Aberystwyth election reflections

I know it’s getting a bit late for this now but, before we put the Council elections fully behind us, it’s worth reflecting on a dramatically changed political landscape in Aberystwyth and, at the end of this post, a surprising change in the profile of Ceredigion.

Although results in the rest of Ceredigion were mixed for Plaid, they were astonishingly good for the party in Aberystwyth, returning four out of six County Council candidates and with the added bonus of 11 out of 19 Town Councillors. To put this in a long-term perspective, after the last election in 2008, Plaid had two councillors out of six in Aberystwyth. In 2004 it was one.

Looking through the wards in turn, firstly Bronglais and Central wards didn’t change, with exactly the same representation as last time. In Bronglais, Plaid won again with a full slate of County and Town Councillors. In Central ward there was also no change. Ceredig Davies won again for the Lib Dems whilst Chris Mackenzie-Grieve raised the Plaid vote by 1%. The Lib Dems won two out of three town council seats with the other going to Plaid, exactly as last time.

However the other wards were more interesting:

Aberystwyth North
This ward has been an extreme marginal for many years. The 2004 and 2008 elections were won by Carl Williams for the Lib Dems by 23 and 36 votes respectively. This year, Plaid’s Mark Strong won for the first time, 47 votes ahead of the sitting Cabinet Member. The contest was complicated by the presence of Lisa Francis, the former Conservative Assembly Member, standing as an Independent. In the event she came third but with a respectable vote. Plaid retained their two out of three Town Council seats.

Going back a few years, anyone suggesting that the two Penparcau seats could ever both be won by Plaid Cymru would have been considered crazy in this area of social housing. In 2008 Rob Gorman became Plaid’s first councillor there. This year, despite Rob stepping down to pursue his sucessful fishing business, Plaid’s two candidates Steve Davies and Lorrae Jones-Southgate both managed to win comfortably.

Interestingly, Dylan Lewis, who has stood many times for Labour and got nowhere in what, in any other town, would be considered prime Labour territory, stood as an Independent this time and suddenly found himself getting a decent vote, finishing third.

All three Plaid Town Council candidates were elected comfortably to the area’s five seats, despite two never having stood before.

The encouragement for Plaid in this ward, where they finished second, is somewhat below the radar but, arguably, highly significant. This has been a rock solid Lib Dem ward for as long as most people remember. In May 2008 their County Council candidate won 67% of the vote and four out of four Lib Dems were returned to the Town Council.  

Aled Davies’s win there for Plaid in a by-election later on that year was seen by many as a freak result brought about by a ‘perfect storm’ of chaos within the Lib Dem camp (Lib Dem County Councillor resigned in disgrace, well-known former Lib Dem councillor stood as an Independent, Lib Dem activist who had worked the ward and topped the Town Council poll wasn’t selected to stand in the by-election amidst much recrimination).

This time, it was widely assumed that the Lib Dems would re-take the ward with the selection of the credible and personable Wendy Morris-Twiddy.  However Aled Davies, a hard worker who, for his own reasons, decided to stand as an Independent at this election, retained the seat by 64 votes. Had he stayed with Plaid the party would have had five out of six seats in the town.

But the real encouragement for Plaid in Rheidol is that their own candidate, Endaf Edwards, standing in an election for the first time, came ahead of the Lib Dems in second place. This is all the more remarkable for the fact that some Plaid supporters admitted to feeling divided and voting for Aled Davies.

Given the ward’s strong Lib Dem history, Plaid didn’t target the seat with resources and only put up one Town Council candidate, hoping he might scrape into one of the four seats. In the event, Brian Davies came second out of five, beating two of the three Lib Dems. The Rheidol ward profile seems to be changing. Expect Plaid to put more into it next time.

The wider Ceredigion shift
Aberystwyth is not the only town in Ceredigion whose political profile is changing. Looking wider, Plaids’ support seems to be shifting into the urban areas. Of the six towns in the county, Plaid now have control of four - Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Tregaron and Llandysul, the other two being Aberaeron (Lib Dem) and Lampeter (Labour/Independent). 

This has never happened before. In 2008 Plaid only had the majority of councillors in two of the six towns and, in 2004, just one. At the same time, four of Plaid's five losses at the latest election were to Independents in rural areas. 

Of the Plaid councillors in Ceredigion in 2004, just 12.5% were from urban areas. In 2008 that figure went up to 19%. In 2012 it shot up to 42%. The profile of both Plaid support and Ceredigion itself is changing fast.