This post has been updated to incorporate turnout figures: with thanks to Osian Lewis for pointing out the link.
Here’s the first of my analyses of the wards of interest to Penarth. The others will follow in good time.
I’ll award myself 2/2 for Cornerswell. I predicted Labour would take both seats and so it proved. Congratulations to Rhiannon Birch and Peter King.
At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I’m not going to offer commiserations to the outgoing councillors John Fraser and Dorothy Turner, for the reasons stated in this post. They neglected their constituents and thoroughly deserved to go.
So what happened in this election? We have the bald results here.
The most compelling feature of these results is the complete collapse in the Conservative vote to just 47% of the 2008 level. In fact, judging by the 2004 result, this means that Cornerswell is looking safe for Labour for the following term, 2017-2021. Or at least, it would be if Cornerswell existed in 2017. It won’t, but that’s a story I’m going to return to at another time.
The Labour vote increased by 15%, which is a respectable but not excellent result. Look around Wales today and you see a tidal wave of Labour across most of the country. A 15% increase in those terms is relatively modest and suggests that the Labour vote in Cornerswell is going to be resistant to increases above today’s level. I would call it a high water mark, but in fact any such statement is irrelevant because of the reorganisation of ward boundaries in Penarth.
There are two ways of assessing the Plaid vote this time round because there were two candidates instead of one. Either you take the total vote as a huge 45% increase on the vote last election, or you see it as a 27% reduction. I’m taking the second approach because in a multi-member ward I don’t consider votes for two candidates as additional to votes for one in a previous election. On the plus side, both candidates were within 100 votes of both the previous councillors, although that reflects more on the Conservative vote collapse than a Plaid surge.
The Lib Dem candidate was the only one in Penarth to spectacularly fail to breach triple figures.
Turnout in Cornerswell was 1,491 out of 3,948 registered electors, giving 38%. This is the second-lowest turnout figure of the Penarth/Sully wards.
More than half of those who voted (53%) placed an X against Rhiannon Birch’s name. She has a very strong mandate to represent Cornerswell. Perhaps only she can explain her substantially better showing than Labour colleague Peter King, who nonetheless gained votes from 47% of those who voted. Or is it the well-known ‘alphabet effect‘? The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that throughout Penarth, every single candidate with a surname earlier in the alphabet received equal or higher votes than the candidate from the same party but with the later surname. Perhaps we’ll see a renaissance in the use of ‘ap’ surnames amongst the Welsh political classes that has worked so well for Niclas ap Glyn!
John Fraser and Dorothy Turner of the Conservatives managed to inveigle 25% and 23% of voters to mark their cards, while Plaid’s Luke James and Osian Lewis got the nod from 21% and 19%. Meanwhile, just 4% of voters could bring themselves to vote for the Lib Dem candidate Damian Chick – overall, the Lib Dems captured votes cast by less than than 3% of the Penarth/Sully electorate.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of this is the non-voters. Now let’s be clear from the outset: not everyone who’s registered to vote is eligible to vote. Between registering and election day, some people die, some go to prison (yes, even in Penarth!), and some will become incapacitated and unable to vote (although the advent of postal and proxy voting alleviate this latter issue). And then you have people who are registered in more than one ward or local authority, mostly perfectly legally. They may choose which to vote in and may have chosen to vote elsewhere than Penarth. For the sake of argument, I’m going to suggest that these factors knock 10% off the total registered voters. If anyone can come up with a more accurate alternative I’m all ears.
So in Cornerswell we’re down to 3,553 voters, and our practicable identifiable turnout is now a (slightly) more respectable 42%. Subtract the 1,491 who voted and you’re left with 2,062 non-voters who could have cast their vote on 3 May.
Now for the politicians out there, you’ll be left drooling. An independent candidate with no history of activity in the ward only has to persuade 39% of the non-voters to support them to come top of the list in Cornerswell. That’s assuming that in the meantime you won’t take a single vote from any other candidate.
And what makes non-voters vote? Well, you’re the aspiring politicians. But here’s a starter for ten. Don’t take your electorate for granted. Find out ways to solve problems they have (believe me, being outside the system is sometimes a better way of achieving this than being an existing councillor). Have a smile for them every time a door closes in your face. If something is more properly dealt with by another level of authority – MP, AM or MEP – put the constituent in touch with the relevant person without it looking like you’re passing the buck. And communicate, communicate, communicate. Tell people what’s going on and, if you can’t achieve what you set out to, tell them what prevented you.
Good luck over the next 5 years!