Y Barcud Oren #2

Rushing headlong into a year-in-review column feels somewhat precipitate, given that this is only the second flight of the kite (as it were). Then again, I’m always keen to fulfil my contractual obligations to the blogosphere and it seems positively churlish to let the highlights(sic) of 2008 in Wales pass unmarked…

All Quiet On The Socialist Front

It seems rather strange to say that the party with twenty-nine of Wales’ 40 MPs, twenty-six of its 60 AMs and in power in both Westminster and Butetown had a quiet year, and yet that’s what it was.

Part of that is down to the One Wales Government’s failure to do, well, anything much in particular. Equally, however, it reflects the increasing efforts of Welsh Labour to divorce themselves from anything yon Scunner Broon might get up to. Even the year’s opening gambit, Peter Hain’s resignation from the government over problems with donations to his deputy leadership campaign, failed to stick to Welsh Labour so much as to Westminster in general.

One area where the divorce strategy clearly failed was the local elections, which were nothing short of calamitous. Llafur lost one quarter of their councillors, 124 in all, and lost overall control of six of the eight authorities they had held previously. The losses in those authorities were dramatic enough (eight apiece in Blaenau Gwent and Newport, nine apiece in Merthyr and Caerphilly, thirteen in Flintshire and sixteen in Torfaen) but the decimation that occurred in places where Labour weren’t even running the show locally (nine losses in Wrexham and fourteen apiece in Carmarthen and Cardiff) was perhaps even more remarkable.

And yet Llafur continued to fly under the radar, letting their Westminster brethren and their coalition partners take the hits.

The spectre of a leadership election no doubt played its part in the silence, with the contenders concentrating on manoeuvring in the traditional Labour circles. The public face of the eventual contest to replace Rhodri was limited to the occasional public declaration of non-candidature and speculation as to the eventual destination of Eluned Morgan.

Strife In The People’s Democratic Republic Of Treherbert

When the best thing that can be said about your year is that only one of your ministers resigned in ridiculous circumstances, it might not be considered all that successful, as it goes…

If you were being charitable you might forgive Plaid for having made no progress on any of their much-vaunted “7 for ’07” (and indeed, in the case of student fees, having gone the other way); it is after all a coalition and they can’t expect to get everything they wanted. But when you can’t even rely on “The Party Of Wales”™ to deliver something as fundamental to their being as a Welsh-language daily newspaper, you do have to wonder what the point is.

The local election results tended to reflect that indifference; minor gains in targets like Conwy and Ceredigion, decent rebounds in the parts of the Valleys (Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taff) that Plaid won in 1999 only to hand straight back in 2004 and one big result (fourteen gains in Carmarthenshire) that provided half the overall increase in Plaid councillors. Offsetting those successes was the big psychological blow of losing overall control of Gwynedd as protests over rural school reorganisation culminated in the independent grouping Llais Gwynedd taking thirteen seats, eight of those from Plaid.

All that was soon overshadowed, however, by Eli-absolutely-not-a-gate. Whether by the power of the blogosphere or the power of the media to grab hold of the wrong end of the stick and start beating about the bush with it, Rhodri Glyn Thomas’ cigar in the Assembly’s local became a (literally) overnight smash and the Minister For Heritage (yeah, because that title worked so well before…) was soon on his way to the backbenches.

The Blue Side’s Nessun Dorma

For the Welsh Conservatives, 2008 was meant to be the grand coming out party. And in many ways it was, if you want to count the emergence of actual Conservatism as something either we or they should celebrate.

Ostensibly it started very well, with sixty-three net gains across Wales in the local elections. David Cameron even got in on the act, making Vale Of Glamorgan (overall control taken with five gains) his morning after photo-op. But there wasn’t the sort of double-digit smash that might have been hoped for, with the overall jump built on sizeable but not egregious gains in the south east (four in Torfaen, five in Monmouthshire and Newport, seven in Cardiff) and north (five in Flintshire, eight in Conwy and nine in Denbighshire). And while no-one expected much of a revival in the Valleys (most of which remain Tory-free), the best way for a Tory to get elected in rural mid and west Wales continues to be not to call themselves a Tory; nine gains in Powys and four in Pembrokeshire didn’t represent the end of that phenomena.

Nevertheless, the Tories were riding high, right up to the point where their candidate in their top target seat decided to make derogatory remarks about one of Wales’ most significant minority groups live on BBC radio… As political storms go this one was remarkably rapid, as Alun Cairns resigned in June only to be reinstated (as both shadow minister and parliamentary candidate) in October.

Still, it did allow him to play a cameo role in the year’s last big story, as the second iPod claimant on the Ieuan Lewis List. It was Nick Bourne’s iPod that took top billing, however, becoming the latest ingredient in the interminably drawn-out plot against his leadership. The tensions between supporters of Bourne (a Cameroony before Cameron even existed) and his potential usurpers (representing more traditional Conservatism) could prove to be one of the defining factors of 2009.

From Mike To Eternity

For the yellow corner, 2008 opened with the guarantee of a set of local elections and a leadership election; that was pretty much us happy for the year.

The local elections were as much about the story they told than the actual results. After months of Llafur spin that the Lib Dems would lose their place as the party of the cities, we held our ground, gaining three more seats in Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff to retain leadership of the coalitions there with only Bridgend slipping away. Across the country it was a case of incremental gains, twos or threes in most authorities, with Merthyr the stars of the show taking six seats to become the first real opposition group on that council. Liberal Democrats ended up in coalitions in thirteen authorities, more than any other party, making rumours of our irrelevance highly exaggerated.

As for the leadership, hopefully we’ve advertised the result enough and hopefully there’s no need to rake over the coals of the campaign itself. If anything, the status of those coals was the big talking point, as media outlets endeavoured to convince the world that the party was thoroughly compromised by splits over rainbow coalitions and bitter infighting between the candidates. That hype never rang true on the inside, but who knows what tensions may have formed for the future.

Gareth Aubrey is a councillor in Cardiff and blogs at Long Despairing Young Something

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6 Comments

  • Cllr david White 8th Jan '09 - 9:49pm

    Firstly Labour are not Socialist, at a pinch they are just left enough to be Heathite Tories! Welsh labour are a bunch of New Labour people knowing they are in a country without a middle england to appeal to.

  • I thought the lib dems held the Butetown seat ?

  • A quick reminder for those whose memories don’t go back that far, Merthyr Council was held briefly by Plaid Cymru in the 1970s, so it’s not true to say we’re the first opposition group in Merthyr; albeit the first since the last reorganization!!

    Cymru Rydd – Cymru Ryddfrydol, say I!

  • John –
    when Gareth says “in power in Butetown” he doesn’t mean the council ward, but as in using Westminster to stand for the Houses of Parliament, he’s using Butetown to stand for the Assembly. (If you knew this and were being ironic, then apologies and egg on my face!)
    Indeed we do hold Butetown ward (Cllr Delme Greening) – Kirsty will get us into the Assembly again next time!

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