The Welsh General Election – I’ve made my mind up – have you?
I’m voting Plaid Cymru this Thursday in Wales’ General Election, on both the constituency ballot (Vale of Glamorgan) and the regional list (South Wales Central (SWC)), and I wanted to say why. It’s the second time I’ve voted for Plaid; I went through my reasons for giving them my support a year ago at the UK General Election here, and also gave my thoughts on the aftermath here
A canvasser may be putting my name in the ‘Strong PC’ or ‘Solid PC’ tick box, given I’m now a ‘serial’ Plaid voter. As the old saying goes, ‘A swallow does not a summer make’, the same is true for me. I’m not a Plaid member and there were a number of parties who I was keen to look at this time round in addition to Plaid; the Lib Dems, Women’s Equality Party & the Greens. I was also interested to see what sort of programmes for government were put forward by Labour and the Tories – not that I was really considering voting for either; more in hope that they’d really make the case for a transformation in what Wales is, and does.
The main thing I was looking for, was the absence of something! I didn’t want to hear the managerialism that has sucked the life out of politics. The ‘we can do better than you at running X’ or ‘we can save money, you’ve not been able to’. Even if I believed any of them, we’re entering a period of massive global change, (one day we may look back at the years 2016-2021 with a sense of amazement at all the changes that took hold in those years) and rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs isn’t what Wales needs. Wales needs transformational change – the sort that transcends generations; the sort that enables communities to re-assert their confidence; the sort we haven’t heard from Welsh (or UK) politicians for ages. Instead we hear sanitised, media friendly, triangulated babble, that can mean one thing to one person, and the exact opposite to someone else. Because that’s how elections are won. How terribly sad, and complete bunkum. The Welsh public are craving vision and belief.
So why am I voting Plaid? Are they offering this vision? Did they come close to matching what I was hoping for when I wrote this blog nine months ago? Here’s my take on the offerings from the parties.
UKIP – I need to be upfront on this one; even if they’d promised everything I’d wanted, I would’ve found a way not to vote for UKIP. However much they deny it, their narrative is divisive and almost anti-Welsh. The manner of the parachuting in of candidates from outside of Wales in search of relatively easy electoral picking is evidence, that they really don’t care much for what goes on this side of Offa’s Dyke. I’ve been watching their attendance at hustings events over the course of the last few weeks, and for too many times for it to be a mistake, they’ve failed to turn up to put their case to the electorate. That shows contempt for the electoral process, the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh electorate. Fortunately, their manifesto is, with a few exceptions, written for an audience of those disillusioned by politics. It’s easy to see why they’re expecting to make inroads this time round, and the responsibility for that lies with all of the other parties.
Lib Dems – as a former member of the Lib Dems, I often find that I’m tougher on them than is perhaps fair. At last May’s UK General Election, I was concerned they had become a political irrelevance, despite an active and often positive contribution to the 2010-15 Coalition Government. I’ve been impressed by Kirsty Williams’ performance over the course of this campaign, to date, and their manifesto is competent and managerial. It was described in its forward as being part of a revolution. There’s some good stuff in there, but revolutionary it isn’t. I hope Brecon and Radnor’s electorate re-elect Kirsty, but I fear she’s going to be treading a lonely furrow in the new Assembly, as she may well be the only Lib Dem still standing on May 6th.
Greens – the Green Party of England & Wales (yep, now there’s something they need to change before 2021!!) really have nothing to lose, and quite a bit to gain. They’re probably hoping for a breakthrough on the South Wales Central regional list, but seemed constrained by current norms. This is a shame – I like the Greens. But for them to really achieve anything in the short term in Cardiff Bay they need to be the voice of radicalism, and they’ve unfortunately failed to live up to that billing. Perhaps the tantalising opportunity to get a Welsh AM has neutered their revolutionary zeal. In the first Leaders’ Debate, Alice Hooker-Stroud, I thought did really well; the second one she was often drowned out by more experienced political players.
Women’s Equality Party – here’s a thing – you don’t have to be a woman to be a member of, or vote for WEP. Surely everyone’s realises equality is good for everyone? Given indicators such as participation in public life, business and the media, it seems not. Equality has been paid lip service by the other Parties up to this point, and I for one (as a stepfather to 3 daughters), am grateful that they’ve appeared on the political scene to challenge the very unlevelled playing field. I fear their input will be needed for some time to come.
Conservatives & Labour – I’m going to lump these two together, not because their policies overlap significantly (or at all) or because I see them coming to some sort of political stitch up come May 6th. More because I think both parties have treated this election with complacency. Neither manifesto has any costings published, even top level stuff, but both say they have been fully costed. Prove it, I say. Given the parlous state of the Welsh economy, we should expect nothing less. Both manifestos were aimed directly at their own base.
In the Tories case, they’ve obviously come to the conclusion that if they can bring out the self-same voters who drove them to victory a year ago, they’d be happy. And if they could do that, the likelihood is they’d grow their Assembly seats. This resulted in a very narrow set of proposals that pleased the troops (M4 Relief Road, speed limits raising, WDA 2.0, income tax reduction (but who knows when?)), but had very limited appeal beyond their core voters. But who cares, they don’t. If their base comes out, they’ll be a couple of more on their benches from May 6th, and that’s all that matters. Thing is, events have contrived to go against them, and I think they underestimated that Andrew RT Davies isn’t as well liked as they thought.
And Labour’s uncosted manifesto was even worse. Despite there being some good ideas snuggled away in amongst some great photos, the plans for Wales lacked any detail. It read as if, we know we’ll be running the show after the election so why should we put too much effort into telling you what we’ll be doing? Utter contempt is how I think they’ve treated Wales with this plan – and that is reason enough to hope they get an absolute shoeing at the polls.
Plaid – first out of the blocks with their manifesto, and you get the sense that this had been some time in the planning. Again, there was a strong adjective associated with the plans. In Plaid’s case, the policies were described as transformational. There’s a lot to be applauded from Plaid – and whilst I’m not sure policies like reinventing the WDA are anything close to transformational, they’ve put together a suite of policies that are focused solely on doing the best for Wales.
The other parties have been very critical of Plaid’s plans for the NHS, but anyone who thinks the current state of play is acceptable isn’t being honest with themselves. Given the health issues on our horizon (age profile, increasing number of people with cancer etc), I support a radical overhaul today, before the whole system breaks down.
Wales’ education system under-performs others badly, and continues to slip backwards. One key policy for me, is the incentive for Welsh students to come back and work in Wales, and we’ll pick up the fees they owe. Clearly this is a policy that focuses on Wales, and Wales alone. That’s exactly what I want the Welsh Assembly to do – make Wales a better country.
With the exception of the WDA 2.0 policy I’ve also been encouraged by the economic plans put forward by Plaid. One of the most overlooked could be the most important. At the moment it’s very difficult to understand just how well Wales is doing economically. With the introduction of Government Expenditure & Revenue reporting, we could start to see what works and what doesn’t. Simple stuff you’d think, but not if you’re from another party.
I’ve watched Leanne Wood’s performance closely over the campaign, as there are lots of rumours circulating of a coup d’état immediately post May 5th. I’d urge caution. Leanne has proven herself to be really likeable, and is considered trustworthy. Perhaps these aren’t criteria the UK media would consider important, but here in Wales, they are. The less scripted Leanne’s answers, the better I thought she did. Da iawn, Leanne!
So, they’ve not ticked all my boxes, but Plaid have shown they are the Party of Wales. They’re serious about their plan for the Country, and whether that plan is transformational or not, only time will tell – but at least the path they’re mapping out isn’t business as usual. For that, they’ve got my vote.
The Regional List ballot & using your vote to put the brakes on UKIP.
It looks likely that UKIP could get a fair few seats come the night of May 5th. They won’t win any constituency seats, but will pick up list or regional seats via the added proportionality of the D’Hondt electoral system. The system benefits those parties, such as UKIP, who get a large enough share of the vote, but under first past the post (FPTP) don’t win many/any constituency seats. Across Wales the regional lists have slightly different scenarios, and if you’re interested enough in keeping the number of UKIP members to a min, you’ll really have to do a bit of investigative work yourself, coupled with a bit of educated guesswork.
So, based on last week’s poll I’d suggest the following;
South Wales Central – this region all depends on how well the Tories do. If they win a FPTP seat (Cardiff North or the Vale of Glamorgan), then the fourth regional seat could be a close run thing between Plaid and UKIP. It could amount to a couple of hundred votes, so every vote would count. If the Tories win both their SWC targets, then both Plaid & the Greens would be chasing the 3rd and 4th seat, alongside UKIP. So the best bet in SWC to defeat the second ukipper would be to vote Plaid on the regional ballot. Given all Labour regional votes are effectively wasted (they get their allocation via FPTP), if they all voted Plaid with this vote, they could stop UKIP in SWC completely. A group of Labour supporting academics said the same on Friday.
In the SWC region I’ve been quite taken by the limited campaign run by the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), and they were close to getting my second vote, with the Greens slightly behind them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to feel confident voting for either, whilst the spectre of UKIP hangs heavily over the region. Sincere apologies WEP!
The same is not the case for other regions.
A cursory view would suggest that in South Wales West (SWW) & South Wales East (SWE) the most effective challenger to UKIP is Plaid. Again if a big enough chunk of Labour’s regional votes were ‘lent’ to Plaid, UKIP could lose out on both seats.
North – as it stands, this region has a number of difficult to predict constituency votes, but given the projected vote share for the three main parties is similar, this is looking as a straight fight for 4th spot (& therefore UKIP) between the 3 big parties. I’d encourage Plaid voters to keep their nerve here, and persuade their friends to add to their votes.
Mid & West – this is Plaid’s strongest region, and UKIP’s weakest, which somewhat counter intuitively makes this race to keep UKIP out here likely to be between everyone other than Plaid. If the Lib Dem resurgence proves to be true, this is one region where a regional vote for them may well mean no ukippers are returned for the region.
These regional predictions are notoriously difficult to get right, which is why I’d encourage you to do your own guesswork. UKIP having any sort of power base in the Senedd post May 5th is something worth stopping, if we can.