Plaid have work to do to keep Ceredigion
Mike Parker, Plaid Cymru’s candidate for Ceredigion in the 2015 Westminster General Election, looks at this year’s contest…
“Were you up for Ceredigion?” was never quite going to have the mass appeal of Portillo’s 1997 defenestration, though for some of us, it was a moment of even sweeter delight.
After two recounts, and with the sky having long turned to milky grey, 24-year old Ben Lake of Plaid Cymru became the final MP of Wales’ forty to be declared.
I was too knackered to think of the perfect tweet at the time, so here it is belatedly: Yng Nghymru, mae’r LibDems wedi dod i Ben.
As the constituency’s Plaid candidate at the last Westminster election, only two short (but in many ways, so very distant) years ago, my joy was intensely personal, as well as political.
Numerous people messaged me to gauge how bittersweet it felt for me. Not at all, is the honest answer.
Two years up to my hocks in party politics only made me realise how much I adore my indolent writer’s life, and although I would have given it everything had I won, I think it would have fried my soul.
Ben is exactly what Ceredigion needs as an MP: a local lad with a wide worldview, a youngster in a two-Uni seat, someone who has the energy, politics and personality to bridge the divides of this splendidly stubborn county.
There is, of course, enormous pleasure that their highly elastic concept of truth finally tripped up the Ceredigion Liberal Democrats.
Mark Williams having to make a public apology to Plaid in the final week of the campaign was surely enough to lose the few dozen people that cost him the seat.
For three years in succession now (Westminster 2015, Senedd 2016, council and snap elections 2017), the Ceredigion LibDems have run filthy campaigns.
It has not gone unnoticed, even amongst those whose interest in politics is relatively slight.
There are only so many times you can dig down into a seam of slime before it leaves its stains on those doing the digging.
These are the lessons the LibDems – and not just in Ceredigion – need to learn, and fast.
Clean up your campaigns. Try matching your deeds to your fine, noble, ambitious words.
Learn that sanctimonious certainty in your message is not a justification for brazen lies or appalling behaviour.
Stop relying so heavily on pasty-faced kids who treat the whole thing like a computer game.
Realise that what you could get away with in the analogue age gets quickly found out in the digital.
You have long been known by everyone as the muckiest election fighters, and that is not a badge of honour. It’s time for a rethink.
I say all this with some genuine sadness. Beyond Wales, I wanted the LibDems to do an awful lot better in this election than they did.
I would love to have seen them win back some of the seats in the south-west of England that they lost in droves to the Tories last time.
I applaud their unashamedly anti-Brexit stance, and wish it had been more successful.
I so desperately wish negotiations for government were now happening between Labour, the LibDems, the Greens, SNP and Plaid, rather than a fatally wounded Theresa May and the terrifying neanderthals of the DUP.
So what of Plaid in the election aftermath? Fair-to-middling, at best.
As the MP with the lowest winning percentage of them all (29.23%), Ben Lake has to reach out, and fast, to the 7 in 10 voters who didn’t support him, especially if there is another election, heaven help us, before long.
I’d suggest a charm offensive like no other towards the newly-energised younger population and students, for whom he could be a real advocate.
The LibDems in Ceredigion have always ruthlessly milked the ‘anyone but Plaid’ vote, and Ben’s win will only sharpen their message that they are the only ones who can keep the boo-hiss Nats at bay.
That message alone will be enough to tempt back some Tory and Labour voters who this time returned to their natural home.
Beyond the windswept western shore, this was yet another election where Plaid Cymru did just about enough to keep itself afloat.
It comes on top of us doing just enough in 2014 to squeak Jill Evans back as the final Welsh MEP; just enough in 2015 to hold our ground in the Westminster poll; just enough in 2016 to take one more seat in the Assembly election and just enough last month to make a modest advance in council seats.
It’s a sobering thought that if only one hundred residents of Arfon and Ceredigion had voted differently, we’d be down to 2 MPs, which would have unleashed recriminations and doubts galore about the party’s strategy and direction.
Even as it stands, with 4 MPs and the happy return of Ceredigion to the Plaid fold, we are now more or less back to where we were 25 years ago.
‘Just enough’ is not enough, and we must stop pretending that it is.