Restoring faith in politics in west Wales

Nick Ainger, Labour’s candidate in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, reports on a funding backlash

I was first elected for Labour to the Pembroke seat 18 years ago, in 1992. Then when the boundary was changed to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire I was re-elected in 1997. I have held the seat twice since, in 2001 and 2005. Although the constituency is regarded as highly marginal –  my majority over the Tories last time was 1,910 or 5 per cent – I’m very hopeful of holding on. This is because of Labour’s positive policies together with a backlash against the unfair amount of funding the Tories have been pouring into the campaign here.

Certainly, I’m pleased with the reception I’m getting on the doorstep. It’s a two-horse race, with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru being squeezed out of the picture. Plaid Cymru usually makes it to third place, but the Lib Dems are nowhere to be seen in this campaign despite the much-talked about ‘Clegg effect’. I haven’t seen a single poster or placard for the Liberal Democrats. Nor is there any evidence that that they are campaigning on the ground. I suspect they are focussing their resources on keeping hold of marginal Ceredigion next door.

The response I’m getting on the doorstep is either support for Labour or a don’t know. There’s a noticeable increase in don’t knows compared with previous elections, which may be accounted for by the surge in popularity the Liberal Democrats have enjoyed as a result of the TV debates.

It could also be a sign that people are waiting to make up their minds. But some are clearly finding it difficult to understand the differences between the parties. For instance, one constituent told me that he would vote for the BNP. When I told him they weren’t standing in this seat, he said he’d probably vote for the Liberal Democrats, a rather unlikely switch.

We have found very little support for the Conservative party. On the other hand many supporters of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have said they intend to vote tactically vote for me to ensure that the Conservative candidate doesn’t get in. I suspect a lot of this is due to widespread resentment at the Conservative deputy treasurer Lord Ashcroft’s donation of £25,000 to their campaign in this seat.

And that is on top of £40,000 donated by Johan Christofferson, a Norwegian-American who runs the UK arm of New York-based hedge fund operator Christofferson, Robb & Co. Christofferson is a former Master of the Isle of Wight Hunt.

The Conservative candidate, Simon Hart, emphatically denies that he has received any funding from Lord Ashcroft. However, the minutes of a meeting of the local Conservative Association on 28 January 2010, which were leaked to me, state – “no more funding from Lord Ashcroft is expected”. This shows that Lord Ashcroft had previously donated funds for their campaign. The Conservative Association accounts also show that £25,000 has been received.

When I received this anonymous tip-off I immediately organised a press release calling for Simon Hart to come clean about the funding of his campaign since 2008. Following it 200 Tory members have resigned. Many have been in touch with me to say that they will be supporting me. This kind of support is a great boost and restores your faith in democratic politics.

At the same time we’ve been pulling out the stops to run a positive campaign and emphasise the policies that Labour is putting in place for rural constituencies like Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Last week Welsh Secretary Peter Hain joined me in Carmarthen to launch our Rural Manifesto. A key commitment is bringing broadband Internet access to rural Wales which will directly benefit large numbers of people and small businesses.

We’ve announced the creation of a Supermarket Ombudsman, who will protect farmers and food suppliers from unfair and uncompetitive practises by the major retailers. And we want to improve public transport for rural areas. I think our message is getting through that Labour’s partnership between Westminster and our government in Cardiff Bay is bringing real practical benefits for people living in west Wales.

This is the fourth of reports from candidates of all the parties from constituencies across Wales that we shall be carrying up to polling day. To read Ed Townsend’s campaign diary click here, for Glyn Davies’ click here, and for Jonathan Edwards’ click here.

Nick Ainger is the Labour candidate for Carmarthen West

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