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.