Monthly Archives: Chwefror 2013

Electoral Strategy for Conservatives 2017

My word, it’s been a while since I focused on the local authority elections! What with the excitement of the Penarth and Cardiff South by-election, some other election and the census, the poor Conservative and Labour parties must have thought I’d clean forgotten about them. Not at all. It’s about time they benefited from the same level of incisive electoral advice I’ve already given the Greens, Lib Dems, PlaidIndependents and UKIP.

The Conservatives took a beating in the 2012 local authority election. Prior to the election they held 8 of the Penarth/Sully seats, with Labour on the remaining 2. And after the election, the only 2 seats they kept hold of were the 2 Plymouth seats that I’ve previously described thus:

Plymouth will keep its two Conservative councillors forever.

Why did they take such a hammering?

I’ve become convinced that local elections in Wales are as closely related to the abilities and competence of councillors as they are to the fortunes of the Norwegian cheese industry. That is, not related at all. Or at least, that’s the case in authorities (such as the Vale) where the battle is principally between Labour and Conservative.

The fate of members in the Vale is entirely bound up in the relative popularity of those two parties in Westminster.

What’s that you say? You want proof?

  • Poll May 2004 – Labour 35%, Conservative 34%. June election Penarth + Sully seats Labour 5 Conservative 5. Vale seats Labour 16 Conservative 20.
  • Poll April 2008 – Labour 31%, Conservative 40%. May election Penarth + Sully Labour 2 Conservative 8. Vale Labour 13 Conservative 25.
  • Poll April 2012 – Labour 41%, Conservative 32%. May election Penarth + Sully Labour 6 Conservative 2. Vale Labour 22 Conservative 11.

So when the two big parties are evens in the polls, the seats are split evenly. A 9% lead for either party in the UK polls spells catastrophe for their opponents. Incidentally I stand to be proved wrong, but I’m assuming that in the 1996 and 2000 elections the results were 8 seats for Labour both times, with 2 for the Conservatives (if anyone can send me the details that I haven’t been able to find online I’d be very grateful).

Does that make depressing reading? I think so. It means that in Penarth, no matter how hard you try to be a good councillor, the effort is irrelevant. All that counts – at least, for candidates from the Labour and Conservative parties – is how well your party is faring at Westminster. What a fickle bunch we are!

Part of the reason for this is that local elections in Wales are viewed with total irrelevance by the British (read English) media. And since it’s from the British media that most people in Wales derive their news, it’s hardly surprising that turnout in local elections here is so abysmal (39% in 2012). So what does that mean for councillors? The answer to that question depends on whether you’re a ‘good’ councillor or a ‘bad’ one.

If you’re a good councillor (Conservative or Labour) you’ll want your record of hard work and success to be rewarded with electoral victory. But how can you achieve that if your fate is exclusively tied to that of your mother party? The answer lies in where the editorial decisions are taken for the news that most people receive. Currently those decisions are taken in London. But they could be taken in Cardiff, which would presumably mean a much greater focus on local elections in Wales, if broadcasting were devolved. So the sensible strategy would be for good councillors to push within their respective parties for devolution of broadcasting to Wales.

But let’s look at this from the perspective of a bad councillor. You get paid handsomely for doing next to nothing. The last thing you want is to actually be accountable to the electorate. In that case the very best tactic for you is to ensure broadcasting remains the preserve of London. That gives you a 50:50 chance of being elected at any one election, which is surely better than a close to 0% chance if people are better informed as a result of increased press and media scrutiny.

And if you’re a victim of circumstance – or voter, as some people like to call us – then have a good think about which of these two options serves your interests best.

There’s not a tremendous amount I can add to supplement this electoral strategy. The Conservatives were the only party to run a full slate of candidates in Penarth so they can’t do any more on that front. Perhaps they might be well advised to get candidates from within the wards they’re standing – after all this little incident didn’t go down too well last election:

I’ll save my most severe opprobrium for the incumbent Cornerswell councillors. What an unconscionable dereliction of your democratic duty to defend your constituents. I suppose it’s difficult for someone living with the fresh Bristol Channel breeze on their face to empathise with people choking on car fumes.

They certainly need to beef up their number of female candidates.

And while I’m thinking of it, the Conservatives would benefit from ensuring that each and every one of their electoral missives is printed in south Wales, if not the Vale itself. After all, we wouldn’t want any future embarrassing posts like this or this, would we?

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

Torfaen Syndrome

I mentioned in my last post that people in the Vale had been suffering from Torfaen Syndrome. I think it’s worth exploring this issue in a little more depth.

My definition of Torfaen Syndrome is the propensity for parents of children attending non-Welsh medium schools to assume that because their children are attending schools in Wales they are necessarily going to be bilingual. This manifested itself particularly during the 2001 census (41.5% of children aged 3-15 in Torfaen were recorded as having some level of Welsh language competence (page 64 of this report)), and part of the reason for the apparent decline in bilingualism in Wales in the intervening decade is the recognition that a non-Welsh language education does not produce bilingual citizens. Even in Torfaen. Not that this characteristic is confined to Torfaen alone – Blaenau Gwent’s equivalent figures in 2001 were 34.9%, Newport reported 36.4% and Monmouthshire rated 36.0%. The Vale of Glamorgan was positively restrained in 2001, stating that just 29.4% of children were bilingual.

So what happened in 2011?

Unfortunately I need to use a slightly different set of figures in order to make an exact comparison. Blame the statistics people, not me. But here are the results for local authorities in south east Wales – in each case, the percentage of children aged 5-15 speaking Welsh in 2001 is listed first, then 2011:

  • Bridgend:                              27.6%,  27.1%
  • Vale of Glamorgan: 32.5%, 32.0%
  • Cardiff:                                  27.9%,  29.2%
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf:       31.5%,  32.7%
  • Merthyr Tudful:                26.6%,  24.5%
  • Caerphilly:                           36.4%,  36.3%
  • Blaenau Gwent:                  38.8%,  34.0%
  • Torfaen:                                46.6%, 40.3%
  • Monmouthshire:               40.6%, 42.0%
  • Newport:                              41.3%,  38.6%

Now you know why it’s called Torfaen Syndrome!

I referred in my last post to the proportion of children receiving Welsh language education in the Vale. At primary level it’s 13% and at secondary level 9% (the difference is largely a result of increased capacity at primary level feeding through into a growing secondary school).

I’ll accept that perhaps 1% of children attending English-medium education will end up bilingual. Perhaps I’m being a little generous, but some of my acquaintances are bilingual having received education through English in Wales. But we’re still left with the chasm of reporting between a maximum 15% of children realistically being bilingual and the reported level (by parents) of 32%.

What impact does this have on the Vale statistics? Well, the total number of children in the age category 5-15 was 16,499 at the census date. So we need to subtract 17%  (32%-15%) of this total (2,805) from the Vale’s population of bilinguals (13,189). Which leaves 10,384, or 8.5% of the 122,018 population. That’s a significant drop. Am I worried about the accuracy of the census? A little, but then what holds for the Vale presumably holds for all authorities in the grip of Torfaen Syndrome, so the relative place of the Vale (16th in Wales) is probably reasonably sound.

Perhaps one thing revealed by the census is  the desire among parents in Wales for their children to speak Welsh. Little do they recognise that that desire will  only become realised if they send their children to Welsh medium schools.

On this, I’m more than a little surprised by the 2009 Estyn report for Ysgol Pen-y-Garth, which suggests that:

About 29% of the pupils come from homes where Welsh is the main language

Given that Welsh speaking skills are at their highest in Stanwell ward of Penarth, with 11.8% (less if we accept the existence of Torfaen Syndrome), unless bilinguals are reproducing at more than double the rate of monolinguals, something is amiss. But as to the Welsh medium system’s ability to churn out bilinguals, as the latest (2009) Estyn report for Ysgol Bro Morgannwg points out:

All pupils speak Welsh as a first language or to an equivalent standard within the school.

Despite the fact that just 9% of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes.

So here’s a message for parents, and future parents, who could be seized by Torfaen Syndrome. You can hope that the English-medium education system will work miracles. Your chances of one of your children ending up bilingual are substantially less than your chances of having 6 children all of the same gender.

The only way to guarantee bilingual children is for them to receive Welsh language education.

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Filed under Education, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Welsh Government

Where Can I Find Bilinguals?

There’s been a fair amount in the news recently about the number of communities in Wales where the proportion of bilinguals is >70%, >50% and so on. But I’ve been thinking about these figures. Why are 70% and 50% such important figures?

Then it struck me.

If you assume that conversations between individuals take place at random, then 70% takes on tremendous significance. Because it’s the level of community language competence at which you’d expect the number of Welsh-language conversations in the street to dip below half. How can that be?, I hear you ask.

So 70% of the population is bilingual, and 30% is monoglot English speakers. The proportion of conversations in this hypothetical community is as follows:

  • 0.7 x 0.7 = 0.49 (49%) between two bilinguals – which for the most part means they will speak Welsh to one another.
  • 0.7 x 0.3 = 0.21 (21%) between a bilingual and a monoglot (conversation in English)
  • 0.3 x 0.7 = 0.21 (21%) between a monoglot and a bilingual (conversation in English)
  • 0.3 x 0.3 = 0.09 (9%) between two monoglots – conversation in English

This shows the power of deferring to English as the common language. People have commented for donkeys’ years that the willingness of bilinguals to defer to English has been (at least partly) responsible for in-migrants not bothering to learn Welsh. Perhaps here’s a statistical demonstration of why that might be detrimental to bilingualism in a community – because all of a sudden more than half the conversations in an overwhelmingly bilingual community are in English.

As it happens, conversations don’t just happen at random. According to bilingual friends of mine, it’s common for bilinguals to tend to preferentially socialise with other bilinguals – and to do so through the medium of Welsh. The scale of that preference varies according to the level of bilingualism in a community, so I’m told. But I can’t help thinking there’s something in this simple statistical model that should ring warning bells in communities in the west and north.

And the significance of 50%? Well, this is a bit easier. Clearly if you’re one of the 50% who is bilingual then where you live in a community of majority bilinguals it makes sense for you to start conversations with unfamiliar people in Welsh. As soon as it dips below 50% then the hassle of more often than not being told that the recipient doesn’t speak Welsh means that you’re unlikely to bother starting conversations in Welsh. Which leads to Welsh not being heard on the streets and an increase in the perception that it’s not a community language. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the apparent failure of the (former) Welsh Language Board’s “Start all conversations in Welsh” campaign.

But back to the Vale. Ward-level results have been published for Welsh language competence. So let’s delve into the data…

  • Llandow/Ewenni – skills 23.6% – speak 14.8%
  • Baruc – skills in Welsh 19.8% – can speak Welsh 13.4%
  • Wenvoe – skills 18.6% – speak 13.3%
  • Peterston-super-Ely – skills 18.8% – speak 12.6%
  • Cowbridge – skills 19.1% – speak 11.9%
  • Stanwell – skills 17.4% – speak 11.8%
  • Buttrills – skills 17.0% – speak 11.8%
  • Plymouth – skills 16.6% – speak 11.4%
  • Illtyd – skills 16.4% – speak 11.1%
  • Cornerswell – skills 17.0% – speak 11.0%
  • Dyfan – skills 16.2% – speak 10.9%
  • Cadog – skills 15.1% – speak 10.9%
  • St. Augustine’s – skills 16.8% – speak 10.8%
  • Court – skills 15.3% – speak 10.7%
  • Rhoose – skills 15.8% – speak 10.5%
  • St. Bride’s Major – skills 18.0% – speak 10.4%
  • Dinas Powys – skills 15.2% – speak 10.0%
  • Gibbonsdown – skills 14.2% – speak 9.7%
  • Llantwit Major – skills 15.2% – speak 9.6%
  • Castleland – skills 14.0% – speak 9.4%
  • Sully – skills 13.6% – speak 8.7%
  • Llandochau* – skills 14.1% – speak 8.4%
  • St. Athan – skills 12.8% – speak 8.0%

*I will call Llandochau by its proper name henceforth (reasoning by Dic Mortimer)

So for the many people who are thinking of moving to the Vale (4,400 annually) but who want to live in as Welsh-language a community as possible, the answer appears clear. In Llandow/Ewenni ward in rural western Vale a shade under one in four people has Welsh-language skills, and more than one in seven people speaks Welsh. The chance of a random conversation in the street being bilingual? Slightly greater than 2% in Llandow/Ewenni – although of course for people who are bilingual it’ll be 14.8%.

But if someone is dead set on Penarth and wants to find fellow bilinguals, their preference should be Stanwell where 11.8% of people are bilingual. Throughout Penarth town the proportion of bilinguals is greater than 10%, although it’s disappointing to see Sully and Llandochau in single figures, scrabbling around for last place with St. Athan.

Given that the average proportion of bilinguals in the Vale is 10.8%, it’s nice to see that Penarth town is either at or above that figure. Why do I consider that a good thing? Because even if the chance of random conversations in the street being in Welsh is little above 1%, it adds to the recognition that we live in a country blessed with two languages.

Finally, it’s worth the recap that far and away the highest proportion of bilinguals is in our young people. So while just 4.2% of people aged 75-79 in the Vale are bilingual, that figure is more than eight times higher among the 10-14 cohort (35%). This figure is surprisingly high given that 13% of Vale children are in Welsh medium primary schools, and 9% in Ysgol Bro Morgannwg. It seems likely that parents in the Vale are suffering from Torfaen syndrome.

And a final note of disappointment that the Welsh Government has decided to pull all funding from Menter y Fro today.

This post has been modified to rectify my error that indicated Baruc to have the highest proportion of bilinguals. My thanks to IJ for pointing out this error.

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Filed under Education, Schools, Vale of Glamorgan Council