Wednesday, 2 September 2015

By-election Preview: 3 September 2015

Caerphilly county borough council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Ray Davies at the age of 85.  A former miner and steelworker, Davies had been a Labour councillor in Bedwas for over 50 years, starting his political career in 1964 on the old Bedwas and Machen Urban District Council.  Throughout his career he was a left-wing firebrand: a colourful campaigner for nuclear disarmament and the Palestinian cause, he was once shot while escorting ambulances into a Palestinian refugee camp.  Away from politics he was an enthusiast for the Welsh language and male voice choirs, being a proud member of Cor Cochion Caerdydd, the Cardiff Red Choir.

We're deep in the Valleys of south Wales here, in a ward which covers three communities running west to east along the Rhymney Valley.  Starting in the west, Bedwas is now effectively a Caerphilly suburb, while Trethomas is a twentieth-century village built by and named after William James Thomas, co-owner of the Bedwas Navigation Colliery which was completed in 1913 and effectively called both Bedwas and Trethomas into existence.  The colliery and associated British Benzol works, which processed coal into benzene and other hydrocarbons, were the mainstay of the ward's economy right up to the Miners' Strike of the mid-1980s, after which the colliery never reopened.  The site has never been redeveloped and remains a blot on the landscape.

Further down the Rhymney valley towards Newport is Machen, the ward's most easterly village.  Machen's economy was more diverse, with some ironworking and a still-operating large quarry.  A disproportionate number of high-ranking politicians have come from the village: one Alf Morgans, who in 1901 was briefly premier of Western Australia, was born here in 1850, but in terms of lasting impact he is eclipsed by the architect of Welsh devolution and noted badger-fancier Ron Davies, who was born here in 1946 and started his political career in 1969 on Bedwas and Machen UDC, becoming council leader the following year at the age of just 24.  Upon local government reorganisation Ron Davies became leader of the successor Rhymney Valley district council, and in 1983 he was elected to Parliament as Labour MP for Caerphily.

With this proud Labour heritage it's slightly surprising to look into the previous election results for this four-seat ward and find that Labour don't have a lock on local elections in the area.  The reason, as so often in coalfield wards, is the strength of independent candidates.  In the 2004 election one of the ward's three seats went to an independent, and at Labour's low point in 2008 they won just two of the four seats available, with Ron Davies - by now having fallen out with Labour following the Iraq War and his effective deselection for the 2003 Assembly election - topping the poll as an independent candidate.  Ron Davies supported the Plaid Cymru administration that took over in Caerphilly from the 2008 election, and served as cabinet member for regeneration; he stood for re-election in 2012 as a Plaid candidate, but lost badly as Labour surged to take all four seats in the ward.  The other defending independent did even worse, finishing eighth out of thirteen candidates.  On the Labour side, Davies topped the poll in 2012 with a huge personal vote and there is also a personal vote for his ward colleague Liz Aldworth, who polled the most votes here in 2004.

Labour have gone for youth in selecting Lisa Jones, from Bedwas, who is a community councillor for the ward.  Ron Davies is trying to get his seat back for Plaid.  Two independent candidates are on the ballot: Machen-based Ray Davies (not the same Ray Davies, though) and John Dew from Bedwas.  Rita Lukins is the ward's first Tory candidate this century, and UKIP have also entered the fray in the shape of Bobby Douglas, from Trethomas.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Caerphilly
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport and Cwmbran
Postcode district: CF83

May 2012 result Lab 1854/1574/1282/1181 PC 664/258 Ind 508/484/438/409/389/378/254
May 2008 result Ind 1702/1400 Lab 1243/1164/1017/875 PC 873
June 2004 result Lab 1594/1477/1424/1127 Ind 1394 Forward Wales 788 PC 713/607