Jonathan Edwards, Plaid’s new Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, reflects on his induction to Westminster
I don’t think anyone could have asked for a more exciting and enthralling first few weeks as a new Member of Parliament. I had hoped to spend the first week after the General Election setting up my constituency office, and doing some serious thinking on how to build on the result in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. It didn’t seem like a victory at all if I’m honest, despite an incredibly well managed and vibrant campaign. Of all the elections I have been involved in, I have never felt so personally flat following the result. I’m my own harshest critic and it’s a sobering fact for me that the majority gained by Adam Price in 2005 reduced by around 3,000 votes. The only comfort is that my team and I have an opportunity to earn the faith of the electors of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. I hope that the next Westminster election will be in a few years time so that I have an opportunity to prove myself to my constituents.
On reflection, boundary changes didn’t help us. Cynwyl Elfed traditionally has been one of our strongest wards over the years – and its loss to Carmarthen West hurt us. By his second election Adam had developed a strong personal vote that transcended political boundaries– and it was somewhat naïve for me to believe that all his support would transfer directly to me. And the national swing against Plaid also had an effect. I warned at the very onset of the campaign that the so-called Prime Ministerial TV debates would skew the election in favour of the establishment parties and that indeed was what happened.
In the event Labour’s vote went down 800, the Tories went up around 2,800 and the Lib Dems were up around 800. Compared to Adam’s initial victory of 2001, our majority is over a 1,000 votes more. After some contemplation, we are in a strong position to retain the seat.
In my acceptance speech, I quoted Aneurin Bevan, “We know what happens to people that stand in the middle of the road – they get run over”. For some reason it did not go down at all well with either Tory or Labour activists. I thought it important that I clearly outlined what sort of elected representative I aimed to be. In short, I will not be going to Westminster to feather my own nest or be a protector of the establishment. Democratic institutions are a platform for inherently reformist politicians like Plaid. My job is to stand up for those that do not have a voice against those that have plenty of people protecting their interests.
On Monday evening following the election I was summoned to Westminster with immediate effect. It seemed that the Lib-Con deal was on the rocks. Gordon Brown had just announced that he would be willing to stand down in order to pave the way for an alternative arrangement involving his party, the Liberals and the other parties in an anti Tory coalition. The Plaid negotiating team consisting of Welsh Government Housing and Regeneration Minister Jocelyn Davies, my predecessor Adam Price and Plaid economic adviser Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym had been in discussion with civil servants outlining the red lines for a Plaid confidence and supply agreement for a progressive alliance.
On arriving in Westminster at around 11:30 I attended a briefing meeting with the Plaid negotiating team in our Westminster Offices. At that stage, we still thought a deal was on the table despite the emergence of a clear split in the Labour camp with many politicians going tribal and sectarian. I immediately warned Labour of the political dangers of them going native. After all, they had just fought a desperately negative campaign based on voting for them to keep the Tories out. The parliamentary maths was there to achieve that objective. On the way down on the train I had read an excellent article outlining the internal dilemmas facing the Labour party. Some thought it their duty to assume the responsibility of Government. Others thought the best interests of the Labour party would be served in opposition.
Following my briefing I was ushered through a very efficient induction process organised by the House Authorities. The centrepiece was a personal tour of the Parliamentary estate. One of the first things I was steered to was the member’s cloakroom where honourable members have a specific place for hanging their sword! Considering the developing events, it was a surreal experience.
After my induction, I returned to the Plaid offices for a second briefing and it seemed that the tide was turning against a progressive deal. More and more Labour politicians were speaking out against electoral reform or talking with the ‘nationalist parties’ – the key plank of any progressive deal. The final nail came when it became increasingly clear that Scottish Labour MPs were vehemently opposed to any deal with the SNP. Soundings from Labour sources were indicating that any Lib-Lab coalition would dare Plaid MPs to vote down the new Government. With such tribal and sectarian instincts at the forefront of Labour’s thinking, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the progressive realignment of politics at UK level was dead in the water.
I was desperately disappointed as a chance of significant political, economic and social reform was at an end. The cornerstones would have had to be the introduction of Single Transferable Vote as that would have entrenched the new progressive realignment for a generation. As Welsh radicals the added benefit for us would have been concession in terms of funding for the Welsh Government, constitutional advancement and a step change in macro economic policy to be less reliant on the golden goose of the square mile and more in tune with producing economies such as ours.
In hindsight it seems the major mistake of those pushing the progressive alternative was allowing Gordon Brown to state his intention of resigning as Labour Leader. Many, including myself, had previously thought this would be the game changer due to the unwillingness of Nick Clegg to keep him in power. Unfortunately once Brown noted his intention to go he lost all authority to negotiate any sort of deal.
The rest of my first evening in Westminster as a MP was spent decamped on College Green conducting interviews. I probably did more interviews in the space of a few hours than I did during the entire General Election campaign. The party’s Westminster staff assured me that this was an extraordinary day and that it was not always this busy!
The rest of the week was spent on constituency duty. I held my first surgery appointments, opened a Multi Use Games Area in Carwe, and was after dinner speaker in Llandybie Twinning Associations where I got to meet many new friends from Brittany. In between, I managed to fit in a game of Cricket for Penygroes against Groves End Miners in the Swansea Central League Premier division. Despite an abysmal personal performance, scoring only 7 runs, it helped me remember that there is more to life than politics!