certainly it didn’t do them any favours in the election, with just 8% of voters in Plymouth and 4% in Cornerswell voting for them.

As with the Greens, the Lib Dems are much stronger in neighbouring authorities. Although they’re now down to just three councillors in Bridgend, they actually ran the council at the head of a rainbow alliance from 2004-2008. And the Lib Dems had considerable success in Cardiff between 2004 and May this year.

So as for the Greens, my advice is for the Lib Dems to substantially increase their representation throughout the Vale, but they should focus on wards where there is a soft Conservative vote that they could squeeze and where Labour results are poor. That would include Llandow/Ewenni, Peterston-super-Ely, St. Athan, Wenvoe and, possibly, Rhoose. Perhaps it’s not beyond the Lib Dems to drum up five candidates by 2017, although the defection of Damian Chick to Plaid won’t have helped their cause. Unlike for the Greens, I don’t see the strong benefit in standing again in the same seats again (Cornerswell or Plymouth) because the haphazard nature of Lib Dem candidature has left them with no history of attachment to Penarth wards.

The big plus point for the Lib Dems is that the death of the process to reduce the number of constituencies in Wales – thanks to the Conservatives’ ham-fisted blocking of reform of the House of Lords – means that they can breathe a sigh of relief and leave Penarth as irrelevant territory once more, focusing instead on trying to retain Jenny Willott in Cardiff Central. After all, they lost this seat to Labour in 2011 on a knife-edge. I’d be surprised if we see much more campaigning from the Lib Dems from this point on because their strategic focus would have been to prime the Penarth electorate for the 2015 Penarth and Cardiff Central election.

But for future notice, top of the list in terms of making yourself electorally palatable is having policies that resonate with local people. So why would the Lib Dem candidate for the Penarth and Cardiff South by-election have run a campaign seemingly exclusively based on opposing a policy of massive potential benefit to Penarth? If the Lib Dems actually had a presence in Penarth, or even took the trouble to speak to people here, they’d know that we’re considerably more open-minded than the Lib Dem populist stance would have us believe.

You’d expect the Labour Party to stay fairly quiet, because it’s their administration that’s running the show in Cardiff. But compare the Lib Dem approach with that of Plaid Cymru. Plaid – who do have a presence in Penarth, year in, year out – have not come out against the proposed congestion charge. Perhaps Lib Dems consider that they’re the most agile party and that Plaid members are gnashing their teeth at their party’s failure to get the kudos for a thrilling campaign. Or perhaps Plaid is simply acting with the maturity you’d expect of a party rooted in its community. It’s a fair bet that some Plaid members support the congestion charge and some are opposed. But that probably means that they figure that Penarth as a whole is not radically inclined one way or another, and so there’s no political advantage to be gained by campaigning heavily one way or the other.

The fact of the matter is that this isn’t a touchstone issue in Penarth. The Lib Dems having made it their do-or-die issue for Penarth has demonstrated their ignorance of local politics here. And I’d expect that to be represented at the ballot box in November.

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Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Westminster

The Anti-Democratic Local Government Boundary Review

This is one of the most important posts I’ve written. It goes to the heart of local democracy. Because by 2017 the process of undemocratisation of local politics in Penarth will be firmly established.

As I first noted here, the present Penarth wards of Cornerswell, Plymouth, St. Augustine’s and Stanwell will dissolve in 2017. Stanwell and Plymouth will merge to become the 4-member super-ward of Penarth South and St. Augustine’s and Cornerswell will join Llandough to become the 5-member super-ward of Penarth North with Llandough. Sully remains unchanged at 2 members.

This is catastrophic news for those of us who value democracy.

Let’s start off by stating that I have never heard anyone in St. Augustine’s or Plymouth  complaining about their disenfranchisement as a result of having a worse per-capita representation at local authority level. Not once, ever. Just to confirm, the number of electors per councillor for the Penarth/Sully/Llandough wards is as follows:

  • Cornerswell – 2,015
  • Llandough – 1,501
  • Plymouth – 2,293
  • St. Augustine’s – 2,395
  • Stanwell – 1,632
  • Sully – 1,807

In the foreword to their draft proposals for enhancing democracy in the Vale of Glamorgan, the Local Government Boundary Commission states:

An important principle for our work is to aim to achieve a better democratic balance within each council area so that each vote cast in an election is, so far as reasonably practicable, of the same weight as all others in the council area. The achievement of this aim, along with other measures, would be conducive to effective and convenient local government.

It seems to me that the only substantive principle the LGBC uses is to achieve an equal weighting of votes – despite the Commission being required “to provide for there to be a single member for each electoral division” (although the Minister has directed the Commission to “consider the desirability of multi-member electoral divisions”). I’ll be asking the Welsh Government to provide the reasoning for the Minister’s direction to the Commission to find in favour of multi-member wards.

The Penarth ‘problem’ apparently stems entirely from Llandough’s over-representation:

the difference in electoral parity for the existing Llandough electoral division which is 23% below the existing county average of 1,994 electors per councillor and which needs to be addressed in the interests of effective and convenient local government

It appears to be the LGBC’s view that the “interests of effective and convenient local government” are best served by a severe erosion of democracy in Penarth. In attempting to reduce representation in Llandough, and therefore marginally improve representation for the 46 other electoral units in the Vale, their principal effect is to directly worsen democratic opportunity in the 8 Penarth electoral units, and further disenfranchise the electorate from the political process. Let’s examine this further.

The political process already favours established elites – political parties. This is because these are the organisations best placed to put in lots of person-hours walking streets and knocking doors, particularly in the few months before elections. Most candidates will want to publish publicity material as well. And the costs for this? Again, largely borne by the political parties.

But large multi-member wards skew politics even further in favour of established elites. That’s because whereas in a one-member ward with an electorate of, say, 2,395, an independent candidate or a candidate from a party with little in the way of central organisation or funding can realistically hope to canvass a substantial proportion of the electorate over a period of a few months. But in our five-member Penarth North with Llandough? The electorate will be 10,678. The chance of a new entry to politics being able to effectively canvas more than 10,000 electors is nigh on nil. Welcome to the staid land of the big political parties. And let’s not forget the costs of printing 10,000 leaflets instead of 2,000.

It also makes life much easier for the big parties. If you want to canvass 10,000 electors then you can make a decent job of it with 3 or 4 candidates (or even 1 candidate plus plenty of volunteer help), meaning that the candidates themselves have to put less effort in to win. But in seats with individual Members, individual candidates can’t hide behind the efforts of one or two enthusiasts. They have to know, and work, their patch.

But where’s my evidence in support of these contentions? Let’s look at the multiple member wards throughout the Vale to see if a pattern emerges.

  • Baruc: 2 Plaid
  • Buttrills: 1 Labour, 1 Plaid
  • Cadoc: 3 Labour
  • Castleland: 2 Labour
  • Cornerswell: 2 Labour
  • Court: 1 Independent, 1 Labour
  • Cowbridge: 3 Conservative
  • Dinas Powys: 4 Plaid
  • Dyfan: 2 Labour
  • Gibbonsdown: 2 Labour
  • Illtyd: 3 Labour
  • Llantwit Major: 4 Llantwit First Independent
  • Plymouth: 2 Conservative
  • Rhoose: 1 Conservative, 1 Independent
  • St. Augustine’s: 2 Labour
  • Stanwell: 2 Labour
  • Sully: 1 Independent, 1 UKIP

So 41 of our 47 councillors are elected from 17 multi-member wards. And in just four of those wards (all 2-member wards) are there electoral patterns that deviate from a very strongly-established pattern of bloc election for one party. I’m going to call this pattern of bloc election the ‘Penartharbyd Trend’. Is there anything special about these four wards?

Buttrills is a very special case because although its May result went the way of our pattern with two Labour Members, a by-election provided the opportunity for an upset, as you’ll see here.

Court’s Independent is a former Labour councillor who became Independent in 2010 and was re-elected on that basis. He presumably retains a strong support base from former Labour voters, although the results was still rather close and Labour may well recapture this seat next election.

Former council leader Gordon Kemp lost out in Rhoose to the Independent Philip Clarke, presumably on the same anti-leader wave that swept six other authorities in Wales.

And I’ve previously commented on what went on in Sully here.

So the only multi-member wards that didn’t elect en bloc in line with the Penartharbyd Trend were those with special circumstances.

And the situation after the 2008 election? One sole aberration from the Penartharbyd Trend, in Llantwit Major (3 Independents and 1 Conservative). And similarly in 2004, just Llantwit Major and St. Augustine’s differed from the Penartharbyd Trend.

Back in April I naively suggested that St. Augustine’s would be a seat split with one representative each from the Conservative and Labour parties. Looking back I realise that I should never again suggest a split seat in a multi-member ward unless I have prior notice of something extraordinary going on.

By the by, I also have some sympathy with Llandough Community Council’s view that Llandough issues will become marginalised in a new super-ward. There is a realistic chance that over time no Llandough residents are represented in the Vale Council because all five Members would come from the hugely dominant Penarth North side of the new ward. The LGBC, however, felt that Llandough “would still have a powerful voice in the deliberations of the Council”.

There are two obvious ways to right the wrong of multi-member wards. The first is relatively simple, and it is the application of the recommendations of the Sunderland Commission. Ah, yes, the Commission requested and funded by the Welsh Government that was so influential that its conclusions are no longer available on any government website (I have asked the Welsh Government to put it somewhere on their website). The Sunderland Commission recommended that Single Transferable Vote be used to elect local authority representatives in multi-member wards.

The second is to tear up the Local Government Boundary Review and start afresh with the foremost aim of one-member wards. I’m not going to suggest where the boundaries of these should be drawn, but it seems sensible to keep Llandough as one ward given it’s a distinct community with its own Community Council. Even though its electorate is less than the proposed minimum, the LGBR notes: “there may well be factors relating for example to topography or population of the area where it will be considered that an electoral division of fewer than 1,750 electors to be represented by each councillor is appropriate”. Penarth wards can then be equalised very effectively to 2,084 per councillor – or 2% over the 2,037 average proposed by the LGBR.

I fear that neither of these options will be taken, and Penarth will lose a substantial proportion of meaningful local democracy.

Let’s also bear in mind that:

decisions to alter the existing pattern of multi and single member electoral divisions should only be taken where such proposals for alteration are broadly supported by the electorate

So in relation to keeping Llandough as a single-member ward with proportionally higher representation that would enable the rest of Penarth to revert to single-member wards, we should ensure that the electorate does not support the proposed changes to the wards. That way, the existing single-ward Llandough arrangements could be permitted to stand. And let’s remember that Brian Gibbons in his Direction to the LGBC stated “regard should be had to the need to fix boundaries which are easily identifiable and which recognise local community ties”.

Since the LGBC will “continue to welcome active participation in the reviews by those persons or organisations that have an interest”, I’m going to send them a copy of this post. And I’ll keep you posted with their response.

Finally, a note on hypocrisy. Labour and Plaid Cymru were apoplectic at UK Government plans to redraw Westminster boundaries to make the number of electors much more equal. My take on that can be found here. But it’s a Labour Minister, Brian Gibbons, who wanted the identical process to take place for local authorities. In a coalition government with, you guessed it. Plaid Cymru.

4 o Sylwadau

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Equality, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Welsh Government