Poppies and Peace

This article was recently published in Welsh and English on the Wales For Peace / Cymru Dros Heddwch section of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs website.

Aberystwyth Town Council first began laying a white poppy wreath at the war memorial in the town’s Castle Grounds on the weekend of Remembrance Day 2004. Mabon ap Gwynfor, a grandson of Gwynfor Evans, Plaid Cymru’s first MP, had become a councillor in the local elections of that year and successfully proposed a motion which was then seconded by Cllr Mark Strong. 

Like most town councils, Aberystwyth had always laid a red poppy wreath at the traditional Remembrance Day ceremony conducted by the British Legion and, with the Legion not prepared to allow white poppies at their ceremony, the proposal meant that the Council would lay different coloured wreaths at two different ceremonies.

The white poppy initiative was strongly supported by the Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network - a co-ordination of local peace campaigners existing since 1982 - and the ceremony was conducted by local Presbyterian Minister Pryderi Llwyd. 

According to the website of the Peace Pledge Union, white poppies, “Symbolise the belief that there are better ways to resolve conflicts…(than) killing fellow human beings”. As such, they can be seen to present a challenge to traditional red poppy ceremonies which in turn can appear to represent an unquestioning acceptance of war. The British Legion’s website describes Remembrance Sunday as, “A day for the nation to remember and honour those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom”.

Part of the reason feelings can run high, and why many Legion members have been resistant to allowing wider perspectives into their ceremony, is that some of those attending will have been in battle themselves and seen comrades killed. Some may well have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Others present at the ceremony may have had close relatives or friends killed. For these people, the ceremony can be part of a grief process. It’s not difficult to see how it can feel uncomfortable to have people or groups present who carry an implied questioning of the reason for soldiers to be fighting in the first place.

Probably because of these feelings, in 2004 and until very recently, any kind of agreement with the British Legion was impossible. In Aberystwyth, despite some approaches from the Peace Network over the years, the Legion simply wanted nothing to do with white poppies. Even holding a ceremony on a different day of the same weekend was controversial. 

However, despite many town council seats changing hands at the 2008 and 2012 local elections, the Council stuck steadfastly to its balanced policy established in 2004 of supporting the laying of both wreaths. The only near hiccup was in 2008 when a vote in favour of continuing had to be decided on the casting vote of the Mayor, Sue Jones-Davies. When Pryderi Llwyd eventually retired, his role in leading the white poppy ceremony was taken over by Rhidian Griffiths from the same Presbyterian chapel, Capel y Morfa.

For many years the white poppy ceremony was held on the Saturday so as to avoid any clash with Remembrance Sunday. Eventually members of the Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network decided they felt too sidelined by this and began holding a ceremony on the Sunday afternoon of Remembrance Day after the main ceremony had dispersed, adding their white wreaths to the red ones laid on the steps of the war memorial in the morning. 

Then, last year, after the largest ever white poppy ceremony at the memorial, attended by around 60 people, the four wreaths laid were found stuffed in a nearby rubbish bin the following day. The ensuing press publicity left a bad taste and clearly gave the British Legion cause for thought. 

In July of this year, Aberystwyth Town Council was approached informally by local Legion officers asking to talk to councillors about plans for this year’s Remembrance Day. Six councillors attended an initial meeting with the same number of Legion members in the town’s Railway Club on July 16th. This is where the offer was first made. The Legion said they wanted to give the opportunity for white poppy wreaths to be placed as part of their main ceremony. There would be no limit imposed on the number of wreaths and, importantly, they made it clear that they had consulted their hierarchy who supported the initiative. 

The condition was that there should be no political statements of any kind on these wreaths, nor on any banners or badges of those attending. This was felt by the Legion to be in keeping with the purpose of the ceremony, which was meant purely in remembrance of those individuals or groups who had died in war. Messages on wreaths were supposed to reflect this. 

‘Political statements’ included the word “Peace” (or “Hedd” in Welsh) on poppies. I knew this could be a sticking point. However the upshot of the meeting was that I would contact the Peace & Justice Network inviting them to meet with the British Legion if they felt there was a possibility of taking the offer forward. I then attended one of the Peace Network’s meetings to answer any questions and fill in any gaps. They very much welcomed the offer and, whilst there were clearly some uncertainties, quickly agreed to attend a meeting with the Legion.

The meeting between the two organisations was held on September 16th in the chamber of the Town Council. Four people from the two groups were present plus three town councillors, including Mayor Endaf Edwards, acting in the role as honest brokers. I was chairing and, after introductions (because, despite living in the same town, most mix in different circles and had never met before), it was astonishing how quickly agreement was reached.

When it was pointed out that white poppies were generally only manufactured with the words Peace or Hedd the Legion quickly relented on their original stipulation  about this and, after the Peace Network had consulted their constituent groups, the agreement was in place. 

An additional offer, which demonstrated the Legion’s seriousness, was that the Cor Gobaith - a local choir of around 20 people that sings mainly peace or political songs - were to be invited to sing at the Remembrance Day church service if a suitable song could be agreed with the Vicar.

In order to prepare people for the change, a press statement was agreed. It began, 
“Aberystwyth Town Council is delighted to announce that, following discussions between officers of the Aberystwyth Branch of the Royal British Legion and representatives of Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network, this year there will be a single Remembrance Day ceremony at the war memorial  at which everyone will be welcome.”

Sean Langton, Chair of Aberystwyth Royal British Legion, was quoted as saying, 
“The Legion’s red poppy honours all those who have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy today; including the freedom to wear the poppy of one’s choice. If the poppy became compulsory it would lose its meaning and significance. The red poppy is a universal symbol of Remembrance and hope, including hope for a positive future and a peaceful world.”

Lotte Reimer of Aberystwyth & Peace Justice Network said,
“This is what we have always wanted. Although the two ceremonies have had different emphases, we also have a great deal in common. As a local organisation that campaigns for peace in the world it is clear that we should work for peace at home and we are delighted to accept the Aberystwyth Royal British Legion’s approach”.

On Sunday November 8th, something approaching 600 people attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at Aberystwyth war memorial following the traditional march from the Old Town Hall. Attendance for the event, at what must be one of the more spectacular settings for a war memorial in the country, is normally good but this time it was augmented by around 50 people who attended specifically because of the white poppy element.

There was some nervousness on both sides. Some legionnaires, going on pre-held conceptions, were concerned that members of the Peace & Justice Network might try to stage some kind of attention-seeking protest. Some on the peace side were wondering if there might be audible unrest amongst the legionnaires. However, in practice, everyone behaved impeccably and those attending for the first time entered fully into the solemnity of the occasion.

Amongst the dozens of red wreaths, white poppy wreaths were laid by the Peace & Justice Network, Aberystwyth Quakers, Borth & Aberystwyth Women in Black and the Cor Gobaith, with a purple wreath being laid for animal victims of war.

People then filed onto the nearby St Michael’s Church where, halfway through the service, the Cor Gobaith, wearing a respectful black, sung a beautiful rendition of ‘A Song of Peace’ to the tune of Finlandia.

Despite natural uncertainties about bringing innovation into such a traditional occasion, the whole event went as well on the day as could possibly have been expected. The white poppy supporters laid their wreaths in the same respectful, understated way as everyone else and none of the fears about possible disruption materialised.

Whilst there’s no point in denying that there has been some grumbling about the principle from more conservative members of the British Legion, outside the organisational bubbles comments have been overwhelmingly positive, both locally and further afield, and respect for both groups has almost certainly been enhanced. Local press coverage a few days later was measured and no attempt was made to sell newspapers by creating controversy.

Particular tributes for the success should go to the current officers of Aberystwyth British Legion who, in contrast to their predecessors, showed real leadership and went to considerable trouble to bring their members along with them. Equally, to the Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network who, when approached, played their part enthusiastically and conscientiously. Lastly, to Mones Farah, the Minister at St Michael’s Church who gave his full support to incorporating the initiative into his church service.

Although, objectively, the laying of a few white poppy wreaths was little more than a modest addition to the traditional ceremony, everyone who has observed the lack of progress in the debate over the years knows that, symbolically, a historic leap has taken place. It now becomes much easier for others to do the same.

Everyone will now take a pause and assimilate things. There’s a long time till next November. But, having broken the logjam, the intention of all senior figures in the organisations involved is that the historic Remembrance Day settlement in Aberystwyth should continue into the future.

The photo shows Lotte Reimer of Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network (with Pat Richards of Borth & Aberystwyth Women in Black behind) laying a white poppy at Aberystwyth War Memorial on November 8th this year.


Elin Jones's radical proposals for the Welsh NHS

This post contains the main part of the speech made at the Plaid Cymru conference on Saturday by Elin Jones, Assembly Member for Ceredigion and Plaid's Shadow Health Minister. I'm publishing so much of it here because, apart from being typically waffle-free, it proposes the kind of radical changes  to the Welsh NHS that deserve a deeper read than that allowed by the usual online news articles:

"...My style is not to obsess over Labour’s failures. Not to dwell or rant about what’s wrong. My style is to offer solutions, to offer a vision of how a Plaid Cymru-run NHS would protect and improve services

"In the next Welsh Government Plaid Cymru will safeguard and strengthen our NHS with a 6 point plan.

"Our 6 point plan will:
     Cut waiting times for diagnosis and treatment
     Improve access to mental health
     Create a paperless NHS
     Tackle the public health threats of today
     Train a next generation of NHS workers
    Fully integrate health and social care & deliver equal care for equal need

Point 1
"We will cut waiting times for diagnosis and treatment.   Currently, 31.4% of Welsh patients are waiting over 6 weeks for a mri scan in Wales. In Scotland it’s 9.1%  and in England it’s  1.3%  Unacceptable.  Since 2011, there are 21000 more people waiting longer than 36 weeks for hospital treatment. 

·   "We’ll set up 3 Full Diagnostic Centres to provide a comprehensive range of tests and diagnosis, to enable cancer diagnosis to be confirmed within 28 days.

·   "We’ll set up dedicated Treatment Centres to undertake a very large proportion of elective, planned treatments and surgery. We’ve seen the success of the Golden  Jubilee Hospital in Scotland and how the SNP Government now intend to invest in more centres to further drive down waiting times and provide state-of-the-art effective surgical services. I want to replicate this is Wales.

·   "We would have one National Hospital Board to plan and deliver all acute and specialist hospital services. A Plaid Cymru Government next May would scrap all 8 Health Boards, and replace with 1 Hospital Board. 3 million people, fewer than 20 hospitals – we do not need 16 Chairs and Chief Execs for that job. 2 will be more than enough. We wouldn’t keep Betsi Cadwalader in Special Measures – we’d scrap it. National planning, but guaranteeing local delivery. And no community in Wales would be further than the magic hour from emergency, life-saving hospital services.

Point 2
"We would dramatically improve access to mental health services. 
Mental Health services deserve parity of esteem with Physical Health, and will not be an afterthought in a Plaid Cymru government.
"In the last 2 years, the number of children waiting longer than 4 months for their first appointment with a mental health professional has increased almost 5-fold. 50% of our most vulnerable children have to wait 4 months before they start treatment. That’s 4 months of disruption to their education, 4 months of anxiety and 4 months of waiting that can have lifelong effects. That is not acceptable.
So our priority would be to ensure no child waits longer than 4 months for mental health treatment. Our children and young people can not be allowed to be the victims of a poorly-run Labour Government.

Point 3
"We would create a modern, paperless NHS – fit for the 21st century. It cannot be right that you can go into a District General Hospital and see porters still wheeling large trolleys of patient files and notes. It can’t be right that I can book a hotel room in Buenos Aires on my smart phone from this stage right now, but I can’t use my smartphone to book an appointment or repeat prescription from my surgery just down the road.
·      We need universal electronic patient records that are accessible to every part of the NHS, wherever the patient presents at any point in time.
·      We need Skype clinics to reduce the number of patient visits and miles.

"But a modern 21st century NHS is not just about more imaginative use of IT. It is also about cutting-edge research and treatments.  I want to see more university-led medical research in Wales, also more pharmaceutical and private sector research in Wales. Our senior medics and researchers need to lead more clinical trials – for the benefit of Welsh patients. And we will bring to an end the postcode lottery of access to new treatments and drugs.  We want a NHS that is be fair and transparent in decisions that affect whether a person lives or dies.

Point 4
"Plaid Cymru will tackle the big public health challenges that face our nation.  Whilst the current Welsh Health Minister fixates on banning e-cigarettes in public places, Plaid Cymru will address the major causes of harm.  We will use new taxation powers to introduce a sugary-drinks tax. When Plaid Cymru first announced this policy 2 years ago in Aberystwyth, we were ridiculed by Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour. David Cameron is equally set against a sugary drinks tax.

"But public health experts and medical organisations all now support a pop tax. And Jamie Oliver endorsed our policy and Plaid Cymru backs his campaign. But, a Plaid Cymru government will not introduce a poptax in Wales just because it’s backed by a certain celebrity chef. We’ll do it because the harm that is done to our children’s health by over-consumption of unnecessary sugar cannot go unchallenged.

Point 5
"Our NHS is the sum of its parts. And its parts are its staff. Without a motivated and well-rewarded staff, then the NHS crumbles. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the staff working in our NHS and wider health and social services. They do sterling work day in, day out. And yes, Jeremy Hunt, they already work weekends and nights.  A Plaid Cymru Government would not seek to undermine the work of NHS staff in the same way as Jeremy Hunt is England – targetting the junior doctors today, and someone else tomorrow.

"We would protect today’s staff and plan for tomorrow’s staff.  It is scandal that the Welsh Labour Health Minister is shying away from any action to properly plan for the workforce. Plaid Cymru would create a National NHS Workforce Plan.  We’d start by prioritising doctors – and we’d train and recruit an additional 1000 doctors over 10 years.

 "To do so we would create financial incentives to attract doctors to hard-to-recruit areas and specialisms, but we’d also ensure more capacity in medical schools – in Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor. They would be medical and nursing schools to serve and supply the Welsh NHS and we would place a percentage quota of student places for Welsh students in our medical schools.

"Our workforce plan will start with doctors, but it will become a plan for all health and social care professionals.

Point 6
"And finally, our most ambitious plan of all. Where others talk about fully integrating our health and social care systems – we will do it.

"Two systems set up by great pieces of 1940s legislation. Two systems – health and social care – separated at birth. Health care free at the point of need and social care means-tested and assessed at the point of need.  Health care provided by the NHS, social care by Local Authorities.    
"They were systems of their time, but they are no longer in synch with the needs of today.

"Before I became Shadow Health Minister, I was the Minister for Rural Affairs, dealing with animal health matters, rather than human health. Looking back, I think I can say that there is better integration of health and social care in agriculture, than in human health and social care!  Farmers do the social care bit, and vets do the health care – and they do it in an integrated, effective way – even in times of crisis.

"Plaid Cymru will create a Community NHS – to combine GP surgeries, community nursing teams, other community health professionals and community hospitals, out-of-hours GP services and community mental health services and adult social care. 

"Local authorities would be given the lead responsibility of managing and delivering Community NHS. Services would be planned coherently and delivered seamlessly.

"However, will organisational change on its own deliver the seamless care that our elderly and vulnerable need? In the current system, the diagnosis you have in large measure determines the financial support you get to cope with its effects.

"In the 21st century, it is simply not acceptable that people with conditions that can involve very similar burdens, such as cancer and advanced dementia, can end up making very different contributions to the cost of their care.

"In Government, Plaid Cymru will end the historical divide and current inequalities between health and social care, we will ensure “equal support for equal need”

"The final barrier between full health and social care integration is the answer to the question who pays? For health care, it is the state, and for social care, it depends. For a cardiac patient it is the state, for a dementia patient, it depends. It depends on the assessment of need and on a means-assessment.

"Plaid Cymru is committing to provide free social care for all over 65s within 10 years, with clear milestones along the way.

1  "Firstly, we will introduce free personal care for the elderly within the first 2 years of Government. This would abolish all fees for non-residential care.

  "Secondly, we would abolish charges for those with a dementia diagnosis within 5years – including for nursing and residential care.

    "Thirdly, we would completely abolish all social care charges for the elderly within a second term of Welsh Government

"This a fully-costed plan and it will provide equal care for equal need. That is our pledge – equal care for equal need, so that in 21st century Wales - those people that care and those that are cared for will be guaranteed quality care and dignity of care, without financial fear or financial burden.

"For May next year, Plaid Cymru has the policies and priorities to strengthen our NHS. Labour’s poor, poor record on health can not be allowed to continue.  Labour Ministers have been unwilling to take the big decisions on the NHS and unable to get the small decisions right. 

"They have spent too much time over the past 4 and a half years blaming a Westminster Government for a lack of funds.  There should be no more excuses.  Labour should be judged on what it has failed to achieve with the powers and budget available to it, and we will be judged on what we promise to achieve within the powers and budget available to us.

"The people of Wales deserve better than to hear Labour politicians blame others for what can and can’t be achieved.  There is a change that our NHS needs. There is a change that Wales needs. Plaid Cymru is that change."


Ceredigion agrees grant funding to reduce HMOs

With the continuing uncertainty about the housing market in Aberystwyth, exacerbated by the new additional student accommodation at Fferm Penglais on Clarach Road, Ceredigion Council has agreed a number of measures to improve the town's housing stock and encourage a reduction in the number of  Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) in the town:

* An energy efficiency grant of £5,000, focussing particularly on the many deficient and drafty sash bay windows in HMOs around the town plus wall and loft insulation.

* A grant of £5,000 for converting HMOs of four or fewer bedrooms back into traditional single households.

* A grant of £10,000 to convert an HMO into self-contained units, i.e. flats that would reduce the density of the property.

The new measures, detailed on page 3 of this link, will be the subject of discussion at the next Landlord’s Forum on 24th August, the latest of the regular discussion meetings held between the Council and local landlords.

The money is being made available by the Welsh Government as part of the Housing Renewal Area scheme. Property owners are expected to match the grant money.

Although HMOs undoubtedly serve a purpose, the numbers in some streets, with the resultant pressure on parking spaces and other issues, have led to concerns for many years. Ceredigion is taking the opportunity provided by the current changes in the local housing market to address these issues.


Feasibility study for Bow Street station and transport hub

This is an English language version of an article published earlier in the excellent Welsh language news site Pobl Aberystwyth

There was dismay last month when it was announced that Ceredigion Council’s bid to the Welsh Government for £409,000 worth of funding for initial work into a new Bow Street station and transport hub, just north of Aberystwyth, had been turned down. I’d been chairing meetings of a group of Ceredigion councillors and others to make the case and had been hopeful of a better result. 

However, following further work behind the scenes, questions by Ceredigion AM Elin Jones in yesterday’s Assembly plenary session in Cardiff Bay brought the following response from Edwina Hart, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy, Science & Transport: 
“I have asked my officers now to initiate work on a feasibility study about Bow Street”. 

Those brief words mark a huge step forward in the campaign and supporters of the idea will now be keenly seeking more information about timescales. 

The idea behind a new Bow Street station is that, apart from serving the 2000 residents of the immediate village - and 1000 more in nearby Penrhyncoch - the site could become a transport hub to the whole area to the north of Aberystwyth.  

The intended setting is on the site of the old station, closed in June 1965, next to the intersection of A roads at the South end of the village. The University have firm plans to further develop their Gogerddan campus, just over half a mile away. Any promise of a new station, incorporating a pedestrian and cycle link to their site, would give those plans a big boost. 

By incorporating a Park & Ride car park alongside the station, such a hub could provide an option for those driving to Aberystwyth from the North to travel the last three miles by train or bus, avoiding the frequent early morning traffic queues on Penglais Hill and the stress of finding a parking spot in town. The obvious benefits to the town would make it worthwhile for the County Council to promote the kind of shuttle services that would make this option attractive.

With the commencement in May of a peak-time hourly service on the Cambrian Line and the recent announcement by the Minister of funding for an ‘options appraisal’ on a potential new Aberystwyth-Carmarthen rail line, the latest statement on Bow Street adds to the optimism being felt at the moment by all of us campaigning for improved rail services in Mid Wales.


Renewal of Aberystwyth's small nation flags

It’s very common to see the flags of various long-established nations fluttering in the breeze on the promenades of seaside towns, like those on Aberystwyth’s South Prom. However, since 1990, the town's North Prom has also displayed the flags of twenty European stateless nations and peoples. 

At the time, the original supporting booklet for the project explained,
“When a Welsh person visits another country it is often the case that a display of flags is encountered adorning some public building or space. More often than not the Red Dragon of Wales is not found amongst them. Realising that inhabitants of minority nations throughout Europe probably experience similar disappointments, the District Council of Ceredigion has resolved that as many as possible of the flags of Europe’s minority nations should be flown at Aberystwyth every summer.”

Since then, three of the places originally represented - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - have become fully fledged nation states and there have been many other changes around Europe, so it felt like about time to have a revamp.

Ceredigion Council therefore consulted the organisation behind the original project - The Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture based at Aberystwyth University - and they recommended a renewed list of flags which are now up and flying in all their glory.

With twenty places available, not all the possibilities could be included. The flags chosen for display this year are, in alphabetical order: 
The AromaniansAsturiasThe Basque Country
GaliciaIsle of ManKashubiaOccitania
The RomaniSaamiSardiniaScotlandSorbiaWales.

The small nation flag display on Aberystwyth’s North Prom is, as far as I’m aware, absolutely unique. It educates and points to an alternative, bottom-up view of nations and cultures that feels like a distinctively ‘Aberystwyth’ way of looking at the world.


And then there were 3,067

In the last few days of the election period, those of us campaigning for Plaid Cymru’s Mike Parker on the doorsteps of Ceredigion could tell there was a significant shift taking place towards Plaid but couldn’t tell by how much and were privately doubtful if the movement would be enough. That proved to be correct, with the Lib Dems finishing the night with their previously majority cut by 63%, or 5,257 votes, with a reported 6.8% swing to Plaid Cymru. The new Lib Dem majority is 3,067, making the constituency a marginal seat according to the accepted definition.

If Mark Williams was not such a personable local constituency MP with such a large majority heading into this election, he would almost certainly have joined the 49 other Lib Dems who lost their seats on that Friday morning. His undoubted good work with people on a personal level seems to have innoculated him against too much public disapproval at the way he has regularly voted in Parliament in support of the government’s austerity agenda

He has certainly succeeded in managing to keep his voting with the Tories very quiet during the past five years. When challenged on his voting record by clued-up opposition activists in many of the 15 hustings held around the county during the campaign, he argued that he had been forced to vote in the ways that he had by his party whips and recounted how very, very difficult encounters with these apparent rottweilers could be. This was a difficult argument to pull off since, simultaneously, he seemed to be trying to present himself as more of an Independent MP than anything as embarrassing as a member of the Lib Dems, mention of whom was notably downplayed in election literature. 

There's a theory that Mark's success actually represents a kind of  ‘anti-politics’ - a vote for an individual who does well at giving a particular service without being seen to get too involved in that messy, contentious politics stuff with its difficult dilemmas about how the country should be run. 

It can be a salutary lesson for activists steeped in policies when they present what seems like a cast iron, logical case for change on the doorstep only to be faced with an elector who, although perfectly intelligent, is unfamiliar with the word austerity and simply wants to vote for someone who seems nice in a coffee morning. 

I do think we underestimate the importance of this personal side in politics at times. But if what an MP votes for in parliament really doesn’t matter anymore then our democracy has problems. And to have Ceredigion’s representative voting with the Tories to dismantle the welfare state is unacceptable.

For Plaid's Mike Parker, the campaign began with the kind of bad-as-it-can-get headline in the local press, about something he wrote 14 years ago, that would have poleaxed most candidates. In footballing terms it felt a bit like one of those matches when a team has a player sent off in the first few minutes and spends the rest of the game trying to hold on against the odds. Although for some electors the headline never went away, Mike’s resilience meant that, over time, it began to matter less and less.

Another notable aspect of the election in Ceredigion was the improvement in the standing of the parties outside the top two. UKIP (+7.7%), Labour (+3.9%), and the Greens (+3.8%) will all feel reasonably pleased with their results, although the Tories, with what most people regard as a suspiciously lacklustre campaign, stood still. The Greens saved their deposit for the first time in the constituency and their Ceredigion result was their second best in Wales next to Cardiff Central. Given Ceredigion’s Plaid/Green history and Mike Parker’s own strong green credentials, their decision to contest the seat disappointed many but was probably inevitable.

One of the features of the last two Ceredigion elections has been the evaporation of the votes of the parties outside the leading two in the constituency, with an ‘anti-Plaid’ vote seeming to coalesce around the Lib Dems' 50% in 2010. This time, with the Lib Dem vote reduced to 35.9%, the combined Labour, Tory, Green and UKIP candidates are back to the kind of levels being won by the lower scoring parties when Plaid controlled the seat between 1992 and 2005. That trend would seem to give Plaid reason to hope that they can come through the middle to win again in the future.

It's often deceptive to pay too much attention to the feeling within a campaign team. But it must be said that this was undoubtedly the most enjoyable and well-run Plaid campaign for many years. Those turning out to knock on doors were of all ages and sometimes reached unmanageable numbers, having to be split into sub-teams. This was was probably due to a combination of the freshness provided by Mike Parker's candidature, Leanne Wood's groundbreaking performances in the TV debates and a sense that, in what the polls were telling us was a dramatically changing wider political picture, a win might just be possible. No other party in Ceredigion can come close to matching Plaid’s ‘troops on the ground’. The entire Lib Dem parliamentary party now numbers no more than a Plaid canvassing team on an average night in April.

A rally at Aberystwyth University with Leanne Wood on the Monday before polling day (below), followed by a street walkabout with Catrin Finch, was a huge success. Again, no other party in the constituency could dream of pulling that sort of event together. But, in the context of a Westminster election, that campaigning ability doesn’t necessarily translate into decisively more converted votes.

So, for Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion, it’s a case of having plenty of regrets that we couldn’t come closer to winning but just as many positives to take from the campaign. There’s a strong sense that, with Leanne Wood’s leadership, Plaid is on the up, both here and across Wales, and a lot of optimism about next year’s Assembly elections where, in a changing political landscape, a good campaign will see an increased majority for Assembly Member Elin Jones and Plaid Cymru returned to government in Cardiff.

Thanks to the excellent Griffblog for the image


Cheers and ovations at Plaid's election rally in Aberystwyth

Here's the finale to the event below - Elin Jones, Leanne Wood and Mike Parker receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of over 250 in the Hugh Owen Building at Aberystwyth University on Monday.


Leanne Wood giving keynote speech in Aberystwyth on Monday

Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood will be delivering a keynote speech in Aberystwyth on Monday 4th May at 12:30pm in the A12 lecture theatre in the Hugh Owen Building on the Penglais Campus. 

This will the first chance many people in Ceredigion will have had to meet Leanne following the groundbreaking part she played in the series of televised election leadership debates.

The 300-seat A12 theatre is opposite the Penbryn building and TaMed Da restaurant, just inside the main university entrance. Everyone is welcome.

Leanne is pictured here with Mike Parker, Plaid Cymru's election candidate for Ceredigion, who will also be  at the event.


Ceredigion's solar power commitment

Over 200 solar panels have been erected on Ceredigion Council offices in Aberaeron in the last month - saving tons of carbon each year and also saving money on fuel in the long term.

The photos show Penmorfa and Min y Mor offices.


Ceredigion's MP - representing Ceredigion or Westminster?

What practical difference would a Plaid Cymru MP like Mike Parker make in Ceredigion? Firstly there's the massive anti-austerity message that a Plaid Cymru win would send out, together with the increasing likelihood of having a key influence in a hung parliament alongside the SNP. But for anyone interested in policies and values, one of the best way to judge is to look at how our current Lib Dem MP has been voting at Westminster. 

Below are listed some of the ways he’s been voting, as recorded on the website ‘They Work for You', where a Plaid Cymru MP would differ markedly.  I must admit I’m quite shocked at some of the voting patterns.

Because some votes are complex or multi-layered, the website uses a scoring mechanism to judge on whether the MP has voted 'moderately', 'strongly' or 'very strongly' on each particular issue. These are all quotes from the website. My comments are in brackets.

Welfare and Benefits 
Voted moderately for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits

Voted moderately for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms 
(i.e. the ‘Bedroom Tax’ - very disappointing to see this)

Voted strongly against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed
(I'm really surprised by this)

Social Issues
Voted moderately for laws to promote equality and human rights
(Only moderately?)

Taxation and Employment
Voted moderately against a banker’s bonus tax

Voted strongly against restricting the provision of services to private patients by the NHS.
(Thereby accepting the increasing privatisation of the health service - Plaid Cymru are committed to opposing this)

Voted very strongly for ending financial support for some 16-19 year olds in training and further education
(Very surprising)

Constitutional Reform
Voted strongly for reducing central government funding of local government
(And then blames local councils for cuts to services?)

Voted moderately against a more proportional system for electing MPs.
(i.e. failed to back Caroline Lucas’s enlightened motion to broaden the debate on proportional representation, even though PR is supposed to be a key Lib Dem policy. The loss of this motion was then followed by the disastrous AV referendum in 2011 in which the Lib Dem’s choice was heavily defeated).

Voted moderately for greater restrictions on campaigning by third parties, such as charities, during elections.
(Generally seen as a measure aimed at restricting debate - surprising)

Voted a mixture of for and against transferring more powers to the Welsh Assembly.

Voted moderately against transferring more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Voted moderately against more powers for local councils.
(Looking at the last three together, there’s not much commitment to decentralisation going on there...)

Home Affairs
Voted strongly for the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners
(Has proved to be hugely unpopular - Plaid will vote to abolish)

Voted moderately for requiring the mass retention of information about communications
(Basic Lib Dem tenets seem to be going out of the window here)

Miscellaneous Topics
Voted moderately against greater regulation of gambling

Voted moderately for financial incentives for low-carbon emission electricity generation methods.
(Only moderately?)

Voted moderately for measures to prevent climate change 
(Only moderately?!)

Voted strongly against slowing the rise in rail fares 
(Absolutely amazing)

Has never voted on selling England’s state owned forests

Voted moderately for restricting the scope of Legal Aid

Voted a mixture of for and against the privatisation of Royal Mail

Voted moderately for the policies included in the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem Agreement.
(And there lies the nub of the problem)

Put together, this list is pretty damning, and it certainly doesn't represent the wishes of the people of Ceredigion.  

I don’t know which votes were whipped or how strongly (’The Tories/Nick Clegg made me do it’?) but, with the Lib Dems refusing to rule out another coalition with the Conservatives, and Plaid Cymru's Leader Leanne Wood explicitly ruling out any co-operation with them at all,  it’s clear where people of any kind of green or left persuasion should not be placing their vote on May 7th.

On the other hand, Plaid Cymru's manifesto is here. If you're interested enough in policies to get to the end of this article, it's worth checking out.