Who will succeed Labour member of the class of 99 in tight marginal constituency?
A new era is about to begin in the Vale of Clwyd as a member of the class of 99 departs the political stage.
Labour’s Ann Jones has represented the constituency since the Senedd was created in 1999, but she will not be standing this time around.
She departs with a wafer-thin majority, with Labour’s Jason McLellan and Conservative candidate Gareth Davies both having their eyes firmly fixed on representing the constituency.
Although Labour has enjoyed a Senedd monopoly in the constituency that covers both coastal and inland Denbighshire, the party has continually had to fend off the serious threat of the Conservatives.
Ann Jones scraped home in 2007 by a mere 92 votes from Matt Wright, while the current majority is 768 after edging out Sam Rowlands in 2016.
The marginal status of the constituency has been further evidenced by a trilogy of tantalising Westminster election contests in recent years between Labour and the Conservatives.
Chris Ruane’s 18-year unbroken stint as an MP was ended when James Davies narrowly won the seat in 2015, only to reclaim it two years later after Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election backfired on her.
The third joust between the pair resulted in James Davies winning the seat in 2019 on a night of Tory success in so called ‘Red Wall’ constituencies.
Visits to the constituency by the Tory UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Keir Starmer during the Senedd election campaign have underlined how seriously both parties are taking the fight.
It all means nobody can take success for granted come Thursday, with the two main protagonists adamant key support is coming their way from voters.
Two men from Prestatyn are at the centre of the fight to replace Ann Jones as the Vale of Clwyd MS.
Labour candidate Jason McLellan grew up in the town and still lives there now, having previously represented Prestatyn North on Denbighshire County Council.
He served as a legal aid lawyer for more than 20 years and is now prepared to step into the fold as the MS for the Vale of Clwyd.
“The campaign is going really well. We have spoken to hundreds of people from across the constituency and there is a feeling that the Welsh Labour Government is coming across better than the Tories are in Westminster,” he said.
“During the pandemic the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has come across as being honest and straight talking and people appreciate that.
“This is very much a two-horse race, as we have seen during recent elections in the constituency. Every single vote is going to count.
“During the campaign we have spoken to a lot of Plaid voters who have said they are going to be voting tactically, by voting Labour to help keep the Tories out of the Vale of Clwyd.”
Jason McLellan has worked for Ann Jones for several years and now hopes to take on the baton of representing the Vale of Clwyd in the Senedd.
“It is an honour to have been selected to stand in the constituency which Ann Jones has served for 22 years,” he said.
“She will be a tough act to follow and I have learnt a lot from her. Should I be elected I will seek to carry on her good work in the constituency.”
His priorities if elected include economic regeneration, investing in the futures of young people and ensuring there is affordable housing across the constituency.
Asked about the subject of increased devolved powers and a possible push for Welsh independence, he said: “I would be happy for more devolved powers to come to Wales.
“As regards Welsh independence, I can understand this view after a decade of austerity and cuts from Westminster.
“At the moment I would have some concerns surrounding this in terms of the economic situation. Building back from the pandemic is a massive job and I don’t think now is the time to be pursuing this.
“But I am a proud Welshman and I am supportive of a full conversation about where we are at in Wales and moving devolution forward.”
Focus on the NHS
Standing between Jason McLellan and a seat in the Senedd is Gareth Davies, a frontline NHS worker and Prestatyn South West member on Denbighshire County Council.
The NHS has been central to the Conservative candidate’s campaign, having seen at close quarters the troubled status of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board which spent five years in special measures.
The candidate has regularly informed the electorate of his aspirations and how his campaign is going via Facebook.
“Our cherished NHS has been badly let down by Labour for too long,” he wrote.
“As part of our recovery plan, we will deliver five new and upgraded community hospitals across Wales including Rhyl.
“They will have state of the art facilities to deliver world class care.”
During the campaign, he has said that he had spoken to residents “who recognise the need for change from the tired Labour party”.
The Tory candidate has pledged to deliver first class education, back businesses, jobs and skills and provide fair funding for North Wales.
In a video, he spoke of his desire to see Labour’s 22 years in the seat and Senedd power brought to an end: “We need change and we need change in this election on May 6.
“In that time, 22 years, we’ve seen Betsi Cadwaladr in special measures for five years, plummeting education standards [and] businesses not receiving the right support through Covid-19.
“There’s many issues we could go on all day about.”
Plaid Cymru has never obtained more than 20 per cent of the vote in previous Senedd or Westminster elections.
But candidate Glenn Swingler believes a surge in calls for Welsh independence could lead to him seriously challenging for the seat.
Asked about his hopes for the election, he said: “My ambition is to win it.
“I want to serve the constituency and I am pleased with the responses I have been receiving while campaigning.”
The Denbigh councillor is a fervent advocate for Welsh independence, despite being born and raised in England and moving to North Wales as an adult.
He said: “I am passionate about Welsh independence. We are held back in every way, shape and form.
“As a nation we need independence, allowing us to make our own decisions as at the moment the control lies elsewhere.”
Another priority if elected would be providing social housing within Denbighshire.
“There is a massive housing crisis and this is something that really needs to be sorted out,” he said.
“We need to see a lot more social housing in the county.
“I am also concerned about the levels of deprivation and I am seeing this every day.
“It is diabolical that people are having to live in these conditions and that level of poverty.
“Should I be elected, I will be doing all I can to improve things for the people who live in Denbighshire.”
A number of other candidates are also due to stand, with Peter Dain (Reform UK), Lisa Davies (Liberal Democrats) and David Thomas (Independent) all looking to claim the seat in the Senedd.
It all adds up to it being one of the most intriguing of seats in this year’s election, with few taking anything for granted.
Gareth Davies was approached for direct comment by Nation.Cymru.