Heledd Fychan says the island now has an opportunity to enter a new era of accountable local politics
The people of Anglesey wake up this morning to a very different council to the one they had before yesterday’s elections. Until the Welsh Government put in commissioners to run Anglesey over a year ago the island had been in the firm grip of Independent councillors of varying stripes. The government’s intervention came as a result of infighting and corruption amongst them. Today, however, the island has a chance of entering a new era of coalition politics and greater democratic accountability. Yesterday’s results are shown in the chart below.
As an Anglesey girl, I had more than a passing interest in the election result. The reputation of the council has been an embarrassment for as long as I can remember. Even good councillors have been tarnished by the constant infighting amongst some of the independent councillors as well as the corruption of others. Commissioners were appointed by the Welsh Government to run the council in 2011. This followed a damning report published by the Auditor General, which said that previous attempts to sort out problems had not found a lasting solution. A programme of “democratic renewal” was recommended, and a review of electoral arrangements was put in place.
The election was delayed by a year, and the island’s electoral boundaries were changed. This resulted in 30 rather than 40 Councillors in eleven multi-member wards, represented by either two or three councillors. The intention was obvious – to make it far more difficult for the old guard to win, and to try and bring some fresh blood into the council.
All the political parties tried to convince the electorate that it was better to elect councillors who would have to adhere to the standards expected as part of a political party rather than independents who would be unaccountable in that way. In other words, the parties would be able to discipline anyone not meeting the standards expected of a councillor. They would also provide the structure and support needed to bring about much needed change in Anglesey.
However, the big question before yesterday was – did the people of Anglesey agree with this, and did they feel a need for change? Or did they like their independent councillors, despite what the rest of Wales thought of them?
At 50.5 per cent the turnout was high, in fact higher than the 48.7 per cent turnout at the last Assembly election in 2011. Every seat was contested, and a number of new candidates put their names forward. A total of 107 people fought for 30 seats. This is in contrast to the two previous local elections on Anglesey. In 2004, 14 of the then 40 seats available were uncontested and in 2008, seven seats were uncontested. The breakdown of those standing was as follows:
Independents – 30
Plaid Cymru – 26
Labour – 20
Conservatives – 15
UKIP – 11
Liberal Democrats – 5
Prior to yesterdayday, independents made up the large majority on the council, a total of 27. However, they were independents of very different stripes:
14 described themselves as Original Independents.
5 belonged to Llais i Fon (Anglesey Voice).
8 were unaffiliated.
The remaining make-up of the council comprised eight Plaid Cymru councillors and five Labour.
What does yesterday’s election mean for the future of Anglesey’s council? The plan to try and get rid of the Independents plainly didn’t work. Though some were left bitterly disappointed, such as former council leader Bryan Owen, and others such as Elwyn Schofield and John Arthur Jones, many managed to hold on to their seats. In all Independents won 14 seats, and 31 per cent of the vote. But this falls short of a majority.
It was a good election for Plaid Cymru. The party topped the percentage of votes cast (32 per cent) and came very close to winning a number of seats beyond the 12 they achieved. Indeed, they came very close to controlling the Council. Plaid’s slogan – Adfer Enw Da Mon: Making Anglesey Proud Again – seemed to resonate with the electorate. Moreover, a number of young, dynamic candidates were elected, including the only women on the Council – three of Plaid’s councillors are new, female faces.
It was not a great day for Labour, especially given that they currently hold the island’s Westminster seat. According to Twitter reports from the count, they appeared to blame their disappointing result on the new voting system. Perhaps they should talk to the Welsh Labour Minister Carl Sargeant who put the system in place. John Chortlon, who was the Leader of the Labour group came fifth, behind UKIP. That must be a bitter blow.
As for the other parties, the Liberal Democrats won one seat, but neither the Conservatives nor UKIP managed to win a seat.
Meanwhile, it would be unwise to think of the Independent councillors as a group. Even during previous administrations they structured themselves within different groups, and some of those elected this time have already declared that they will not join any independent group, preferring to be individual representatives on the council. This is reflected in how they described themselves on the ballot paper. If you look at the list of the elected councillors on the Anglesey Council website you will find there are variations in the way the independents are described – Independent/Annibynnol, Annibynnol/ Independent, Independent, Annibynnol. In the case of one “independent’, of Gwilym O. Jones, there is no description at all.
So, what next? Could we see the political parties unite to gain control from the independents, or will Plaid Cymru try and tempt some of its supporting independents to join the fold? The only other option would be for the independents to join forces with Labour. However, that seems highly unlikely given it was a Labour Minister that set up the new political system to try and get rid of them in the first place. We can expect some interesting moments in the coming week as the inevitable negotiations over forming a coalition get underway.
The people of Anglesey have spoken, and one thing is clear. They will not be bullied by Carl Sargeant into voting for the political parties rather than independents. But, they do want change and they responded positively to the team of candidates from Plaid Cymru. There is an opportunity for a fresh start, with a mixture of new faces and experienced councillors. As for Plaid Cymru it now has an opportunity to lead a coalition with the objective of making Anglesey proud again of its council.