Race hots up in three-way marginal as Tories defend wafer thin majority
The Tories hold a wafer-thin majority of just 754 votes in the constituency of Aberconwy.
The main challenger to the sitting Conservative MS, Janet Finch-Saunders, is young Plaid Cymru candidate Aaron Wynne, 24, with Dawn McGuinness from Labour not far behind.
In both 2011 and 2016 little more than 1,600 votes separated the first three parties, with Plaid Cymru and Labour taking second and third place respectively each time.
The marginal status was perhaps reinforced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting Llandudno in the constituency to show his support for the Conservative campaign.
But Janet Finch-Saunders believes she can retain her seat when Wales goes to the polls on Thursday, saying: “It has been a really positive campaign and very upbeat.
“I never have and never will take anything for granted, but I am quietly optimistic about the outcome based upon the responses we have been receiving.
“I do not just see this as a Conservative and Plaid marginal seat, but a three-way marginal with Labour as well.
“Nationally, people are giving me the impression that they are fed up with Labour and are hungry for change in Cardiff Bay.
“The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, is not coming across well going by what people have been saying on the doorstep.”
Plaid Cymru’s Aaron Wynne has recently been boosted by the support of former Labour candidate for the seat Eifion Williams. He is calling on Labour supporters to vote for Plaid Cymru in order to “get rid of the Tories”.
Wynne is also optimistic about the outcome on election day, as his party looks to regain the seat it held when Gareth Jones was the MS from 2007 to 2011 after the constituency was first created.
“During our campaign I have found a lot of voters have said they are going to vote Plaid for the first time,” he said.
“They have recognised how marginal the seat is and want Plaid to win it.
“I see it as most likely being between ourselves and the Tories, with just over 750 votes in it last time.
“When a seat is as marginal as this it really does mean that every vote will count. This is one of the best chances we have had of winning the seat.”
Labour candidate Dawn McGuinness believes the way Mark Drakeford has handled the pandemic is a boon for her campaign.
She said: “People feel that the Welsh Labour Government and Mark Drakeford have, on the whole, done a good job during the coronavirus pandemic.
“They feel particularly grateful to Mark, who has prioritised their health and well-being over profits.
“They are horrified by the stories coming out of the Westminster regarding the Prime Minister’s shocking comments.
“So yes, I am feeling very optimistic and looking forward to polling day.”
Janet Finch-Saunders has outlined her priorities if re-elected, which include ensuring businesses are supported to build back after being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Also high on the Conservative candidate’s agenda is health, particularly ensuring constituents with mental health issues are given the support needed.
“Access to mental health support has been a big problem,” she said.
“The support that they need is not there for them and it should be. This is a situation which must be improved.”
Another candidate for whom mental health features highly in their campaign is Rhys Jones.
The Liberal Democrat has spoken about previously being sectioned, and wants to use his own experiences to help others in the same position.
He said: “I wish my mental ill-health had not got to the point where I needed the state to intervene, but I can’t change the past.
“All I can do is fight for change in the present, so other people do not have to reach that point.”
He is now leading calls for greater awareness of depression and the signs of it, as well as for there to be a dedicated mental health minister for Wales.
“The mental health minister should be an effective member of the government that can influence all portfolios as mental health deterioration does come from all parts of life,” he added.
He has also pledged to focus on the performance of the troubled Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, particularly with regards to mental ill-health.
However, he faces a monumental challenge to win the seat. The Lib Dems have never returned an MP or MS in either Aberconwy or the former Conwy constituency, with a nadir being reached when they polled just 781 votes in the 2016 Senedd election.
Baby of the Senedd?
Aaron Wynne is only 24 but has already established himself in political circles through serving as the member for Llanrwst on Conwy County Borough Council.
He could take on the mantle of ‘Baby of the Senedd’ if he can claim the seat for Plaid Cymru.
“I have been by some distance the youngest member on the council and therefore I am prepared for how some people may react if I am elected to the Senedd,” he said.
“I have come across people who have seemed a bit suspicious as to why there was somebody as young as me in the chamber.
“People will say that if you are young you don’t have any life experience. but I am someone who lives in the constituency and is fully aware of the issues facing people here.
“The issues we are making decisions on do not just affect the older generations, but young people as well.
“It is encouraging to see how many young people want to vote in this election. Aberconwy has seen one of the highest take-ups of 16-17-year-olds who have registered to vote.”
The Plaid Cymru candidate – whose girlfriend, Leena Farhat, is standing for the Lib Dems in the Clwyd South constituency – considers housing to be a main priority in this year’s election.
“Solving the local housing crisis is very high on my list of priorities,” he said.
“I am in my twenties and the situation is such that I am still living at home and many other young people are in the same position.
“It is therefore vital that we have more homes that are affordable to buy and also to rent.
“A major concern is the high number of second homes and empty properties we have in the county, which means many properties are unoccupied for the majority of the year.”
It is a concern echoed by fellow candidate Dawn McGuinness, who lives in Llandudno and has pledged to ensure the issue is tackled if the election goes Labour’s way.
“I’m surrounded by second homes and holiday lets,” she said.
“Their market values are artificially inflated and therefore they are out of the reach of most residents.
“Welsh Labour have pledged to build 20,000 new, low carbon social homes for rent.
“I will make sure I work with the Welsh Labour Government to ensure a suitable percentage of those homes are built here in Aberconwy.”
Describing herself as “an ordinary working mum”, she has outlined her priorities including securing local jobs for local people and attracting green businesses to the area.
She added: “I decided to stand for this election not because I am particularly hungry for a career in politics, but because I believe it’s time the people of Aberconwy have a representative who understands their needs and who lives and works here.”
Differing views are being expressed by candidates on the subject of increased devolved powers within the Senedd and the possibility of Welsh independence.
Plaid Cymru candidate Aaron Wynne wants to see Wales be in control of its own destiny, with the decisions made by those most likely to be affected by them.
He said: “I believe decisions affecting Wales should be made in Wales and I believe as a nation we are in a better position for this to happen.
“I don’t just believe in moving powers from Westminster to Cardiff, but I also think we should be devolving more within Wales.
“Local people are much better placed to make key decisions that affect particular regions than those at the opposite end of the country.”
Also open to the possibility of greater devolved powers is Labour candidate Dawn McGuinness.
She said: “I would support the increase of devolved powers to Wales, but I am not a supporter of Welsh independence at the moment.
“Personally I endorse and support the recent report ‘The Case for Radical Federalism’, co-authored by Mick Antoniw MS. If implemented we would see a more equal UK, not just across the devolved nations but in England too.
“If elected I would relish the opportunity to work with Mick and others to push for what would be an exciting change for the whole of the UK.”
But offering a less favourable take on any potential changes is Conservative candidate Janet Finch-Saunders.
“I would be wary of seeing more devolved powers coming in under the current Welsh Labour Government. They have already proven they cannot manage in a competent manner the powers they already have,” she said.
“As regards Welsh independence, this is something I am totally against and I do not believe Wales can afford it.
“We have been through Brexit and Covid and I don’t believe it is something we should be focusing on.
“I have not been coming across constituents who are calling for it during my campaign. I firmly believe that if there was a referendum soon then Welsh independence would be rejected.”
Also due to stand in the constituency are Rachel Bagshaw (Reform UK) and Sharon Smith (No More Lockdowns).