An end to Labour’s stronghold in the Valleys?

Rhian Elizabeth on Leanne Wood’s victory in a Labour heartland

I woke up yesterday morning and read the news. It said, “Wood defeats Andrews in shock result”.

Firstly, I was happy. Happy and relieved that for once in my short voting life, my vote counted for something. But unlike the BBC, I was not shocked. The Rhondda Valley has always been a safe seat for Labour candidates: that much is true. Our fathers and mothers voted Labour, and theirs before them, because the Labour party has always been a party for the working class and the Rhondda is about as working class as you can get. But I have grown up in the Valleys and I have seen little change, little happen, as all these elected Labour candidates have come and gone. I have been unemployed before. I have seen friends and family unemployed. I have seen shops and schools close and watched the sad downfall of my home town centre, Tonypandy. Walking home on Thursday night, I passed two Labour canvassers in the street. They were out on doorsteps looking to obtain last-minute votes. The front door of one terraced house closed, and I overheard one canvasser say to the other… “that’s another one for Plaid Cymru.”

It seems Rhondda Labour are not that shocked, either.

Times are changing. People are changing.

I was, in fact, insulted by the quote from the BBC that the result was a shock. It goes back to the old donkey analogy. Do people outside think that we in the Rhondda are really that trusting and gullible, that we are incapable of thinking and choosing for ourselves? Is it really that shocking that the people of the Rhondda want change? Or is it shocking that we had the balls to vote for it?

Well, we have.

And Leanne Wood is key to this. She is one of our own. She has grown up and lived in the Rhondda all her life. And in a small community like this, you support one of your own. Not only are Leanne’s and Plaid’s ideas new and refreshing and the best option for Wales to prosper – but Leanne, for us in the Rhondda, symbolises hope.

Not just hope for the Rhondda but hope for us as individuals. She is for me at least. It’s the notion that someone can go to the same unremarkable Comprehensive School as you, sit on the same chewing gum dotted tables as you did, and walk past the same run down houses, down the same sad high street with its block after block of closed shops and failed businesses every day, and still make something of themselves. And this is something: leading a major political party, stand confidently at a podium on live television, speaking into a microphone in that familiar, unedited Rhondda accent, squaring up to the smug Conservative Prime Minister giving as good as you get, standing up for the people of Wales, for the working class. All this from a girl from the Valleys. Our Valley. If Leanne Wood can do it, I can do it, you can do it.

People voted for Leanne because the Rhondda means something to her. This way, we know it is in safe hands. We believe what she says because it’s like we are saying it. I think that is the shock the BBC wrote about. That we in the Valleys now have the confidence to go for that change and not trust the same old Labour our forefathers willingly, and good intentionally, championed. That Labour failed us.

We are backing Leanne Wood but we are also, for once and shockingly so, backing ourselves.

Rhian Elizabeth is a writer, author of Six Pounds, Eight Ounces (Seren)