Arfon ‘vulnerable’ as Plaid Cymru attempt to hold on to 92-vote majority over Labour
At the 2017 General Election Arfon became one of the most marginal seats in the UK, won by only 92 votes after an unexpected ‘Corbyn surge’ caught almost everyone off-guard.
Plaid Cymru won 40.8% of the vote to Labour’s 40.5% and the result is expected to be a close one once again in what is the UK’s smallest mainland constituency.
However, the incumbent, Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams, believes that the 2017 election may have been Corbyn’s high-water mark and said he was hopeful of retaining the seat on 12 December.
“I think Arfon clearly is a vulnerable seat – we have a small majority here,” the 66-year-old who has held the seat since 2001 told Nation.Cymru. “There was a surge to Corbyn at the end of the campaign.
“I don’t see the same circumstances this time, so, obviously people are sick and tired of this Tory Government and I’m getting a very good, positive, response on the doorstep.
“But also, historically, we’ve had a great deal of support and the potential for a good win here is there.”
The Liberal Democrats and Greens are stepping aside for Plaid Cymru in the seat as part of the Remain Alliance, and Hywel Williams hoped that could make a difference for them.
But the last election, the Liberal Democrats, with Calum Davies as the candidate, only received 648 votes out of a turnout of 28,208.
“I’ve certainly had very positive responses from prominent local Liberal Democrats… and I’m really grateful for the support they’re showing and also from the Green party members,” Hywel Williams said.
“I hope those two parties will be supporting me – and also be recommending me to Labour supporters who have green sympathies and who see the possibilities of grown-up politics – where people who agree on one issue can actually agree not to fight another.”
The town of Caernarfon which makes up half of the constituency has had a Plaid Cymru MP since 1974 – it was previously held by the party’s leader Dafydd Wigley.
But boundary changes in 2010 radically altered the seat, cutting out the Llŷn Peninsula and including the University City of Bangor.
As a result, what was a relatively safe Plaid Cymru seat is now the Labour party’s #1 target seat in Wales.
Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the student population of Bangor will still be in the constituency on 12 December, which wasn’t the case at 2017’s June election.
Labour have chosen Steffie Williams Roberts, a 27-year old charity worker, to fight the seat, after the previous contender Mary Griffiths Clark, stepped down on health grounds.
Steffie Roberts currently works for SNAP Cymru, a charity that works with families of those with special educational needs or disabilities, as an Independent Parental Supporter after completing a Law degree at Bangor University.
Unfortunately, she did not make herself available for an interview, but said on her website that she had been motivated to stand in order to fight Tory austerity.
“Things in Arfon need to change – we need a stronger voice advocating for our communities,” Steffie Roberts, who was born in Rhiwlas and bred in Bangor, said.
“I’m a passionate and outspoken person who believes that nurture in the community is a key to success, but with devastating cuts we’ve seen our communities have been torn apart at the seams.
“The only way we can work to rebuild our communities, is through proper funding for Wales and we will only get that with a Labour Government in Westminster.”
The Labour candidate raised eyebrows when it was revealed that she was the author of a number of BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism) books published on Amazon. She wrote the series of novels six years ago, when she was 22.
Speaking to The Sun, she said it’s “a hobby that will always be part of me… I enjoy expressing myself”.
The county of Gwynedd in which Arfon is located voted heavily to Remain at the EU Election, by 58.1% to 41.9%, with much of the heavy Remain vote coming from the Caernarfon and Bangor area.
But with Welsh Labour also backing Remain, the Conservative Party has seen an opportunity to appeal to Leave voters here.
The Conservative candidate is Gonul Daniels, who describes herself as a “second-generation immigrant as a result of my parents fleeing the problems in Cyprus in 1960”.
She was the Conservative Party’s Parliamentary Candidate in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections in Edmonton, London, and is the London Regional Conservative Women’s Organisation Chairman.
“I am a one-nation Conservative,” she says on her website. “I believe that hard work determines where we get to in life and that is why I am a Conservative.
“I am an engineer by profession, that means I am a doer, and we need to get Brexit done so we can focus on giving people access to the best opportunities.
“I want to make life better for you and your family.”
A Brexit Party candidate, Gary Gribben, is also standing.
Hywel Williams told us that was fighting to Remain in the EU because it was the best deal for Wales’ long-term prospects.
“There’s our main policy of remaining in the European Union and fighting for a People’s vote for a final say on our membership of the European Union,” he said.
“I think the general election is asking the wrong question,” the Plaid Cymru candidate said before comparing Brexit to a sinking ship
“Most people are interested in, the in or out, the yes or no, for the European issue. But the two big parties are arguing who’ll be the captain as the ship goes down in the sea… So, we want a referendum after the general election for a final say.’
“I’ve been the Member of Parliament here for the last 18 years and people know they can rely on me to fight for their individual needs. Whether that’s on things like benefits or pensions or on matters like health and education – with which I cooperate with Sian Gwenllian, the Assembly Member here.
“I also, of course, hold the Government to account in Westminster on all kinds of issues. Issues that haven’t really been addressed over the last 3 and a half years, whilst we’ve been wasting time and a huge amount of money on Brexit.
“So far, the Government’s allocated £4,280,000,000 to Brexit and that money has produced nothing and which we’ll never see again – money we could use more effectively across Wales and the UK.”
At the end of July, the Government announced a further £2.1 billion for no-deal Brexit preparations – which was available as a cash boots of £1.1 billion to prepare “critical areas” for the exit on the 31st October – and a further £1 billion “available to enhance operational preparedness this year if needed”.
In the financial year to August, the Government says £4.2 billion of funding was made available to prepare for EU exit – which totalled £6.3 billion from the Treasury.
Mr Williams also thinks this election could lead to a Canada-like EU deal which could similarly lead to a further 7 years of Brexit negotiation.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Canda-Europe Trade Deal) is a free-trade agreement which has got rid of 98% of the tariffs between Canada and the EU.
Negotiations were launched in May 2009 and it was approved by the European Parliament on February 2017.
“The Canada deal… took seven years and that was, in some ways, fairly straightforward. They knew what they wanted to make a deal about and it then took 7 years,” Hywel Williams said.
“I can’t foresee people putting up with seven years more of this Brexit nonsense – which is stopping all the other work that we should be doing… like on benefits and pensions… and roads and the economy… and international aid… all those issues that have been neglected over the last 3 and a half years”.
When asked about the main issues that affect Arfon – the most recent Member of Parliament urged of the dangers of Brexit when it comes to the makeup of the constituency.
“Arfon, like much of West Wales and the Valleys has received substantial amounts of money from the European Union,” he said. “It’s a matter of making sure there’s freedom of movement for our young people to live and study, love and settle wherever they like.
“In Arfon, there’s a university and also a large hospital. About 20% at the university are EU citizens and a large number of people who work at the hospital also are. Now there’s a very substantial effect that people aren’t coming to work in Wales and the UK because of the hostile environment… and this can only get worse if we actually go for Brexit.
“The other point is the European Ideal of having an open Europe… a Europe that guarantees freedom… human rights… workers rights… environmental sustainability… and also, of course, peace. Which we’ve had since the second world war largely in the European Union.”