Labour in fight to stop knife-edge marginal of Wrexham from becoming ‘Tory town’
These are certainly unprecedented times in Wrexham.
Not so long ago it would have been as unthinkable for the constituency to be represented by a Conservative MP as it would have been for the town’s football club to be owned by two Hollywood stars.
But Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s shock takeover of Wrexham AFC in recent months came a year after Tory candidate Sarah Atherton was elected to serve the constituency in Westminster at the 2019 election, on a night when the political landscape of the north east of the country shifted sharply from red to blue.
Once viewed as a seemingly safe Labour seat, Wrexham has become a key political battleground in recent years.
Now the constituency is once more in the spotlight, with its marginal status meaning the Senedd seat is up for grabs.
Labour has enjoyed a near-monopoly in Wrexham since the Senedd was established in 1999, with the only exception being in 2003 when John Marek was controversially deselected by the party but managed to retain his seat as an Independent candidate.
Lesley Griffiths has held the seat since 2007, although her 2016 majority of 1,325 has underlined the marginal nature of the constituency.
She is taking nothing for granted ahead of voters going to the polls, saying: “I am never complacent before an election and I am also conscious that the constituency now has a Conservative MP.
“I did not support Brexit personally, but I also respect that the majority of voters in Wrexham wanted us to leave the EU.
“I believe a key factor in the 2019 General Election was Brexit and people may have voted Tory to help get Brexit done.
“Since then people have said to me that Wrexham is not a Tory town and they do not want Tory policies, so I would hope they will vote Labour this time.
“I am certainly not taking anything for granted, but I have had many positive conversations during the campaign so far.
“These are exciting times for Wrexham with the takeover of the football club. Everyone wants to talk about it, while the Wrexham Gateway project is a major development that the Welsh Government is supporting that can really help the town.
“I have enjoyed serving the constituency since 2007 and hope to continue to do so following the election.”
Her rival Conservative candidate, Jeremy Kent, believes the potential exists for May 2021 to follow the lead of December 2019 in terms of changing the Wrexham political landscape.
He said: “I have got to be positive about things. People are ready for change after so long with the same Welsh Government.
“I think the days have gone when the feeling was that ‘Wrexham is Labour and always will be Labour’. We saw with the Westminster election that people wanted change in the constituency and I hope this will also be the case with this election.
“People in Wrexham and North Wales can feel detached when decisions are made in South Wales and believe they are last on the list.
“I can assure voters that I will be fighting on their behalf to ensure this constituency and region is treated fairly in terms of the decisions that are made.
“I too live in Wrexham and want what is best for the town.”
Frustration with the status quo
Although most recent elections in the constituency have been close battles between Labour and the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru has become established as the main alternative after a string of third place finishes.
Carrie Harper, who has stood four times previously in the constituency in Senedd and Westminster elections, is optimistic her party can seriously challenge for the seat this time around on a wave of support for Welsh independence.
She said: “We have been getting a lot of good feedback and an enthusiastic response on social media, so I am very hopeful over how well we can do in this constituency.
“There appears locally to be some frustration with the status quo and I hope people will remember that it is not just a case of choosing between Labour and the Conservatives.
“I have said that I want to take Plaid’s message to the communities that Labour has forgotten. I was born and raised on the Caia Park estate and serve the Queensway ward there as a councillor.
“I see first-hand the challenges people face and child poverty would be one of the priorities for me if elected, along with the town centre which is at the heart of Wrexham.
“I am from Wrexham and want to represent the constituency. If elected I will be making sure that Wrexham and North Wales have both got a voice in the Senedd.”
Three leading contenders are split on the issue of Welsh independence.
“There has been a surge in interest in Welsh independence and there is clearly a growing appetite for it,” Carrie Harper she said.
“I have been calling for increased devolved powers for the Senedd and ultimately want Welsh independence. I am seeing other people in Wrexham who clearly feel the same way, such as through having YesCymru stickers.
“If I am seeing this happening just a few miles from the border with England, then I am sure it will be the case across the country.
“There are almost 200 independent nations around the world, so I firmly believe Wales is capable of standing on its own two feet.”
But the Labour and Conservative candidates disagree.
Labour’s Lesley Griffiths, said: “I personally am not pro-independence and I do not believe it would be right for Wales.
“In my experience, I don’t think I have come across people here who are calling for Welsh independence. There does not seem to be a lot of interest in the subject.
“I believe in terms of the Senedd the important thing is about using the powers we have got.
“If we do get more powers the key issue will be what they are for, rather than just simply having more powers.”
Her Conservative challenger, Jeremy Kent, said: “I firmly believe that we are better served by staying in the union than we are by pursuing independence.
“Independence is not something I think should be high on our list of priorities at this present time.
“There are more pressing concerns at the moment given the impact the pandemic has had, such as getting people back into work.
“I think in terms of the Senedd the main focus at the moment is the devolved powers it currently has and making a success of them.”
It is set to be a crowded ballot paper, with the other candidates due to stand being Duncan Rees (Green Party), Sebastian Ross (UKIP), Tim Sly (Liberal Democrats) and Paul Ashton (Abolish the Welsh Assembly).
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It’s a pity that Plaid are not more firmly embedded in the Wrexham public’s consciousness because the local party does a lot of good work and Carrie Harper would make an excellent MS.