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)

20 thoughts on “An end to Labour’s stronghold in the Valleys?

  1. An excellent article that speaks to what politics should be about, making a difference to real people’s lives. It starts with the quality, integrity & passion of the individual & Leanne epitomises what we should expect from all politicians. Walter

  2. Rhian Elizabeth uses the key word – confidence. Leanne and her party have a USP – that communities should gain for themselves the confidence to act. ‘We’re just as good as anyone else’. Those who have sought to denigrate Plaid for their supposed attraction to the petty trappings of nationhood have, it seems to me, completely missed this point, and it also appears to define the word ‘independence’ rather well.

  3. Oh dear. Does this mean the donkey has been made redundant!? Will it now cross the mountains to East Carmarthenshire and Dynefor and ditch the red rose rosette for a spirographed yellow one?
    Congratulations to Ms.Wood AM for winning Rhondda – a very significant achievement and a possible watershed. No-one can now argue that Plaid is ‘only for Welsh speakers’ y fro.

  4. In defence of the shock

    A great article by Rhian and very perceptive. As an outsider, I live in Cardiff, the shock was not so much that she won but the speed at which it happened and the size of the swing. As Professor Jones said on the night of the results, the difference between this win and the one in 1999 is that she was up against an experienced and quality candidate and a well-oiled electoral machine. In contrast, in 1999, the Labour Party was a political shell living off the electoral momentum you describe. This was her first attempt as a constituency AM which is why I did not expect her to win this time. Clearly the sincerity of her and her team’s ambition persuaded the Rhondda voters otherwise.

    Leanne is in many ways a natural politician but what has struck me over the past few years is her authenticity and I an not just referring to her accent. She sticks to her line of argument, not because it makes good PR, but because she believes it. And she has now reaped the harvest of that approach.

    In response to the title of the article, it is too early to say, hence the question mark. But if Leanne is able to deliver for her constituents in a way they recognise, Labour’s challenge will be how to remove an incumbent AM. Sticking my neck out somewhat, I would say that Leanne will be the elected AM for the Rhondda in 2021.

    From Plaid’s point of view, this also acts as a local model for other constituencies in the region. Blaenau Gwent, for example, is now the 2nd most marginal constituency in the country, which is presumably what the title of the article refers to.

    This article could be used to explain the results in Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly where Plaid came a close second. The question is whether this can explain the astonishing result in Cardiff West where they came within 1100 votes of ousting Mark Drakeford, another big beast of the Labour Party. Whilst we might expect Plaid success in the Valleys, Cardiff is the last place to expect Plaid to break through. It is worth noting that Cardiff West is now the 7th most marginal constituency in Wales and, come 2021, 4th on Plaid’s target list. This I would argue is the bigger shock of the night.

  5. Plaid’s capture of the Rhondda is a result of the stupidity of Labour as well as the high profile and popularity of Leanne Wood in the Welsh Valleys. Leanne Wood was selected as leader of Plaid in order to engage with the Valleys communities and distance Plaid from the justifiable suspicion that they were the political wing of Cyndeithas Yr Iaith Cymraeg and the spearhead of a movement towards an isolated, separatist Welsh speaking Wales.

    Labour has happily played along with Plaid by continuing to make Wales increasingly a separate, culturally unique and Welsh speaking backwater where the most dynamic and well educated of our talent leaves and our least entrepreneurial, most conservative and increasingly Welsh speaking young people are absorbed into the public sector where they happily educate our children to be Plaid voters and gather other Welsh speaking, like minded, Plaid voting acquaintances around them in secure and influential well paid employment.

    The problems of post industrial areas are intractable. The Valleys are not unique; populations are left behind when heavy industry disappears overnight and no political party is going to deal with that problem to the satisfaction of the communities themselves. Go to the the poor rural areas of West Virginia and look at the human detritus living rough in the woods long after the logging companies and mining companies have moved on.

    Plaid have made Labour the whipping boys for that dissatisfaction although UKIP is equally an incoherent shout from those who feel frustrated and neglected. It isn’t just Rhondda, look at Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly. Labour has made itself indistinguishable from Plaid in so many respects that they have allowed the question to arise in people’s minds “Why not have the same policies with different ministers; perhaps more effective ministers?”

    Where Plaid have often viciously attacked Labour, Labour has relied on a confidently self satisfied condescension towards Plaid whilst willingly adopting the Plaid Culture and Language mantle. A “Cheap date” that is going to prove very costly…not just in Rhondda.

    Time to throw consensus out of the window Labour and start to recognise where the enemy lies.

  6. The Rhondda voted for change. Unfortunately what it got was Leanne Wood. Supposedly the saviour of the Rhondda, but what change will we see in reality? It is unlikely to be much however good on the Rhondda public for getting out there and doing something about the situation. Is this the same Leanne Wood who said that helping constituents (casework) was pointless as it does not translate into enough votes for Plaid Cymru? I am afraid so. As a fellow Rhondda Valley person I wish her well, however little will change for the average person in the street. The shops that have closed will remain closed, the industries that have been lost will not return, the schools that have been knocked down will not be rebuilt, the budget that Welsh Government get from Westminister will be the same or perhaps even worse. The decline of the Rhondda and areas like it can be seen all across Britain. There is one lesson that can be learnt from this to any would be politician is that profile is everything. It is no doubt that she has benefitted massively from the televised debates and that simply being on them people sat up and took notice. The problem is that where as more affluent areas can afford to have political figures that do little but to further their own career it is too important for place like the Rhondda to carry such characters. We simply can not. We need all the help we can get. It is too early to say what the Wood effect will be. Nothing against Wood personally but don´t get too excited folks as you may be disappointed and let down by yet another politician however this time of a different colour.

  7. So according to Craig Jones ‘The problem is that where as more affluent areas can afford to have political figures that do little but to further their own career it is too important for place like the Rhondda to carry such characters’.

    Unfortunately, constituencies in South Wales, like the Rhondda, have been used for far too long by Labour for that very purpose. Blarite place men, big name politicians and candidates with family connections to prominent Labour notaries have been parachuted into safe seats with massive majorities to ensure a guaranteed Westminster career.

    At least Lianne Wood fully appreciates what it’s like growing up and living in somewhere like the Rhondda.

    Reversing the years of neglect that have damaged our valley communities is not going to be an easy task for any politician. I’m sure Lianne Wood will do her utmost to secure a better future for the people of the Rhondda, after all she is one of their own.

  8. The Rhondda has always been a safe seat for Labour candidates; that much is NOT true. Ask Wayne David.
    An article isnt excellent because it says something you agree with. If it is supposed to be analytical it has to be based on facts from which you can base opinions.

  9. Whatever your allegiance the sight of a local girl with conviction booting out a smug incumbent raised a smile. It will be real test of Plaid’s mettle to see what they do differently in the constituency to achieve a turn around. To be fair to Labour quite a lot of money has been poured in there over the years including via the Objective One route with little effect. I struggle to think of a post industrial brown field that has been successfully rejuvenated in the western world. Maybe house clearance and revert to marginal upland farmland is the answer ? Good luck Ms. Wood.

  10. Rees I am not disagreeing with you, but I don´t think that Leanne Wood will be the magic bullet people are hoping for. She has been on the regional list for years nothing new in that sense. I am also Rhondda born and bred and I am also sick of being taken for granted.

  11. Are we all just going to ignore the fact that Welsh Assembly constituency seat of Right Rhondda HAS ALREADY BEEN HELD BY PLAID CYMRU!! Prior to Leighton Andrews and labour it was already a plaid seat !

  12. I think Leanne Wood deserves a real pat on the back but the over-enthusiasm of this article makes her out to be the Rhondda Joan of Arc and our next Great Redeemer. That’s gross. She remains the leader of the opposition, for the fifth time to Llafur during devolution. Her party advanced not much, ousting some miserable Tories, aided by UKIP extremists. Personality is not the same as strategic leadership.

    The beaten candidate needs also to be placed in context. Leanne did eat him for breakfast but he was always marmite; now he’s toast. His blaming, hectoring and bombastic ways eroded ‘his popularity’ once a viable candidate presented herself. I for one do not look forward to the next series of his vain memoirs about his thwarted plans to reform local government. Leanne has done us all a big favour.

  13. Plaid are doing well but it’s looking like a personality cult with a media friendly figurehead rather than the grassroots upsurge that is claimed.

  14. @J.Jones: I challenge your dismal conflation of pride in the Welsh identity with some kind of conspiracy to “make Wales …a separate, culturally unique and Welsh speaking backwater” – as if that were remotely possible in today’s media-saturated world.

    I accept that there’s a well-trodden path towards education in an English university and a well-paid job in London: it’s followed by all sorts of nationalities. But not all of us are utility maximisers, in the economic jargon. I moved back to Wales and have had the privilege of meeting many well-educated people – from England, Ireland, Germany, Iran, as well as Wales – who have chosen to live here and who appreciate our more communitarian, mixed society. Oh, and they send their kids to the Welsh language system, and don’t work in the public sector …

    Having for once gone to the trouble of reading Plaid’s manifesto for the recent election, and without agreeing with all of its policies, I was struck by its sense of purpose, by its vision for Wales as a confident European nation / region – in marked contrast to Labour’s, which was about marginal gains to be extracted from the status quo. As any entrepreneur will tell you, if you have a vision, anything is possible.

  15. Plaid Cymru is currently the only party in a position to challenge the Assembly’s “British nationalist” consensus. This is why the Labour machine is desperate to denigrate them. Plaid is the sole, tangible threat to Labour’s ideological hegemony, and for all Labour’s talk about the “Conservative enemy”, Labour in Wales and the Tories in Wales have far more in common with each other, given their Regionalist Unionist agendas, than Carwyn’s grouping will ever have with Leanne’s.

  16. Leann’s comfortable victory could have been one of several gains in Wales if Plaid had as many candidates similar in character to herself. She always comes over as natural, trusted and one of us – the people – and not untrustworthy or seemingly artificial and false similar to many politicians at top tier of politics.
    A number of scribes who have responded to the comments by Rhian Elizabeth have referred to the amount of political coverage she has received when all Leaders had the same amount of coverage. However, not once did Leanne come over as outstanding although more importantly she instead illustrated a vital sense of normality for a senior welsh politician and also as a natural working class Mother and individual who also had the precious gift of loads of common sense. Living at the same level and also on the same or similar frequency or wavelength as her neighbours and therefore constituents.
    A perfect combination I would say!.

  17. @ Jon Owen Jones

    Your point about the need for a more quantitative based research is well made. Perhaps in time Professor Scully and his team will provide us with that. be fair, the article does not purport to be that. Those interested are keen to have some insight now as to why such a huge swing, 24%, against the incumbent AM occurred, when the candidate was of good quality, a Cabinet minister, and the Labour Party had a much improved campaign team at work. By all accounts, there was a great deal of neglect at work in 1999 and one of the Labour mantras at the time was “Never again!” Well the lessons have been learnt and Labour has held the seat since for 13 years on that basis, except this time they lost. Research would help us understand that in greater depth but in the meantime let’s be grateful to those willing to share their perspective on the matter.

  18. Rhobat, its a breathless and enthusiastic article and no doubt sincere. I am less indulgent than you appear to be in my intolerance for a lax attitude to facts. It is no fault of Rhian that she is not as obsessed with politics as some of us but being less expert means taking time to check.
    I agree with you that Cardiff West was a very impressive performance but then Llanelli was not. I am not convinced that Plaid Cymru, over the last decade, have adopted the best strategy to win power. I doubt that their interested in my advice but here it is anyway. Step one…become a good opposition.

  19. I thought I was being a tad satirical in labelling the Plaid outcome as a personality cult, from today’s evidence I was understating it, disingenuous to pretend that the UKIP and Tory votes were a pleasant surprise. Media exposure and a good swing still does not a government make for 11 AMs and a presiding officer

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