Plaid and Propel take aim at the First Minister in Cardiff West
“We feel that there’s a gap for a party to represent working people in Wales who care about our country. If you drive around Cardiff West now, I think we certainly hit that niche.”
Neil McEvoy is a man on a mission, to finish the job he started in 2016 and unseat incumbent Mark Drakeford – now better known as Wales’ First Minister – in Cardiff West.
“Propel is radical, we’re not doing politics as usual and we’re the only party not to kowtow to the Welsh establishment,” he says.
McEvoy was Plaid Cymru’s candidate in 2016 and came within fewer than 1,000 votes of overturning Labour in a seat that has now been represented by two First Ministers – Drakeford and his predecessor, Rhodri Morgan.
Despite missing out on the constituency seat Neil McEvoy was elected on the South Wales Central regional list for Plaid Cymru, before being suspended soon after and setting up his own party in 2020.
That has turned the seat into a three-way contest, with the incumbents Labour, Plaid Cymru and Propel all vying for victory on Thursday.
But despite McEvoy’s strength as a campaigner, Plaid Cymru’s candidate Rhys ab Owen is adamant that it is them, not Propel, that only they really have a chance of overturning the First Minister in the seat.
“Plaid are the only realistic opposition in Wales,” he said. “Propel are only standing in 11 constituencies, the Conservatives won’t find themselves in Government, but Plaid might.
“Our fully costed and independently verified manifesto will make incredible changes to the lives of the people of Wales.
“Now is the time to elect grownup politicians that can work with others to enjoy a better Wales.”
Rhys ab Owen, who is also the party’s main candidate on the South Wales Central list, does however say that he is an “accidental candidate” in Cardiff West, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
“It was never on the cards for me to stand, certainly not in this election,” he says.
“I took some time to work on the Commission on Justice in Wales which recommended the devolution of policing and justice to the Senedd. These experts came to the conclusions that it was to the benefit of the Welsh public that this should be done, but then Westminster completely ignored it.
“They didn’t ignore it by producing counter-evidence, they just said ‘we’re not doing it’ and we’re ignoring this huge piece of evidence.
“That just made me think, if you want to get anything done, you might as well become a politician and have more of a say. If these experts can’t change something – who can?”
What makes Cardiff West an interesting constituency – and a realistic target for three very different parties – is the extremes to be found within the seat.
“Cardiff West is interesting in that there are huge variations within the constituency,” Rhys ab Owen said. “You have extreme poverty in some wards, compared to others that are comfortable and well-off.
“Child poverty is a massive issue in some issues of the constituency and the lack of the support and social care is another thing that comes up time and time again.
“And of course, the environmental issues. We’re still expanding our city and building on green spaces – we’re not utilising the brown spaces that we have.”
The city’s expansion is one issue that Propel’s Neil McEvoy believes is a route into representing the seat.
As the candidate who is also a local councillor knows, constituency upsets are all about local issues; and in this case a new housing estate is top of his target list.
“The Plasdŵr local development plan is huge, we’re only at stage one of the developments and we’re proposing to scrap the plan and protect our greenfield sites,” he said.
“What we’re seeing in the west of Cardiff is this huge extraction of wealth out of Wales into the pockets of the corporate building companies and we’re going to be left with the tab in terms of losing greenfield sites and flooding in the future.
“We formed Propel to clean up Welsh politics. We want to completely revolutionise Welsh democracy and to empower individuals over politicians.”
But there’s also a personal aspect for McEvoy standing in Cardiff West.
“I was born and bred here, raising my family here, and I’ve undertaken community work for the past 35 years in the area,” he said.
“The constituency needs a strong local voice and a champion who will fight for it.”
The sense on the ground is that, with Mark Drakeford having become a household name across the nation thanks to his handling of Covid-19, this is his contest to lose.
The First Minister has found himself thrown headfirst into the public consciousness in a way that makes him stand out from his three predecessors.
And with the First Minister seen campaigning across Wales over the past week, it’s likely that Labour’s internal numbers shows that they are confident of keeping this constituency despite 2016’s margin. Nation.Cymru contacted Mark Drakeford for comment about Cardiff West but he was too busy elsewhere to speak to us.
Cardiff West then is an interesting seat to watch. Perhaps not because Drakeford is in danger of being dethroned – barring a big upset – but because it will be interesting to see whether it’ll be Plaid or Propel that comes in the silver medal position.
And with Drakeford set to stand down before the next Senedd election, both parties will want to be in pole position as the main challenger in the seat going into the next election.