University Students arrived back in Aberystwyth at the beginning of the week. If those living in town houses haven’t already found election leaflets on their doormats, they certainly will in the next few days.
There are now around 9000 students compared to a year-round population of 12,000 in the town (although that last figure excludes Waun Fawr and Llanbadarn Fawr, areas commonly considered to be part of Aberystwyth).
Whilst almost all permanent residents in Aber value students for the massive contribution they make to the town, it’s still common to hear older people grumble at election time that that they should be voting ‘at home’. That's a debate that is long gone now and, with ‘home’ for most being, in reality, mainly in Aberystwyth and only part elsewhere, it’s really up to each student to choose for themselves where to vote. Of course, many do still vote at their parents’ address by post.
Although roughly 30% of Aberystwyth students are from Wales, the presence of so many from elsewhere has always posed some difficulty for Plaid Cymru. The party has always recognised that, with a total lack of publicity for Plaid outside Wales, expecting someone who only arrived here a few months ago to immediately bone up on Welsh politics and vote Plaid is a big ask.
By the time students are in their second or third year, those interested in politics and of a left persuasion frequently decide to switch to Plaid once they’ve recognised the party’s inclusive, left-wing policies. But those not bothering to enquire further have tended to be split between Labour and the Lib Dems, with a small smattering of Tories, easily distinguishable by their quite remarkable accents.
At the last Westminster election the Lib Dems tried to corner the student market with some success, brought about by their opposition to tuition fees. This was somewhat galling for Plaid as they were equally supportive of students but, again, due to the UK media, this was much less well known.
However, since the advent of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition at Westminster, and the consequent Lib Dem support for a huge increase in the cap on tuition fees, that Lib Dem support amongst students has completely crumbled. Now, with Labour and the Greens not standing in Ceredigion (with the exception of one Labour candidate in Lampeter), Aberystwyth students from outside Wales who have yet to acclimatise to Welsh politics have been left wondering where to put their vote at the local elections.
Now another factor has come into play. Until recently, it was relatively unusual to see students standing in local government elections here, and unheard of for them to be elected. There’s always been the problem that the majority of students stay at University for just three years and the usual term of local government is four years (five this time). On the other hand, Aberystwyth does have one of the highest rates of students staying on to live in the area after completing their degree so, for those committed to the area, the length of their course is not necessarily a problem.
It was Richard Boudier who showed the way when he was elected to Aberystwyth Town Council for Labour in Penparcau four years ago when he was a student and after being in the town for just a few months. He took the role seriously and ended up becoming Mayor of Aberystwyth at the same time as being Labour’s candidate for Ceredigion in the 2011 Assembly election. His term of office comes to an end at this election and he will then be standing down from local politics.
Following on from this, the Aberystwyth Guild of Students, and their newspaper The Courier, has recently been showing an increased interest in local politics. And, as part of these developments, Plaid Cymru have now taken up Richard Boudier’s gauntlet with four students out of their 14 Town Council candidates standing in the elections on May 5th.
My belief is that, with students making up such a high proportion of the town’s population for much of the year, it’s actually important, and indeed helpful to everyone in the town, for them have some representation on the town council, the lowest level of local government.
Plaid’s four student candidates for the Aberystwyth Town Council elections on May 5th are:
Bronglais ward - Chris Griffiths
Chris is originally from Neath and is studying Politics and Welsh. He is particularly interested in health issues and plans to volunteer with the St John’s Ambulance service.
North ward - Dafydd ap Franc and Jeff Smith
Dafydd is originally from Rhyl and is studying Welsh and Welsh history. He is president of the University’s Catholic Association.
Jeff is originally from Kent. He came to Aberystwyth to study Maths and is now doing a PhD. He learnt Welsh whilst living at Pantycelyn and is now fluent. He has a strong interest in environmental and transport issues.
Central ward - Carys Ann Thomas
Carys is from Carmarthenshire and a geography student. She has been elected as the Guild of Students’ Welsh affairs officer and UMCA President for the next academic year. She particularly wants to be elected to the Town Council to give students a stronger voice.
If you're an Aber student, I think they'll do a good job of representing you. If you're not, I think 'town and gown' relations will be enhanced by their presence in our local politics. Why not give them one of your X's on May 3rd?