Heledd Fychan says the island now has an opportunity to enter a new era of accountable local politics

May 4th, 2013

The people of Anglesey wake up this morning to a very different council to the one they had before yesterday’s elections. Until the Welsh Government put in commissioners to run Anglesey over a year ago the island had been in the firm grip of Independent councillors of varying stripes. The government’s intervention came as a result of infighting and corruption amongst them. Today, however, the island has a chance of entering a new era of coalition politics and greater democratic accountability. Yesterday’s results are shown in the chart below.

As an Anglesey girl, I had more than a passing interest in the election result. The reputation of the council has been an embarrassment for as long as I can remember. Even good councillors have been tarnished by the constant infighting amongst some of the independent councillors as well as the corruption of others. Commissioners were appointed by the Welsh Government to run the council in 2011. This followed a damning report published by the Auditor General, which said that previous attempts to sort out problems had not found a lasting solution. A programme of “democratic renewal” was recommended, and a review of electoral arrangements was put in place.

The election was delayed by a year, and the island’s electoral boundaries were changed. This resulted in 30 rather than 40 Councillors in eleven multi-member wards, represented by either two or three councillors. The intention was obvious – to make it far more difficult for the old guard to win, and to try and bring some fresh blood into the council.

All the political parties tried to convince the electorate that it was better to elect councillors who would have to adhere to the standards expected as part of a political party rather than independents who would be unaccountable in that way. In other words, the parties would be able to discipline anyone not meeting the standards expected of a councillor. They would also provide the structure and support needed to bring about much needed change in Anglesey.

However, the big question before yesterday was – did the people of Anglesey agree with this, and did they feel a need for change? Or did they like their independent councillors, despite what the rest of Wales thought of them?

At 50.5 per cent the turnout was high, in fact higher than the 48.7 per cent turnout at the last Assembly election in 2011. Every seat was contested, and a number of new candidates put their names forward. A total of 107 people fought for 30 seats. This is in contrast to the two previous local elections on Anglesey. In 2004, 14 of the then 40 seats available were uncontested and in 2008, seven seats were uncontested. The breakdown of those standing was as follows:

Independents – 30

Plaid Cymru – 26

Labour – 20

Conservatives – 15

UKIP – 11

Liberal Democrats – 5

Prior to yesterdayday, independents made up the large majority on the council, a total of 27. However, they were independents of very different stripes:

14 described themselves as Original Independents.

5 belonged to Llais i Fon (Anglesey Voice).

8 were unaffiliated.

The remaining make-up of the council comprised eight Plaid Cymru councillors and five Labour.

What does yesterday’s election mean for the future of Anglesey’s council? The plan to try and get rid of the Independents plainly didn’t work. Though some were left bitterly disappointed, such as former council leader Bryan Owen, and others such as Elwyn Schofield and John Arthur Jones, many managed to hold on to their seats. In all Independents won 14 seats, and 31 per cent of the vote. But this falls short of a majority.

It was a good election for Plaid Cymru. The party topped the percentage of votes cast (32 per cent) and came very close to winning a number of seats beyond the 12 they achieved. Indeed, they came very close to controlling the Council. Plaid’s slogan – Adfer Enw Da Mon: Making Anglesey Proud Again – seemed to resonate with the electorate. Moreover, a number of young, dynamic candidates were elected, including the only women on the Council – three of Plaid’s councillors are new, female faces.

It was not a great day for Labour, especially given that they currently hold the island’s Westminster seat. According to Twitter reports from the count, they appeared to blame their disappointing result on the new voting system. Perhaps they should talk to the Welsh Labour Minister Carl Sargeant who put the system in place. John Chortlon, who was the Leader of the Labour group came fifth, behind UKIP. That must be a bitter blow.

As for the other parties, the Liberal Democrats won one seat, but neither the Conservatives nor UKIP managed to win a seat.

Meanwhile, it would be unwise to think of the Independent councillors as a group. Even during previous administrations they structured themselves within different groups, and some of those elected this time have already declared that they will not join any independent group, preferring to be individual representatives on the council. This is reflected in how they described themselves on the ballot paper. If you look at the list of the elected councillors on the Anglesey Council website you will find there are variations in the way the independents are described – Independent/Annibynnol, Annibynnol/ Independent, Independent, Annibynnol.  In the case of one “independent’, of Gwilym O. Jones, there is no description at all. 

So, what next? Could we see the political parties unite to gain control from the independents, or will Plaid Cymru try and tempt some of its supporting independents to join the fold? The only other option would be for the independents to join forces with Labour. However, that seems highly unlikely given it was a Labour Minister that set up the new political system to try and get rid of them in the first place. We can expect some interesting moments in the coming week as the inevitable negotiations over forming a coalition get underway.

The people of Anglesey have spoken, and one thing is clear. They will not be bullied by Carl Sargeant into voting for the political parties rather than independents. But, they do want change and they responded positively to the team of candidates from Plaid Cymru. There is an opportunity for a fresh start, with a mixture of new faces and experienced councillors. As for Plaid Cymru it now has an opportunity to lead a coalition with the objective of making Anglesey proud again of its council.

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Heledd Fychan is Plaid Cymru’s Director of Policy and Political Education.

13 Responses to:“Anglesey can become proud of itself again”

  1. John R Walker says:

    The clear winners were UKIP but did they cream off the Tory vote to such an extent that it cost them seats? The answer appears to be yes but only a potential maximum of 3 seats (in Lligwy, Seiriol and Ynys Gybi) where the combined vote could have produced Tory wins if all the UKIP votes had gone their way.

    The Tory vote was so poor it would be fairer to argue that fielding official Tory candidates cost UKIP 3 seats! Glad to see Peter Rogers elected again – their treatment of Peter Rogers has probably set back the Tory Party on the island for years to come.

    Plaid did well at the ballot box – now they have to deliver and that includes swallowing their anti-nuclear maniffesto to help deliver Wylfa B. My gut feeling is that if Anglesey becomes ‘Plaid led’ then the real world is likely to find them as impossible to deal with as Gwynedd Council and the private sector economy will slide even further. It could be a real competition to see which Plaid led Council can be the poorest in Britain.

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  2. Jon Jones says:

    There was always going to be a problem with a new system that broke the link with locality. I found myself looking at the candidates in my ward and thinking “He comes from a village 15 miles away – what does he know about US”? And that was it really… ultra parochialism and political parties with the infrastructure to campaign all over the island.

    I am not as sanguine as Heledd however. It was a little recognised fact that the problems that Ynys Mon has endured didn’t have their origins just in the conduct of the councillors. They lay in the over-close relationship between councillors, council officers and local businessmen… particularly builders and developers.

    Many years ago an audit found that 75 per cent of planning permissions were given for developments outside the UDP. For an insight into how this allegedly worked you can look at Rebecca TV’s pieces:

    http://paddyfrench1.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/john-arthur-jones/

    http://paddyfrench1.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/hefin-wyn-thomas/

    Is the future any brighter? I may be a cynic but I suspect that the answer is no. Why? Because the nature of business and family alliances in Anglesey transcends political boundaries. The future is a more efficient, less visible, corruption and political ineptitude carried on with more discipline and without those independent councillors who actually (in their blundering imperfect way) uncovered the nest of vipers.

    I assume that Plaid will be the ruling force on Ynys Mon from now on but the party has has innate weaknesses. For instance, it cannot rationalise education on the island because they are ideologically incapable of closing down small Welsh schools. They cannot deal with weaknesses in teaching because teachers are their core vote and they cannot realise that they must bring in at least one or two more English Medium schools to cope with present and future demand for English medium education. Wylfa B poses a problem to them in that they must carry the anti-nuclear flag in the face of popular demand for employment. As the political wing of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith they must also oppose Wylfa B on the grounds that it will (undoubtedly) dilute the Welsh speaking nature of Ynys Mon.

    We live in interesting times.

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  3. vicky moller says:

    The above seem jaundiced comments on Plaid’s potential. The anti English sentiments attributed seem very far from the Plaid I know. The assumed rigidity of policy in regard to schools, planning, energy etc is out of synch with a party which is now showing unusual creativity and dynamism. The electorate chose them because of this, otherwise their results would have been no better than in previous elections.

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  4. Geraint says:

    I fail to see how “The clear winners were UKIP” as suggested by John R. Walker. They got seven per cent of the vote and no councillors. Plaid clearly performed the best out of the parties and out of the groups both in terms of results and certainly in terms of campaigning. Just take a look at their use of social media and face to face canvassing. Labour must be asking themselves some serious questions. They represent the island at Westminster, they are riding high in UK opinion polls and it was afterall their new system that they failed to get to grips with; yet they can only win three councillors.

    More importantly, once the analysis is over these new councillors of all colours have a huge job to do. They will need to work together for the future of the island. Having such a large Plaid Cymru group can provide a stable base on which to build that future.

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  5. Jon Jones says:

    I think you are missing something Vicky. Plaid are a loyal electorate and many will have voted Plaid three times on Thursday. What happened was that the Anti-Plaid vote was split into several pieces. If any of the other political parties had shown some sense and NOT stood in several of the wards then Plaid would have gained maybe the odd seat but no more. Labour put three candidates up in several wards where they would have been better advised to field just one to take the labour vote but leave the other votes to go to a popular independent. Similarly the Tories should have decided on single strong candidates.

    Anyway, now we have seen the future the Parties will be more savvy the next time.

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  6. Teleri says:

    Plaid Cymru isn’t the ‘political wing of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’, however Wylfa B is certainly an issue that Plaid Cymru need to face head on, and simply decide on which side of the fence they sit, and stick to it.

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  7. R.Tredwyn says:

    Messrs Walker and Jones are right about Wylfa B. My conversations with an admittedly small group of islanders suggest they are used to having a nuclear power station nearby that has never caused any trouble and given them 1000 well-paid jobs. Rather than lose those jobs and the engineering apprenticeships that Wylfa B would preserve they’ll happily sign up for another nuclear power station. Plaid will need to show pragmatism to retain support.

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  8. Dewi says:

    Many of the Plaid candidates that got in yesterday are very likeable. I think a large weakness in Plaid is that they do not have ‘likeable’ candidates running for the Assembly/Westminster.

    I therefore hope that some of the *new* councillors elected yesterday may consider running for the North Wales regional seat. They’ve proven that they are likeable to an electorate- and that is a BIG step.

    So I really hope people like Nicola Roberts, Carwyn Jones and Ann Griffiths try an go for seats in Westminster/the Assembly in the NEAR future. They’ve come from nowhere, they are not career politicians, they’re really likeable (including for people who have never voted Plaid) and I personally think they could do really well. People of Wales want genuine people as their politicians – and these three are.

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  9. Gareth jones says:

    And take to back bench politics. Obviously the decision lies with the 3 Labour councillors who will make the final decision. Ironically Labour’s poor result in this election could do more harm to Plaid than to themselves. One thing for sure, the next two years isn’t going to be easy.

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  10. mairede thomas says:

    Vicky @12.45,

    I hope your assessment is right. Anglesey Against Wind Turbines has probably done even more door to door collecting of opinions than Plaid has over the last 18 months and people certainly want a new and better approach to local planning. The concept of ‘energy island’ has backfired thus far with the prospect of the bread basket of Wales becoming an industrial landscape filled with concrete, and with fewer jobs. But that is set to change and most people will welcome that.

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  11. Dave says:

    It seems that we have a couple of ‘little Englanders’ living in Wales. I get the feeling that they wish the process of conquest, occupation, subjugation, exploitation and assimilation had been fully completed by 2013. It hasn’t happened. Get over it, and accept that you’re living in Wales.

    Plaid did extremely well on Ynys Môn, and UKIP’s showing was a damp squib, yet we get Farage stuffed down our throats. The BBC’s coverage and reporting of Plaid’s gains has been appalling, but is in tune with its lack of balance and pro-unionist coverage in Scotland.

    This sums up the BBC’s page on the election results:

    Anglesey NOC: NOC No Change

    This ‘shock’ statement is below a table of the results in England, which shows the full breakdown for all the parties, with their number of seats etc.

    There needs to be a level playing feel in the media, if a democracy is to function properly. However, there is clearly a significant democratic deficiency in the UK, stemming from its iniquitous First Past the POst electoral system.

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  12. Dafydd Parry says:

    Whoever Plaid choose to be their candidate to challenge Albert Owen will have their work cut out. They will need to appeal to a wide cross section of the electorate, preferably have a background in Ynys Mon, and must be able to perform at a level on a par with Ieuan Wyn Jones. Maybe we shouldn’t rule out the author of this article – the person who wiped the floor with Lembit Opik in the TV deabtes in 2010. What say you Heledd Fychan?!

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  13. Heledd Fychan says:

    Thank you for the comments. Shame we still don’t know who will be leading the council. Finding it unbelievable that Labour are discussing with the independents. And as for standing in Anglesey in the future, it would be an honour to do so if the opportunity was to arise.

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