Llanelli & Ebbw Vale
The towns of Llanelli & Ebbw Vale have always had a lot in common. Both towns are situated on the edge of the South Wales Coalfield, and both towns developed around steel working.
Llanelli was the centre of a thriving tinplate industry, giving the town the nickname of Tinopolis, and this industry continues today at the Trostre Tinplating works, although it employs far fewer people than it did at its peak.
Ebbw Vale was the centre of an iron and steel industry and at one stage its steelworks was the largest in Europe. The steelworks were closed in the 1970s, but production continued at the tinplate works up until 2001 until that also closed, with production transferring to Trostre.
Both towns are undeniably Welsh – with surveys showing a very high percentage of the populations identifying themselves as Welsh. However there is a major difference in the amount of Welsh spoken in the two places: Llanelli with 56% of Welsh speakers is an urban stronghold of the language although it has declined in recent years. Meanwhile Blaenau Gwent (the local authority that includes Ebbw Vale) has only 11% of Welsh speakers and is one of the most anglicised parts of Wales.
So it is no surprise that over the years Plaid Cymru has always had a stronger base in Llanelli than in Blaenau Gwent, with Plaid winning the Assembly seat in 1999 and in 2007. Plaid won convincingly in 2007 with over 50% of the vote, but has been slipping back ever since, losing narrowly in 2011 (with 39.4% of the vote and losing by only 80 votes) and again in 2016 (falling to 35.2%).
By contrast, Plaid Cymru only achieved around 5% in Blaenau Gwent in 2007 and 2011, but then jumped to 36.6% of the vote in 2016, coming close to winning the seat in what would have been the shock result of the night with a massive 28% swing!
What was the difference?
Before 2007 Plaid had a strong presence in Llanelli and built up a sizeable following by concentrating on local issues. But once elected, the Plaid candidate – Helen Mary Jones (or Hairy Mellons as she is affectionately known) – started to immerse herself in social issues which were of limited relevance to her constituents. Instead of focusing on the problems of Llanelli and Sir Gâr council (of which there are many) she has become obsessed with feminism and gender identity. Her Twitter page describes herself as Mother, Feminist & Socialist (no mention of Welsh or Nationalist) – and the overwhelming majority of her current tweets refer to womens’ rights, gay rights, gender issues etc. She appears to have completely forgotten about Llanelli and Wales.
Plaid imposed an outside candidate on the constituency in 2017, and there was a major falling out with the local party organization with multiple resignations. It is difficult to see Plaid regaining this seat in the near future, especially as Labour are now represented by one of their better AMs in Lee Waters.
Meanwhile in Blaenau Gwent, the local Plaid candidate Nigel Copner was out working the streets of Ebbw Vale, Abertillery, Tredegar and Brynmawr. Blaenau Gwent is one of those Valley seats that Labour has taken for granted over the years on the assumption that the voters would elect a donkey with a red rosette. Despite being successfully challenged by Peoples Voice a few years earlier, Labour continued to neglect the seat and Nigel Copner and his team were able to capitalize on a strong ‘Anyone-but-Labour’ feeling and came close to scoring an unexpected win in 2017. But instead of recognizing that Nigel Copner had established a successful template for winning in the Valleys which should be copied elsewhere, there was a major falling out between Plaid’s central office and the local organization. This led to Nigel Copner resigning from Plaid Cymru, and Plaid effectively abandoning the seat.
The Will to Win
What is it with Plaid Cymru that as soon as they taste success they want to throw it all away? After Plaid’s strong performance in the 1999 Assembly elections, they removed their best electoral asset – Dafydd Wigley. Leanne Wood became briefly famous at a UK level during the 2017 Westminster elections, but instead of using her increased profile to promote a nationalist agenda she focused on niche issues such a Female Genital Mutilation.
It is almost as if the British State has infiltrated Plaid Cymru at the highest levels and is implementing a policy of deliberately reversing any possible successes – in order to stop any momentum building up for independence.
Well if Plaid Cymru can not or will not develop into a credible force for independence, there are other groups waiting in the wings to step in. Yes Cymru has been very successful in promoting the cause for independence although is a pressure group and not a political party. It is not standing for election, although there are those in the organization who would like to change this policy.
Gwlad was established last year to provide an alternative political party to vote for – one which is unequivocally committed to independence. We are still a fledgling party and not yet fully established – but when we are ready we will give the Welsh voters another choice:
If Plaid Cymru does not have the will to win for Wales – we do.